Fireproof Marriage: Becoming the "Real Deal" in Christ
Fireproof. Motion picture produced by Sherwood Pictures in association with Provident Films and Carmel Entertainment. Directed by Alex Kendrick. Starring Kirk Cameron, Jason McLeod, Erin Bethea, Ken Bevel, and Stephen Dervan. 2008. DVD released by Sony Pictures, January 2009. 118 minutes.
“You might not agree with Michael but you and I both know he’s the real deal.”
So says fire captain Caleb Holt (played by Kirk Cameron) about his best friend and lieutenant Michael Simmons (played by Ken Bevel). Michael is a Christian. Caleb is not. Though Caleb denies his friend’s religion he is quick to defend Michael from ridicule because he sees genuine good in Michael’s life, including his marriage. Michael does have a good marriage: he goes on frequent dates with his wife. But the movie is about Caleb’s marriage to Catherine (Erin Bethea): she wants a divorce.
When Caleb confides of his troubles to his parents, his father confesses that they too almost divorced, but that a particular book (The Love Dare) saved their marriage.
Fireproof opens seven years into the marriage of Caleb and Catherine. A year previous her mother survived a debilitating stroke; she can neither speak nor walk now. Her mother’s silence and paralysis mirrors what Catherine is experiencing from her husband in their home. We see this through snapshots of their days: they are seldom in a room together; they even sleep in separate rooms; and when they are together they argue and shout in a way eerily realistic of real couples. Catherine took a full-time job to cover home repairs but she is now saving for a special bed and wheel chair for her mother. Caleb’s salary would cover these expenses if he wasn’t hoarding one-third of it toward the purchase of his dream boat, a point painfully near the center of their crumbling relationship.
Very soon into the movie Catherine “wants out.” She visits a lawyer and later serves divorce papers on Caleb. Caleb just wants to feel respected by Catherine. Numerous fire station scenes play this out as we see Caleb in his full captain persona giving orders and receiving respectful “yes sir” responses from everybody in the station. At home all he gets is reminders of his failings. To his credit Caleb never wants a divorce, and this is why the rest of the movie happens.
When Caleb confides of his troubles to his parents, his father confesses that they too almost divorced, but that a particular book (The Love Dare) saved their marriage. He asks Caleb to postpone respecting Catherine’s decision to divorce for 40 days and to accept a “dare” from him. “Please, son,” he says. “If for no other reason, do it for me. I’m asking as your father.” Caleb accepts the dare and tells Michael, but Michael’s attempt at encouragement backfires.
Michael: Divorce is a hard thing, man.
Caleb: Well, if it brings peace.
Michael: But Caleb, you want the right kind of peace.
Caleb: What do you mean by that?
Michael: Do you know what that ring on your finger means?
Caleb: Means I’m married.
Michael: Yeah. It also means you made a life-long covenant. You putting on that ring while saying your vows. The sad part about it is when most people promise for better or for worse they really only mean for the better.
As an illustration he super-glues a salt shaker to a pepper shaker. “If you pull them apart now you’ll break either one or both of them.” Caleb hears the words but does not accept them so Michael tries a different approach: “But Caleb, man, I’ve seen you run into a burning building to save people you don’t even know. But you’re going to let your own marriage just burn to the ground.”
It is then that his father reveals the true point of the dare.
Caleb walks away in anger. He is too hurt on the inside to take more advice but those words are vividly illuminated the next day when he rushes solo into a dangerously burning house to seek and save a girl he doesn’t even know. He finds her and gives her his oxygen mask and fireproof coat as the roof collapses around them. Then he digs an exit tunnel through the floor itself and pushes her through first. Do the words of Michael haunt him then? The audience remembers that he is eagerly saving a stranger but balking at saving his wife.
Caleb begins the Love Dare. It doesn’t work. Catherine ignores or rebuffs everything he does from the book. After a miserable Day 18 Caleb tells his father that he’s quitting. It is then that his father reveals the true point of the dare. It wasn’t about Catherine specifically. It wasn’t even about marriage specifically. It was about being the “real deal”—receiving unconditional love from Christ, and reflecting that love back to one’s spouse. Caleb vents his anger and frustration with his life as the two men take a long walk along a wooded lake bordering an unused Christian summer camp outside town. Eventually Caleb stops to sit on a stump at a firepit, holding his head in his hands in abject frustration. There’s a tall wooden cross from the camp on the other side of the pit. His dad slowly circles the pit, still listening, as Caleb vents further.
Dad: Caleb, if I were to ask you why you’re so frustrated with Catherine what would you say?
Caleb: She’s stubborn. She makes everything difficult for me. She’s ungrateful. She’s constantly griping about something.
Dad: Has she thanked you for anything you’ve done the last 20 days?
Caleb: No! And you’d think after I washed the car, I’ve changed the oil, done the dishes, cleaned the house, that she would try to show me a little bit of gratitude. But she doesn’t! In fact when I come home she makes me feel like I’m, like I’m an enemy! I’m not even welcome in my own home, Dad. That is what really ticks me off! Dad, for the last three weeks I have bent over backwards for her. I have tried to demonstrate that I still care about this relationship. I bought her flowers—which she threw away! I have taken her insults and her sarcasm but last night was it. I made dinner for her, I did everything I could demonstrate that I care about her, to show value for her, and she spat in my face. She does not deserve this, Dad. I’m not doing it anymore! How am I supposed to show love to somebody over and over and over who constantly rejects me?
At this point his father stops walking, looks at the cross standing there, touches it lightly, turns to face his son—and then leans against the cross. “That’s a good question.”
Caleb: [pause and stare] Dad, that is not what I’m doing.
Dad: Yes it is.
Caleb: No. Dad, that is not what this is about.
Dad: Son, you just asked me how can someone show love over and over again when they’re constantly rejected. Caleb, the answer is you can’t love her because you can’t give her what you don’t have. I couldn’t truly love your mother until I understood what love really was. It’s not because I get some reward out of it. I’ve now made a decision to love your mother whether she deserves it or not. Son, God loves you even though you don’t deserve it, even though you’ve rejected him, spat in his face. God sent Jesus to die on the cross and take the punishment for your sin because he loves you. The cross was offensive to me until I came to it. But when I did, Jesus Christ changed my life. That’s when I truly began to love your mom. Son, I can’t settle this for you. This is between you and the Lord. But I love you too much not to tell you the truth. Can’t you see that you need him? Can’t you see that you need his forgiveness?
Though overtly Christian in its message the movie is not preachy. That scene at the cross is the closest the dialogue comes to a sermon—and contains the only hint of decision theology in this Baptist-produced film. There are no spoken prayers. We never see a church or even a single Bible; the only book Caleb reads from is a copy of The Love Dare handwritten by his father just for him. Instead we are presented with the only proof of God that one person can give another: “You might not agree with Michael, but you and I both know he’s the real deal.”
The climax of the movie occurs when Catherine chances upon Caleb’s copy of The Love Dare. It’s day 42 but she doesn’t know that. Caleb became a Christian more than three weeks ago but she doesn’t know that either. She stays at home in bed the next day crying and thinking to herself. She stares silently as Caleb quietly serves her bedside. Eventually she asks him why he’s been acting so differently lately. It’s the first time they’ve spoken to one another in the last three weeks. He confesses to following a book from his father.
Caleb: Dad asked me if there was anything in me that wanted to save our marriage. And then he gave me something. Um, I—I could let you read it.
Catherine: [she pulls a book from under the covers] Was it this?
Caleb: How long have you known?
Catherine: I found it yesterday. So what day are you on?
Caleb: Uh, 43.
Catherine: There’s only forty.
Caleb: [pausing] Who says I have to stop?
The next day Catherine discovers a crucial good something that Caleb did for her last week in secret, and bursts into tears of repentance. And then she calls off the divorce.
A fireproof Christianity is presented without any reservation or redaction even off-camera, on the set away from the audience’s eyes.
Though it was a low-budget independent film made almost entirely by volunteers, Fireproof boasts scene editing, dialogue, and soundtrack to rival any major production. The entire work has the shine of a major studio’s Oscar-worthy endeavor but without the smear of a sin colored to look nice. And neither is the movie’s religious piety diluted to meet a wider audience. A fireproof Christianity is presented without any reservation or redaction even off-camera, on the set away from the audience’s eyes. According to press reports the kiss at the close of the movie between Caleb and his reconciled wife was not actually with the “Catherine” we saw in the rest of the movie. Kirk Cameron was holding his real-life spouse dressed as a double of his movie wife, because the real-life Cameron will not kiss another woman like that—not even in a movie. He wants his real marriage to be fireproof, too.
That means he has to act like the “real deal.”
Scott MacPherson, who has an M.S. in Mathematics, has also completed several courses toward a Master of Divinity degree. He homeschools his children in mathematics, natural science, and religion, with his wife teaching the other subjects. The family lives in Southern California, where Scott works as a software engineer.
TAGS: Marriage, Forgiveness, Reconciliation