The next evening, we get a scene cutting back and forth between Caleb bitching at his coworker about Catherine, and Catherine commiserating with her girlfriends over dinner. Just to show how unbiblical the girlfriends are, they even offer Catherine a place to stay until the divorce is finalized. Catherine declines, because “he’s the problem, not me.” Which I suppose is the movie’s way of telling us that the scene we saw of the yelling and bullying couldn’t possibly be abuse, could it? Because Catherine isn’t afraid to live in the same house as Caleb. Sigh.
Caleb once again brings up the “R” word, and (as Catherine simultaneously predicts in the cut) opines that the marriage has been just fine for the last year or so, until Catherine “went off the deep end.” Being a woman, Catherine is, of course, “emotional about everything” and “way too sensitive.” (Cut to Catherine crying into her ice water over Caleb’s insensitivity.)
Ha! Women and men, amirite?
(Catherine never does bring up the whole driving-her-into-a-corner incident. Guess it’s just not worth mentioning.)
The next day, two cars of teens (two boys in one car, two girls in the other) flirtatiously drag race to the local pizza joint…with predictably disastrous results. The girls (of course it’s the girls; don’t be silly) get their car stuck on the train tracks, and both are too injured to move.
Cue Caleb and his fire crew to the rescue, I guess to prove that he really is a rockin’ hero when he’s not terrorizing his wife.
Later, Caleb’s parents, Cheryl and John, visit while Catherine is out, and we really get to the heart of the issue.
Caleb: I mean, I walk in the door, and she’s mad about something.
Cheryl: Have you given her a reason to be upset? I’ve never known Catherine to be unreasonable.
Caleb: I could have saved the lives of two people at work, and if I’m not here helping wash the dishes, I’m a horrible husband.
Cheryl: But, Caleb, she needs your help here as well. Doesn’t she help her parents out every week? She can’t do everything around here.
Caleb: Now you sound like you’re taking her side.
Cheryl: Caleb, she’s working every day, and she’s trying–
Caleb: Mom, I do not need you telling me I’m doing everything wrong! I’ve got Catherine for that! I am not the problem; she is.
Cheryl: All I’m saying is–
John: Cheryl, Cheryl, let’s hear Caleb out. I want to know what’s going on with him.
Caleb: Dad, could I please have a few minutes to talk with you? Alone?
Cheryl: Caleb, I just want to help you and Catherine—
Caleb: *world’s most long-suffering look* Dad?
John: Honey, why don’t you let us take a walk? It’s a’ight.
And so, Caleb and John head out for a walk, while Cheryl stays behind, alone, in Caleb and Catherine’s house. Guess she can make herself useful and wash a dish or two, Mom, geez.
So, basically, if Caleb isn’t busy yelling at his wife, he spends his time running down his mother.
Two seconds later:
Caleb: Dad, why did you have to bring her?
Caleb makes his mother sound like a particularly messy pet.
Caleb: She—she—she just grates on me.
Speaking of grates, Caleb, you are an ungrateful dickweed.
Like I said, now we’re getting down to it. Caleb hates women. And feels the need to surround himself with nothing but men, both professionally and socially. Gee, that couldn’t possibly be because he hates and fears the female of the species, could it?
John mentions that his and Cheryl’s marriage wasn’t always the best it could have been (Caleb agrees), and John, of course, credits God.
John: The Lord did a work in us.
Caleb isn’t having any of that crap. And by this time, they’re wandered onto a former Bible camp, complete with wooden cross, and John keeps on with the Jesus talk. Caleb, making sense for once in his life, cuts off John, stating simply that the religion thing “Is not for me.”
Oh, but Caleb, the love of Jesus is for everyone!
(Because we all know that Christians never have marital problems. Snerk.)
This is the point at which Caleb’s dad challenges him to hold off on the divorce lawyer for 40 days, so that he can do what his parents did to save their marriage. John basically guilts Caleb into it, but Caleb strikes me as kind of a lazy-ass, anyway, so I don’t think he was in a hurry to get the ball rolling on the divorce.
(This scene is a bit painful to watch for a whole ‘nother reason, too. This movie takes place in Georgia and both John and Cheryl speak with Southern accents. Caleb, who has presumably spent his whole life in the state, doesn’t have a trace of an accent. Now, I accept that not every actor can do accents, but since Kirk Cameron can’t, you’d think the solution would be to hire actors with his accent as his parents, and drop a line in about the family being transplants or something.)
Brief scene of Catherine and cute Dr. Keller having lunch together at the hospital cafeteria. He’s coming on just a bit strong, though Catherine has ditched her wedding ring…
In most Christian films, there is a Smug Christian Jerk to help our hero on his path to the salvation of Jesus Christ. Often, this Smug Jerk is a woman, like Noella Wright or Joella Ratchford or Kristin Reed. Or even Jesus himself (sorta).
In Fireproof, the role is split in unequal parts between Caleb’s dad, John, and Caleb’s coworker, Michael Simmons. Caleb’s dad isn’t so bad, really, but Michael’s smug jerkiness is almost on the Ratchford level.
Caleb explains (damn, you’d think by this time his family and coworkers would be so sick of hearing how awful his wife is) that he and Catherine are too different now to reconcile.
Michael: Caleb, salt and pepper are completely different. … But you always see them together.
To illustrate his point, Michael superglues together the station’s salt and pepper shakers. Ooookay, dude. You just…do whatever you feel is right, I guess.
Michael: Caleb, when two people get married, it’s for better or for worse. For richer or for poorer. In sickness and in health.
Caleb, who, for once, might be thinking of somebody other than himself, tries to pull apart the shakers. Michael stops him.
Michael: Don’t do it, Caleb. If you pull them apart now, you’ll break either one or both of them.
Caleb switches gears.
Caleb: I am not a perfect person, but better than most.
Nah, Caleb, for all his faults, has actually contributed to saving lives.
Michael pounds the point home yet again, finally pushes Caleb to snap at him not to “abuse” the privilege of being able to speak so freely to his boss, and stalks away.
Well, yeah, Caleb, you are the resident expert on abuse.
I’m on the fence on this exchange. On the one hand, Michael is being a smug jerk. On the other hand, Caleb is the one who keeps yammering on and on and on about his marriage, so I can hardly blame Michael for having an opinion.
John’s gift for Caleb arrives in the mail. (Question: why didn’t John just drive it over if it’s so important? They live in the same town, after all.)
Looks like John handwrote this book, and it’s really kind pretty. (Looking, I mean. Not sounding.) The Love Dare challenges Caleb to go one day at a time for 40 days, new challenge every day. The first day’s challenge is to say nothing negative to your spouse. Which I’m thinking shouldn’t be hard for Caleb to achieve—he should just call Day One a day when he’s on his 48-hour shift, ha-ha!
Naturally, a Bible verse accompanies the Day One plan. James 1:19.
Heh. “Slow to anger.” Caleb will have a great time with that one.
But no, Caleb plays fair and does Day One on a day he’s at home. He asks Catherine to take his clothes to the cleaners’, and she asks why he couldn’t have taken care of it himself.
And, um, yeah. First of all, even if they were “together,” he had two days to do it himself. And hell, they’re basically separated, living in separate rooms, and prepping for divorce. Why does she still have to run his errands?
So, following the letter of the Love Dare, Caleb just stalks out in a huff, but doesn’t actually say anything.
What a man.
Day Two challenge is to do one unexpected nice thing for your spouse. Caleb goes ALL OUT for this one and pours Catherine a cup of coffee before she gets to the kitchen.
Catherine: I don’t have time for coffee. *hurries out the door to work*
I kinda love Catherine at this moment.
Day Three is to buy something nice for your spouse. Caleb cheaps out on a half-assed bouquet and bitsy box of chocolates. (Though I have to say, he way overpaid even on that. The flowers alone here cost twenty-five dollars. I could have gone to Trader Joe’s and got something much prettier for less than half of that.)
Catherine doesn’t give a shit, anyway.
Comic relief at the fire station. Hot sauce contest. Caleb cheats because he is a dirty cheating cheater who cheats. (He drinks tomato juice out of his hot sauce bottle and fools the rookie. Big man.)
Caleb calls Catherine at the hospital to “check on you.” Catherine is understandably confused and I am creeped out, but it is, of course, the Day Four challenge.
Call your spouse! Damn, this Love Dare does not let up on the excitement!
Surely this will piece back together this horrible marriage. I mean, who isn’t rooting for these two by now?
What will the next 36 days bring? Stay tuned!
You guys, my very first Kirk Cameron movie! Mike Seaver! Buck FREAKING Williams! Robin to Ray Comfort’s Batman! (If Batman was an ignorant blowhard with no understanding of science or research.)
Okay, so we know right away that a movie starring Buck Williams, dealing with Christian marriage, is going to be screwy, right? Right. And we get started in the very first scene!
Little Catherine (we never see her, we just hear her voice as the camera pans across the stereotypically little-princess room, complete with “Daddy’s Little Girl” pink placard on the wall.
Little Catherine: I want to marry Daddy.
Okay, I get that little kids say weird things, but when Little Catherine’s mommy explains that Daddy is her husband, Little Catherine presses the point, and finally settles on a plan to marry someone “just like daddy.”
Daddy is a fireman.
I think we all know where this is going.
Sure, enough, 25 years later, Catherine is stuck in a joyless, loveless marriage with an abusive jerk. But hey, at least he’s a firefighter! So, Mission Accomplished, eh?
Said abusive jerk is one Caleb Holt, fire captain (*snicker*) in Athens, Georgia. He is introduced with the theme of the movie: he scolds a firefighter under his command that “you never leave your partner.”
Ha, bet Caleb won’t learn that the same principle applies to marriage!! :D
Catherine, meanwhile, has grown up to become a PR person at the hospital. She is introduced by expositioning to a friend about the fact that her mother had a stroke a year ago, and needs a new hospital bed and wheelchair, which insurance won’t cover.
I wonder how most conservative Christians feel about the fact that some people can’t afford medical equipment…
On her way out, Catherine literally bumps into cute Dr. Gavin Keller, leading to a knowing look from the two nurses nearby, who theorize that Gavin has a crush on her.
I hesitate to even bring this up, but here goes: the two nurses are black. And the black women in this movie seem to be written just a tad stereotypically, addressing Catherine as “Cat, girl,” and ending many sentences with “mmmm-hmmmm.” Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate seeing people of color on the screen, given how incredibly white Christian films tend to be.
Quick scene of Catherine visiting her parents. Mom hasn’t regained any speech since the stroke. That’s sad. Catherine’s dad was a firefighter and also a nice person, and in marrying a guy “just like him,” Catherine only opted for the former characteristic, not the latter. That is also sad.
Back at Casa Holt, we see that Catherine and Caleb barely even acknowledge each other’s existence. This is at least partially explained by the fact that Caleb work on a 24-hours-on, 48-hours-off schedule, which basically translates to husband and wife seeing each other for about one hour per week.
They argue about breakfast, with Caleb immediately setting the tone by telling Catherine “Don’t get smart with me” when she suggests that if he wants some groceries, he could always, yanno, go to the store.
Caleb and Catherine are about my age. “Don’t get smart with me” isn’t even a phrase I associate with my parents’ generation. I can picture my grandfather saying it. Maybe.
More exposition reveals that Caleb has manages to squirrel away $24,000 over the years, and is planning on buying a boat. Catherine argues that they could use the money on the house, but it’s hard for me not to agree with Caleb that the things she suggests (painting a door, putting shelves in a closet) are minor preferences. Hell, I even agree that if they’re important to her but not to him, why not use her paycheck on them.
(This all made me curious, so I did some very quick and general research. An experienced firefighter in Georgia could make $50,000-60,000 per year, possibly more since he’s the chief of the station. And a hospital PR specialist could make roughly the same. That is a very comfy household income, especially for a childfree couple.)
A pointless scene at the gym (oooo, so manly, Buck!) where Caleb complains that he gets no “respect.” Again, very…old world complaint for a man.
Or maybe the men in my family are just too progressive, who knows. ;) They do tend to run to more successful marriages than the Holt marriage, though.
Not that that’s saying a lot.
Hell, it’s not saying much of anything.
Sweaty and stinky from the gym, Caleb berates Catherine for not fixing him any dinner (she assumed he was eating with his gym buddy), then starts into a general complaining rant about their marriage. Naturally, it sets him off when Catherine states that she feels “pressure” from taking care of the house all by herself, plus helping her parents. Because nobody feels pressure except for firefighters.
Catherine brings up Caleb’s porn addiction. (The words “porn addiction” are never used, to the best of my memory, but I’ll keep my ears open as we go along.) Instead, she calls it “looking at that trash” online.
The movie considers this to be Caleb’s Big Problem. The one worst thing about his behavior as a husband. But I think they’re overlooking the real Big Problem, which occurs about three seconds later…
Caleb slams a cupboard shut and starts shrieking in Catherine’s face. Flinging an accusing finger at her face again and again, he bullies her into a corner of the kitchen, still screaming at levels that would cause some neighbors to call the cops. (They don’t in the movie. But if I heard a man screaming at a woman like that, I sure as hell would consider it.
Caleb: SHUT UP! I’M SICK OF YOU! YOU DISRESPECTFUL, UNGRATEFUL, SELFISH WOMAN!
Catherine: *murmurs* I’m not self–
Caleb: YOU CONSTANTLY NAG ME AND YOU DRAIN THE LIFE OUTTA ME! I’M TIRED OF IT! IF YOU CAN’T GIVE ME THE RESPECT I DESERVE– *Catherine’s face is turned away in fright* –LOOK AT ME! –THEN WHAT’S THE POINT OF THIS MARRIAGE?
Caleb finally takes a breath and turns away, giving Catherine enough time to whimper the magic words:
Catherine: I want out.
And that is fine with Caleb.
Oh, excuse me…
Caleb: THAT’S FINE WITH ME!
With that, Caleb storms out of the house, leaving Catherine sobbing and shaking. Since actually striking a woman is the one line he hasn’t crossed, he instead takes out his feelings on a poor, innocent trash can that never hurt anybody.
Seriously. After screaming at and berating his wife and driving her into a corner, he still has unexpressed rage.
Oh. And this also leads to one of the “running gags” of the movie, which is that every time Caleb storms out of the house to beat up inanimate objects, an elderly neighbor just so happens to be standing there, watching.
Yanno, I want to make jokes here, I really do, but I just find myself coming back to one question: would this movie ever come right out and say that Caleb has abused Catherine?
I’m betting not. Indeed, if you check out the Fireproof website, it says only that Caleb and Catherine have “regular arguments.” And that both are ready to “move on.”
But that’s really not what’s going on here. Caleb is abusing his wife. Emotionally, verbally, and physically. Sure, he’s not actually striking her with his fist (which I am willing to bet is the technicality the movie wants us to always bear in mind), but he backing her into a corner, literally, shaking a finger in her face, jabbing it at her, and using his greater height and weight against her.
How is that not physical abuse?
Does a worldview that states that the only true grounds for divorce are adultery, abandonment, and abuse…admit that Caleb is abusing Catherine?
I’m betting not. I’m betting this is all meant to show us not an abusive relationship, but an unbiblical one, where the wife is not sufficiently respecting the husband. (This is the second time Caleb has brought this up, and though it seems a ridiculous idea to me, in light of his behavior, I don’t think this is what the movie wants me to think.)
For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.
For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. And we are members of his body.
As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. So again I say, each man must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
See? Caleb only wants what is right and proper in his marriage. Sure, he doesn’t Know Christ yet, and he’s going about this in the wrong way, but his thoughts are only natural, right?
Phew. That’s actually a lot of ground covered in the first fifteen minutes of the movie. No worries, though: once Caleb starts trying to repair the marriage (har), things start to drag.
Like, a lot.
Can this marriage be saved? Should it be saved? Discuss!
So I was leafing through my collection of Christian movies. (Yes, I have a whole collection.) And I still want to make this a summer full of movies, including Pamela’s Prayer (my own personal One That Started It All), as well as at least one more Teenage film and maybe another (very early) Christiano work.
But I was feeling the need to do something a bit more modern, a bit more…Kirk Cameron-y…
I have never seen this before and just got it into my DVD player today. So looking forward to watching Kirk “Buck Williams” Cameron pretend to be a tough-as-nails firefighter!
Well, guys, here is some interesting news: Teenage Conflict can be found on the Internet Archive!
(I didn’t know this before simply because I never tried to find it: I have the Teenage series on DVD from the fine folks at Something Weird.)
And, back in the Teenage world, Doctor George Cooper is here!
Flattop and all! (I know, I know—it was the fashion back then. Still looks dorky as hell. Nice jacket-and-tie combo, too, btw, Doc.)
Joe all but physically drags George away from a conversation with Meg, to get him into the basement and discuss the satellite tracker. And by “discuss the satellite tracker,” Joe means “make sure George doesn’t bring up skepticism in front of Meg.”
IT IS TIME FOR THE BIG REVEAL
Doctor George Cooper…is not an atheist after all!
George: I know it comes as a shock, but several years ago, I came to know Christ. I accepted him as my personal lord and savior.
But, as you may remember from Part 1 of this critique, George had the rep of a skeptic. Turns out, he was misquoted! (No doubt by an eeeevil librul newspaper.)
George: I said there’d be conflict [between science and religion] until each side could see the other’s viewpoint, and realize that under God, there can be but one ultimate truth.
Ha! I love that, I really do! “There will be conflict until people accept that I am right!”
Look, I believe that there will always be conflict between science and religion, too. Because, when you get right down to it, they are two completely different ways of viewing the world. Though I obviously fall on the opposite side of eminent Dr. Cooper.
Of course, I doubt Dr. Cooper will be relying on God to install the electronic brain at the research center. Is he going to pray that God magics the computer into working, or is he going to use his own two hands and his own training and education? Just wondering.
George has a few basic apologetics points to lecture at Joe, but before he gets to that, Doctor George Cooper, eminent scientist, needs to get in a dig at…educated people?
George: One of my troubles was that I failed to realize that the discovery of the whole truth must come from mankind’s total experience. Not just from our so-called “intellectual approach.” *makes face*
Yeah, if there’s one thing scientists just hate, it’s an intellectual approach to a problem!
Who wrote this, honestly?
Whoever it was decided that what this highly educated, eminent Christian scientist would throw at a skeptical high school kid would be…boilerplate apologetics!
George builds his case slowly, but is sure to hit every emotionally sensitive place that he possibly can. (Remember, Joe just told George about Meg’s health issues, and George has no qualms about using this against Joe.)
George: Tell me, Joe: do you love your mother?
Joe: Well, sure.
George: How much?
Joe: A lot!
George: How much is a lot?
Joe: Well, it’s just…um…a lot, that’s all.
George: In other words, you know you love her, but there’s no way you can measure it with a scientific instrument.
Joe: Yeah, I guess that’s right.
George: Well then, just because science can’t measure things like love, faith, and hope, doesn’t mean they aren’t real.
Okay, let’s stop right here.
First of all, George is right that emotions are real. Not just because we feel them and say we feel them, but because they really can be observed by scientific instruments. Sadly, George and Joe are still a few decades away from brain scan technology showing us lasting love.
But even so, does George really want to go down this road, the “emotions are really real” road? Because I am happy to concede that people really do feel faith. But that doesn’t mean the object of their faith is a real thing.
Is God an emotion, George? If it’s “real to you,” is it actually real? Because most Christians I know get quite upset at the implication that God is just an idea, a state of mind, an emotion. To most believers I have met, God is a real being who actually exists.
Not to use the oldest example in the book or anything, but plenty of little kids really, truly believe in Santa Claus. That emotion is real, those feelings are real. Does that make Santa Claus what those kids believe he is: not an emotion or a state of mind, but a real, living person?
Next note: Joe has a good argument that he can present to George in 1960: just because something cannot be quantified, doesn’t mean it can’t be qualified.
How much do you love your mother, Joe? A lot. How much is a lot? More than I love most other people in the world. Enough that I can’t sleep at night, worrying about her health. So much so that I dash home from school every day to help out around the house, so she can nap.
Science hasn’t come up with “love units” yet, to measure quantitatively our love, but really, we can describe anything, even scientific things, in qualitative terms.
How tall are you, Ruby? Five feet, seven inches. Okay, now: how tall are you, without referencing measurement units? I’m taller than my mother, shorter than my father. I’m tall enough that “petite” clothes don’t fit me, but short enough that “tall” sizes are too tall. Okay, but are you tall? I am tall enough to do most of the things I want to do. I am tall in comparison to dogs and cats, but very short in comparison to skyscrapers and mountains.
But no, quantitative and qualitative measurements aside, George really does want to go down that path of arguing that because emotions are real, God is real:
George: You see, Joe, there is more to this world and to human life than demonstrable physical realities. There’s a world of the spirit, which is just as real as the world of chemistry and physical science.
Joe: But how can you prove that it’s real?
George: The overwhelming evidence of 2,000 years proves it.
George, are you seriously ducking this question with an argumentum ad populum? Because that is petty lame of you.
George: God speaks directly to the human heart.
Oh, no, it’s just another piece of wishful thinking from George, who goes on for a bit about Jesus. No attempt at argument here, just a bunch of “Jesus, man!”
George: Well, can you imagine trying to put together [your satellite tracker] by placing all the parts in a barrel, and shaking them [sic] until you had a perfectly working set?
George: Well, isn’t it even more difficult to imagine that this wonderful universe, about which we still know so very little, could have just happened by accident? *doesn’t give Joe a chance to answer* The more I see of the universe and its wonders, the more it becomes obvious that behind it all is the supreme intelligence we call God, the creator. And that our every attempt to understand the facts of our existence draws us closer to him.
Heh, it’s kinda funny to think that the watchmaker argument was old even back then. And they’ve changed it to the Satellite Trackermaker Argument.
And that is it, you guys. George throws Joe a nice guilt trip (can you prove to me that you love your mom…with science?), some wishful thinking, some boilerplate “Jesus, man!” and the watchmaker argument…and calls it a day.41:22
Joe, by the way, has sat in silence since saying that he could “hardly” envision shaking his satellite tracker in a barrel to make it work. That’s almost a full minute of George blathering on, until he cites John 3:16 and we fade to the next scene.
And Donna, of course, being A Girl, is not fit to hear firsthand these “arguments” against science.
I find it very sad that this is the best that Christian youth films have to offer doubting teens. The watchmaker argument. Do-you-really-love-your-dying-mother?
The filmmakers have also painted themselves into a strange emotional place, and I don’t think they did it intentionally. Here’s why: Meg is having a health scare. Honestly, it kinda sounds to me like she’s dying. So it makes complete sense to me that two impressionable teenagers, still feeling their way towards skepticism in their incredibly fundagelical church, would revert back to the extreme faith of their childhood when confronted with this kind of crisis. Especially because Meg’s faith is so important to her. As Joe so astutely puts it, “it’s about all that’s keeping Mom on an even keel right now.” Not only would sticking with their newfound skepticism be difficult for two kids facing sudden tragedy, with no like-minded adults to help them, but they might feel that the skepticism itself is a very personal betrayal of their mother. Christianity is good enough for mom, and what, are you saying that your dying mother is wrong about something? Wrong about one of life’s Big Questions? What kind of ungrateful, unloving children are you? I have seen this before.
In other words, the film is ultimately implying that none of these apologetics have any power in comparison to a good old-fashioned guilt trip.
The next scene features Joe and Donna hunkered over the satellite tracker again. I guess Joe relayed the apologetics to Donna second-hand, because she now feels all guilty about ever doubting her faith. As well she should, little hussy! What’s next, Donna, thinking you have the right to ask questions in church???
Joe’s loyalty, meanwhile, has turned on a dime:
Joe: I can hardly wait to see Sid’s face when he starts in on George tomorrow at the science club meeting, and George gives him a blast of facts!
Huh. Yanno, Joe, I heard a lot when George was lecturing you in the last scene. But facts weren’t what I heard.
Also, I get that you’re going through a tough time, I really do, but that is no excuse for such a nasty attitude. Sid is your friend, who has never been anything but good to you. And now you’re smirkily looking forward to his public humiliation?
Which, by the way, I am not convinced will happen. First of all, Sid doesn’t seem the kind of guy to “start in on” anyone. He is way too chill for that. As well, I can’t see him being too cowed by this computer scientist he has never met before. Sid’s already stood up to his own parents on this issue, and come out healthy on the other side. George will just be one more fundy adult Sid has to endure until he escapes this stupid, repressive town.
For the first time all movie, Meg and Raymond descend into Joe’s favorite dwelling, just in time to hear the satellite!
Raymond, just to cement his reputation as resident blowhard, closes with this:
Raymond: Yes, when you get things connected right, you can hear the most wonderful message of all: the one God sent this old world a long time ago.
Oooo, Raymond, what message is that?
God: Hey, kids, here’s a surprise for you: cancer! Enjoy!
Eh, probably not. But we don’t get definitive answer. Instead, Meg and Raymond wander out of the shot, towards Joe’s dank study corner, and Joe and Donna gaze at each other, and the camera lingers so long that it starts to feel creepy.
This one is by request! Yet another in the Teenage series of movies, chronicling the trials and tribulations of white, upper-middle-class teenagers, circa 1960. And by trials and tribulations, I mean such pressing issues as how much to proselytize to the customers of your aunt’s malt shop and how much to proselytize to the kids who steal from your Nativity Scene.
And this is the creationism one, so the question is: how much should I proselytize to the kids in the science club?
As usual, cutouts introduce us to the theme of the film:
Science and religion…
…and how they really do go together after all. Who knew?
Meet Donna and Joe:
Two clean-cut American Christian siblings…
OR ARE THEY???
(Um, I mean “are they really Christian?” not “are they really siblings?” Because they are definitely siblings. I suspect they might even be twins—they look very much alike and get along really well. At most, Joe is meant to be a year older than Donna.)
That thing Joe has in front of him is his home-built “satellite tracking device,” which he can’t quite get to work. Joe is quickly established as a physics nut, and also cheerfully helps Donna through some homework on molecules.
Their little study session is interrupted by Fred, a fellow youth group member. He’s been tasked with tracking down the siblings, and beinging them back into the fold, since (gasp!) they’ve been skipping out on meetings lately.
Fred: Remember, these meetings are important. Or did you forget?
Fred is a snide jerk, though we are clearly meant to see him as the voice of reason.
Joe and Donna both plead “too busy” for youth group just now, but hey, Fred, get back to us sometime next decade. Joe, indeed, lays the blame at youth group itself:
Joe: Look, Fred, just between us, this youth fellowship stuff down at the church is just taking up too much time.
Fred’s reaction is priceless. He actually leans backwards, with a look on his face as though Joe had just revealed his secret wish to dismember a litter of puppies. “Too much…” he trails off, as though the very thought cannot be repeated in full.
Nothing daunted, Joe continues. Sid, president of the school science club, has been helping Joe with his satellite-listening thingy, and they’ve been talking about the conflict of science and religion.
Joe: Shouldn’t our religious ideas be able to stand up, even under a scientific approach? I mean, either a thing is true or it isn’t.
I like these kids already. Donna, girl that she is, has barely said a word so far, but she gives a decisive nod at this line.
Frankly, there’s not much to say to all this, and despite a vague suggestion that they “talk” with the youth pastor, Fred largely gives up.
That evening, over dinner, the kids’ mother, Meg, mentions that good ole George Cooper is coming back to town, to be “installing some kind of an electronic brain down at the new research center.”
So the guy’s a 1960s computer nerd! That’s kinda badass.
The family reminisces over George, the neighborhood science dork who has now made good. (He is some years older than Joe and Donna, and it seems that even as a little kid, Joe recognized a kindred dork in George. But apparently George also a bit of a rep as being anti-religion.
This makes dad Raymond very upset, because he is the kind of guy who is personally affronted when anyone he has ever met has a different viewpoint.
Raymond: *sneering* Doctor George Cooper. Eminent scientist. How can a man with a mind like that be so blind to the very Creator Himself?
Joe: Well, maybe he found something in his research that made him believe like that.
Raymond: Well, it’s probably the same old story. In spite of everything he learned, he missed the main thing: the fear of the LAWD* is the beginning of all wisdom.
*Yes, Raymond says it exactly like that.
Meg also comments that she is happy that Joe and Donna never “got to questioning things” like George did.
Asking questions? Noooooooooo…
Man, you never know what could happen when people ask questions, right? I mean, they might examine things in a deeper way or even learn something new!
Can’t have any of that.
Joe and Donna, knowing a losing battle when they see one, wisely keep their mouths shut at Raymond’s assishness.
The next day, Joe and his pal Sid, referenced above, are enjoying a break at the malt shop. (Presumably not Gertie’s malt shop, for reasons which will become clear in a moment.
I’ll put something out there right now: Sid is the true hero of this story. A true, realistic, awesome atheist kid.
I highly doubt the writers intend him to be so, but Sid is intelligent, cool and collected, and has a dry sense of humor. As Joe whines about his parents and their “old-fashioned kind of faith,” Sid talks him down, pointing out matter-of-factly but non-condescendingly that schools today teach kids a lot more science than their parents ever got. It appears that Sid went through a bit of a tough time when he “came out” to his parents as a skeptic, but given his manner now, we can assume that the family reached some kind of compromise and position of mutual respect. Sid completely rocks.
Not that I identify with him or anything. Not that I know what it feels like to be the nonbelieving kid in a hyper-religious town. Nope, not at all.
Sid Thorpe: President of the Science Club, and Our Big Damn Hero
Donna shows up and the three discuss asking George Cooper to speak to the science club when he’s in town. Again, Sid rocks, treating Donna with plenty of respect and good humor.
(Now I’m inventing a scenario in my mind where, ten or fifteen years down the road, Doctor Sid Thorpe, eminent scientist, comes back to his hometown…and meets up with Donna Burton, his old friend’s sister. Sparks fly…)
Don’t mind me—it’s just that Sid and Donna really seem to get along well, and Sid is awesome. (And yes, I am making up fanfiction in my head about characters in a 50-year-old Christian youth film. Shut up.)
Anyway, Donna gets the idea to invite George to stay at their house during his visit, instead of at a hotel. That way, she explains, he can talk about about science over the dinner table and “wake our folks up.”
Later that evening, they lay it out for their parents. (Well, Joe primarily lays it out, even though it was Donna’s idea.) Meg is cool with it right up until Joe and Donna leave the room, and Raymond wonders if Doctor George Cooper will start “spouting off some of his *chuckle* scientific theories.”
Meg: You don’t think he really would, do you?
She sounds absolutely appalled at the very idea. I mean, a person talking about his chosen profession in the home where he is a guest??? That bastard!
Strangely enough, after his snide remarks last night, Raymond is okay with the idea of Joe and Donna talking with George about science. He thinks their religious upbringing will keep them good little Christians even in the face of George’s dirty, god-hating scientific electronic brain talk.
Well, something will keep them good little Christians, though it’s not quite what Raymond assumes…
*ominous musical sting here*
Later, in the basement in which Joe always seems to be dwelling, Donna breaks the exciting news: George will be staying with them. Aw yeah, the kids are FRAKKING PSYCHED.
Suddenly, though, Donna has second thoughts, afraid that they’ll “hurt” their parents by bringing in a “real brain” like George who can challenge their beliefs properly. Joe talks her down though, explaining that this is really all “a real favor” since Meg and Raymond are both “pretty intelligent people” who just need to get with the times. With a literal shrug, they agree that sometimes you have to break a few uptight, snide Christian eggs in order to make a nice nonbelieving omelette. Or something.
Later, Joe decides to dwell at the malt shop instead of in his basement, and bumps into a few kids from the youth group at church, including good ole jerk Fred from the first scene, some girl who has nothing interesting to say, and…CHUCK FROM TEENAGE TESTAMENT!!!
I’m assuming that all these Teenage movies take place in different worlds, since we see some of the same faces—playing different kids—in different movies. But I now amuse myself by imagining that Roy’s endless preaching to the customers really did drive Aunt Gertie out of business, and that’s why Chuck is patronizing a malt shop instead of working in it.
Anyway, Fred is his usual dickish self and mutteringly asks Joe how George Cooper can “explain away God.” And since Joe doesn’t know, since he hasn’t actually spoken to George yet, don’tcha know, he just invites them all to the science club meeting so they can hear George for themselves.
Y’know, I take it back about the nameless girl: she expresses surprise that George would stay at Joe’s house, with “the way your folks believe.”
Remember, these are kids from the church. Which tells me that even in the obviously incredibly repressive church of this film, Raymond and Meg are well-known as especially fanatical and pigheaded.
When Joe gets home, it’s time for the big plot twist. See, for the past couple of scenes, a couple of hints have been dropped that lately, Meg has not been feeling up to par. Kinda tired and stuff. Well, her doctor thinks it just might be something serious and has scheduled an exploratory operation.
Well. Holy crap. He even needs her to rest up for a week or two beforehand and get on a special diet.
Dude, that blows. It also sounds an awful lot like it might be cancer. Of course, it’s 1960, so you better believe they won’t be saying “the C-word” in a Christian youth movie.
Joe and Donna, because they’re good kids, immediately volunteer to tell George not to come. But Meg really wants him there (frankly, it also seems that she’s in a bit of denial about the seriousness of what’s going on). So, the kids just volunteer to help out a lot more. Noticeably (okay, noticeably to me), Raymond doesn’t volunteer to do more around the house while Meg is prepping for her operation.
That night, down in Joe’s favorite dwelling place, he and Donna agree that they need to do something about George, so that he doesn’t shake Meg’s faith. Then Donna retreats to the logical place to study—her room, while Joe stays in the basement.
Worst study nook ever. Just look at that uncomfortable chair!
And the earwigs he must deal with! My god! The earwigs!
As he’s heading up the stairs to go to bed, Joe overhears his parents talking about the 23rd Psalm. Meg is playing it pretty cool about the health scare, but has a nice condescending remark for us:
Meg: Oh, Raymond, what do people do who have to face a problem like this without a living faith in the living god?
Well, Meg, I can’t speak for all nonbelievers, but personally, I’ve faced the death of my best friend and major orthopedic surgery. It was probably much the same as a Christian, minus the time spent in prayer and stuff like that.
So, screw you.
Ah, now, Ruby, don’t be mean.
I’ll try another way: Meg, y’know that strength and patience that you think come from God? That’s coming from you. Just so’s you know.
Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Daniel Dennett’s excellent piece on this very problem.
But lest I end Part 1 of this critique on a down note, I will mention something odd about the Burton household, that I noticed in the next scene, featuring Joe and Donna having breakfast the next morning. Instead of making toast with the toaster in the kitchen and then taking it to the dining room to eat it, the toaster is moved from the kitchen, set on the dining table, and everyone makes their own toast there.
Weird. It’s not just me, is it? That’s weird. Also, where the hell is that thing plugged in?
Oh well. Stay tuned for Part 2 and Doctor George Cooper’s visit!
Creepy stalker that he is, and unable to seal the deal with Belle, Craig/Gaston tries a new tactic: whining to his cousin. He catches Anna at work, where he reveals that he just knows that Belle is “The One,” “who can stand by me in everything I’m supposed to do in life,” (In the brief reaction shot, I would like to think that Anna has a sort of “uh-huh, yeah, keep telling yourself that” look on her face, but the movie doesn’t really care what Anna thinks.) She still trusts her cousin way too much, though, and when he whines about Belle always being at Eric’s place, she explains the whole sordid deal about Belle’s dad.
In a rare moment of sense, Craig opines that it all “sounds like extortion,” which it kinda-sorta does, though it’s almost more like indentured servitude, to my way of thinking.
Anyway, we cut to Eric, who is just getting in from New York. I like this guy more and more, because he’s like me and needs to shower the instant he gets home from a plane trip. The omnipresent Mrs. Haygood unpacks his suitcase, noticing the Bible or Book of Mormon that Eric took to New York with him. Just as she did when he and Belle were getting cozy, she does the Wise and Satisfied Nod. Sticking her nose into Eric’s business as usual, she plants in his head the idea that he release Belle from her obligation, but invite her to stay on as his (presumably paid in real money this time) assistant.
Craig/Gaston heads to Belle’s house to do some more creepy stalking. He invites Belle on a date “whenever,” and Belle finally decides it is time to stick a fork in this relationship and call it done. She simply and directly tells him that she is “just not interested in you like that,” but of course, being the creepy stalker that he is, Craig isn’t having any of that.
Craig: When you change your mind…I’ll be here.
Belle: Craig, I’m not going to–
Craig: *puts his hand in front of her mouth in a classic, “hush, you silly little girl” motion*
(In all fairness, Belle is suitably freaked out by this action, jerking away as he does it, so he never actually touches her mouth.)
Craig heads to his car, and Belle gets a nice “whoa, I knew he was weird, but…” look on her face.
In his car, Craig cements his Gaston cred by calling Belle’s dad’s work and pretending to be Eric, lodging a complaint. (Hilariously, it appears Craig has memorized the phone number of the chimney repair place, punching it cheerfully into his phone like he’s calling his local pizza place.)
I feel like it’s been a good month since the accident with the vase, so I find myself wondering if Belle’s dad’s boss would take such a complaint seriously at this point.
“Yeah, four weeks ago, your repairman broke an expensive piece of decorative art at my home.”
“Sir, may I ask why you didn’t tell us when this happened?”
Inspired by the gossipy wench who works for him, Eric calls Belle. He is absolutely adorable as he does it too, cheerfully punching the keys with flourishes, then self-deprecatingly laughing at himself. He asks her to come over, not to work, but just so he “can talk to you about something.” Given Belle’s smile, she seems to Get It. In a nice touch, both Belle and Eric then go and change their clothes into more date-like. Belle lets her hair down from its ponytail and puts on a sparkly sweater (the first sparkly thing she has ever worn in this movie) and some lipstick, and when we next see Eric, he has changed from jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt into a collared shirt and nice pants.
Belle has such a great sweater collection. I want this one, too–I could totally rock that color.
All the sparkly sweaters in the world are for naught, though, as Belle’s loser father slouches home just as she’s leaving, having been fired because of “that horrible, horrible man.”
Well, at least Eric can keep a job for longer than three months, bozo. Just sayin’.
Outraged, Belle storms over to Eric’s, where she gives him a good slap on the cheek and a “How could you?” As with any romantic Big Misunderstanding, Belle does not say exactly what happened, so Eric remains utterly confused.
And of course, her parting shot is, “You really are a beast.”
The Musical Montage of Sadness plays, as Eric tries several times to call Belle. After a few days of this, he tries the home phone instead…and Kelli picks up.
Kelli: I don’t think anyone here wants to talk to you. *long, regretful pause* Sorry.
Aww, they bonded! That’s…actually kinda heartwarming.
In the rest of the montage, Anna tries to comfort Belle, but Belle blows her off, and Eric tries to comfort himself by playing basketball outside in the snow, but he sucks.
Eric decides that the direct approach is best, and heads to Belle’s house, only to be blown off by her father, who is “busy looking for a job.”
IT’S ALL COMING TOGETHER NOW…
Eric, unlike Craig, has not memorized the chimney repair company’s number, and actually has to go home to find the number. Ha! (I guess we should give Craig his due—man’s got one hell of a memory!)
Eric gets Belle’s dad his job back (the chimney repair company’s administrative staff must be thoroughly confused by now), and tries once more to call Belle, but she’s still not having it.
Belle’s dad actually has a moment of decency, and thanks Belle for everything she’s done—moving back home, working for Eric, etc. And he tells her that it’s finally time to do something that will make her happy. And Belle finally takes one of Eric’s calls.
Sadly, as must always be the case with the Big Misunderstanding, Eric doesn’t say the pertinent detail quickly enough. Had he read more romance novels, he would have known to spit out something like, “ItWasn’tMeWhoComplainedAboutYourDad.” But when he only characterizes what happened as “a mistake,” Belle has all the ammunition she needs to point out (correctly enough, but still), that he should never have made the deal with her in the first place.
The Musical Sting of Apprehension plays, as Eric hangs up with Belle…and spies his commenmorative liquor bottle.
And we learn that although Anna might not characterize Craig as the creepy stalker he is, she does support Belle in not wanting to see him anymore, because “I know how he can be.” I doubt that she does, but at least her heart is basically in the right place. In fact, she urges Belle to forgive Eric, but Belle’s not having any of that, either.
It’s been awhile, but…
Beauty vs. Belle Change!
*Eric is at his nightstand, putting on his watch. He see the Book of Mormon sitting there, picks it up, changes his mind, puts it back down.*
(Apparently, no complementary scene was shot with a Bible.
(Also, I didn’t see this until now, but Eric’s Book of Mormon has the name “Sarah Landry,” emblazoned on the corner of the cover. Nice touch.)
True to his creepy-stalker word, Craig shows up at Belle’s work to say how sorry he was to hear about her dad, and that he’s there if she needs him. Belle blows him off. Good girl.
Meanwhile, the last little bit of temptation-through-frustration hits Eric, as he fumbles and spills a bunch of files. This is actually a pretty good crap cherry on the shit sundae—that one final, minor, stupid thing that makes a person lose it.
He goes to pout in his living room, and suffers from that unfortunate acting problem wherein “heartbreak” is largely indistinguishable from “moderate gastrointestinal discomfort.”
The result of driving away the love of his life, or eating some bad tacos? You decide.
He eyes the Bible or Book of Mormon (which, in the latter case, apparently teleported from his bedroom to the living room), and then tries to pray but can’t).
Okay, that’s what it looks like to my atheist eyes, at least.
SO IT’S TIME FOR BOOZE
Eric beelines for his commemorative liquor bottle, which, you’ll remember, is in a nice commemorative case. He punches the glass to get at the bottle, which seems dramatic and all until you see that the commemorative case is one of those display boxes for sports memorabilia that you get at Michaels, which means that all Eric really had to do to get the bottle was slide the glass upward.
See? Look at the upper corner of the box. All he had to do was slide the glass!
But hey, yanno, it’s dramatic, innit?
(Also, that is the weirdest-looking booze bottle I have ever seen.)
The next morning, Belle and Anna are meeting Craig for breakfast.
Anna: Look, Craig begged me. He just wanted to see you one more time, and he swore that if you still felt…whatever…that he’d back off.
Anna, I am very disappoint.
Craig hasn’t “backed off” even when Belle told his straight-up that she Just Wasn’t Into Him, so I don’t see what a chaperoned breakfast will accomplish.
Very disappoint, Anna.
Belle’s primary complaint, however, is that Anna told Craig about her dad being fired. Anna, of course, did not tell Craig any such thing…
IT ALL MAKES SENSE NOW!!!11!!11!1!!!!11!!
Just at that moment, Craig arrives, and Belle puts it to him. Like a sociopathic idiot, Craig lies about Anna…to Anna’s face.
Craig: Anna told me.
Anna: No I didn’t!
Dude. That takes balls. Not good balls, mind you, but balls.
Belle immediately discerns that it was Craig, not Eric, who called the chimney repair boss, and shoves Craig out of the booth onto his ass. Anna follows, snorting at him, “You are such a loser.”
Gaston’s ultimate fate in this movie is not quite as dramatic as this:
Or this, for that matter:
Belle rushes to Eric’s but of course he is not there. She and Mrs. Haygood find the smashed commemorative box.
“Oh, he didn’t!” gasps Belle, because we all know the single worst thing a man can do in a moment of sadness is to have a drink.
(I know, I know, I know that Mormons aren’t supposed to drink ever, at all, and I know that Eric was a problem drinker. I just don’t personally sign onto the idea that if anyone has ever had a problem with alcohol, they can never have a drink ever again. Personal observation.)
But Belle knows just where to find the missing Eric: the snowy wilderness where they had their “bad things happen to good people” conversation. Sure enough, there he is, because if there’s one thing we know about Eric, it’s that he loves to hang out in the snow for hours on end.
He’s sitting around, holding the bottle, prompting the following exchange:
Belle: Eric? What are you doing here?
Belle: Just thinking?
Geez, Belle, police people much?
Turns out that Eric was just thinking, not drinking, and he throws the unopened (but still weird-looking) bottle into a pond. “I was tired of it hanging over me,” he explains. Makes sense.
They actually have a nice little heart-to-heart, standing there in the snow, with Eric leading off by apologizing for everything to do with Belle’s father. Unfortunately, it is at this point that the writers remembered that this is a Beauty and the Beast movie.
Eric: I’ve seen the way you treat others and how you treated me.
That sounds very Beauty-and-the-Beast-ish, and all, but really, Belle berated Eric from the get-go, and it’s a wonder he didn’t go back on their deal. As for others, Belle was awesome to move back home and help raise her siblings after their mother’s death, but I haven’t really seen too many examples of her being extra-specially nice and kind to others, like strangers.
The writers also remember that this is a Christian movie.
Eric: I realize now…I was never alone. I just wasn’t listening.
Yep, that’s right Eric, it is your fault for not “listening” to Jesus. You poor, silly sap, thinking you were all alone after your wife died next to you and you sat with her body for three hours by yourself…and your friends deserted you and the town started using you as a Sunday School lesson.
Yeah, Eric had tons of support. He just wasn’t listening for it.
Eric: You were right—God wants me to be happy.
I gotta figure those are easier words to say when you’re talking to a beautiful woman in a gorgeous natural setting, but more difficult to say when you’re trapped in a car with your dead wife.
Eric adorably asks her to stay on as his assistant, then self-consciously backtracks and admits that is “just an excuse” for asking her to stay in his life.
Damn, guy is just too cute. I mean, he sucked as a mean guy, but this is really his strength.
Eric: I’ve only cared about myself for a very long time…
Well, since no one else cared about him, can’t say as I blame him.
Eric: …and it’s awkward…now that I care about you.
Okay, this is not the end of Sense and Sensibility or anything, but I’ll admit it like the honest person I am: I’m picking up what this guy is putting down.
Finally, Eric declares he will try as hard as he can to deserve Belle. Calling back to her father’s suggestion, Belle responds:
“Well, you don’t have to try very hard. You make me happy.”
That…doesn’t make too much sense to me, as far as the trying part, but it’s still pretty sweet. Damn shame that the women in these Christian romances never seem to be as well done as the men.
So, they kiss, of course, and—
WAIT A SECOND
An unmarried man and woman have just locked lips in a Christian movie, and we’re seeing it happen.
We need proof of this momentous event.
Wow. Mind blown. (And it’s not even the world’s most chaste kiss, either. I mean, they’re not sticking their tongues down each other’s throats, but they’re clearly both into it, with the grabbing of the jacket and the neck.)
Heading back out over the mountains, we hear again from our chipper narrator lady:
With Eric’s transformation and his renewed faith, the people in the land discovered the Beast was gone. In his stead was a kind and gentle man, whose heart had been changed by the power of God and the love of a woman named Belle. And while their world wasn’t perfect, they still lived happily ever after.
I know I say this a lot, but I did not see much power of God in this movie. Not saying that’s a bad thing, just that I don’t see where the narrator is getting this.
Then again, perhaps I, like Eric, was “not listening.”
And these Christian towns suck. I am reminded so much of Christmas Town, and our conclusion that the people of the town were way worse to Jordan Scoville than he ever was to them. Same here. I mean, Eric was a jerk to a few individuals, but it’s not like he ever taught a classroom full of children to hate and fear anyone.
Ah well. Belle is not the greatest, but certainly a big step up from Joella Ratchford.
By popular request…
1950s kids take on science and creationism!
Okay, so things have been pretty routine so far: not a great, but not (overly) bad movie. Only light mentions of the Bible/Book of Mormon.
But now, shit is about to officially get real. Jordan Scoville territory here.
Eric has to go out to a local business dinner, and invites Belle. The asking is pretty cute: typical rom-com “I’m asking for ‘business’ reasons but it’s really because I want todate you.” Eric’s nervous smile when he asks says it all.
(Not for nothing, but this is good direction here. Not only is Eric slowly staring to think of Belle romantically, but he asks her…almost like a teenager would. And considering that Eric was widowed in his early 20s, this makes sense.
This actor is MUCH better at playing nervous/happy than he is at playing mean/heartbroken.
It also says it all that although Eric introduces Belle as his assistant, the other two women are the wife and girfriend of each of the other businessmen. ;)
This dress, though? Not feelin’ it.
The dress: First of all, it should be gold (as an homage, don’tcha know?). It also really doesn’t show off Belle’s (excellent) figure. Then again, and t o be totally fair, it doesn kinda look like something Belle found on clearance, so maybe I shouldn’t complain.
At the dinner, Belle is, natch, the only person with compassion at the table, suggesting that the company NOT fire most of its employees when they switch to “a new model.” Belle talks these seasoned businessmen into keeping their old employees and re-training them.
(Nothing more clearly telegraphs the Mormon-ness of this movie than this restaurant scene: despite being the fanciest joint in town, every single person at every single table is drinking water.)
After dinner, Eric takes Belle on a drive up into the snowy mountains. They trek about a hundred yards away from the car, to a snowy field where they sit on a log and chat. (Belle’s dress and shoes love that, I’m sure. Plus, damn, Eric loves being out in the snow.)
They chat about Eric getting into consulting, and Belle opines that he’s “better off” doing that than he would be running his own business (again alluding to Mrs. Higgin’s gossip, and, of course, adss that “there’s someone watching out for us.”
This prompts Eric to tell Belle the details of the night his wife died. They were out for a leisurely drive, when a tire blew and they went off the road…
“There wasn’t a single other person on that road—no one to help. For-for a highway like that, that’s pretty unusual. It-it was as if God knew exactly what he was doing, and I couldn’t do a thing to stop him. By the time I woke up, she was already gone. I prayed and I prayed, but it didn’t make a difference. So I sat, trapped, unable to move, in that car for three hours until someone even noticed.”
Stopping here because THREE HOURS.
That poor man. That poor, poor man.
We’ve seen a lot of tragedy that God has meted out over the course of the books and movies critiqued here, but there is something especially horrifying about this one, at least for me. It’s the helplessness, I think, the being alone and trapped with your tragedy and pain, with no one to talk to. And I have a sneaking suspicion that in the ten years since it happened, this may be the first time Eric has told the whole story to anyone. Though I hope that his detox and rehab featured some good old talk therapy.
Anyway, back to his story…
“But I didn’t stop praying. I figured it was the only thing I could do. I was stupid enough to think that she might actually be okay; she might actually live. So, no, I don’t think God cares for me. And I don’t believe he wants me to be happy.”
Well, makes sense to me. Hell, I’m surprised that Eric believes there is a God at all, but as we’ve seen, writers seem to find it easier to work from deism to Christianity than from atheism to Christianity.
Let’s see what sensitive Belle, who “brightened the day of all who knew her,” has to say to this tale of heartrending loss.
“This happened such a long time ago—do you still feel this way?”
Wow. Okay, first of all, ten years is not “such a long time ago.” Second of all, idiot, he’s been speaking in the present tense about his feelings. Dammit.
“What about getting stronger and growing from your experiences?”
Yeah, dude, it was only the sudden and traumatizing death of your wife, and sitting next to her dead body for HOURS. Suck it up and grow, asshole!
Eric, uncharacteristically, is mildly perturbed and confused instead of just angry:
“Growing? I lost everything. I became a drunk, had to put my life on hold.”
True dat. And Belle has a pithy response:
“Sometimes bad things happen to good people.”
THAT’S what you’re going with, Ms. Mature Christian? “Bad things happen to good people?”
Unbelievable. Mind blown.
Hey, Belle, how about keeping your big yap shut and just giving the man a hug, huh? I mean, has anyone hugged this man since his loss? Holy crap.
Honestly, no wonder people are leaving the church in droves, if this is the best they have to offer grieving people.
Oh, but I will say that Eric handles this idiocy damn well, with a nod and a…
“I better get you home.”
But Belle’s not done yet. As they pull up to her house, she asks him why he went it alone, when there must have been someone he could have go to for help. I expected a Poor-Little-Rich-Boy response as Eric explains that no, he actually didn’t have anyone (and that seems to be true—he has no family that we’ve seen, and only fair-weather friends), but he simply responds that he did have comfort, from “a bottle.”
Belle, ever the soul of sensitivity, says:
“Not the strongest solution.”
I hate her. So much.
Eric, to his everlasting credit, doesn’t take her up on the fight she is trying so very hard to pick. He just sort of avoids the point by pointing out that there was nothing else to do, and asks:
“What else did I have?”
Belle has been waiting for her chance:
“Maybe more than you realized.”
Oh ZING! He had GOD, don’tcha know! A God who let his young wife die and let him sit with her corpse for hours and who let him become a drunk for five years! THAT God!
Man. Again, Belle’s delivery sucks.
She just lets Eric ponder this as she wanders to her house. And the bittersweet Music of Coming Back to God plays, as Eric heads home, gazes out his window, then picks up and leafs through the Bible/Book.
A day or two later, Belle asks for permission to do a quick cram session at Eric’s house. I guess she just wants to study by his bitchin’ hot tub. And, of course, that means he is around when she gets a call from Kelli’s school, that Kelli is in trouble and needs to be picked up, now. Belle can’t, because she needs to get to her exam like, now, so Eric volunteers to get her.
What follows is actually the most enjoyable sequence of the movie, featuring (with a nice, light touch) a childfree person navigating simple school logistics (Eric to the secretary: “Do I have to sign for her?“). Then, of course, he is mistaken for Kelli’s father by the principal (a much less funny scene, mostly because the principal overacts and has a terrible sense of comic timing).
Then, Eric takes Kelli home, but she wants to talk to somebody, and Eric is there, so she simply stops in the schoolyard and begins to unburden herself. After all, she wasn’t really cheating, but just forgot something that she knew, so she double-checked herself on someone else’s paper.
The dialogue here is quite good, with Eric managing to strike an appropriate balance between being an adult, but not an adult with any authority over Kelli (he doesn’t scold her, but mildly comments “You might want to rethink your definition of cheating.“)
Another nice touch: Kelli asks, “Do you ever feel like your life is over?” and it is a moment of humor (Eric being amused by her tweenish angst), and not pathos (Eric thinking of his dead wife).
Maybe I’m making too much of this because so much of this movie has been dull, but I like that they show Eric’s growth through a scene with a minor character, and not with Belle.
Nice callback to earlier scene of Belle being horrible:
Kelli: [Belle] will probably tell me some other deep thing like—
Eric: –”grow from it”?
(My admiration for this scene aside, this particular bit called for a reshoot—both actors rush their lines and I could barely understand them.)
Kelli mentions her dead (and idolized) mother and Eric, sweetie that he is, draws her out and just lets her talk.
Kelli also reveals to Eric that Belle was in school in California when their mother died, and she moved back home to help out. Which was already implied, but I guess Eric didn’t know this for a fact.
Later, Belle is nice(r than she was before) and thanks Eric for helping with Kelli. They share a fast food meal and discuss her dead mother. Belle, of course, handled grief in a much healthier way than stupid Eric did, because she trusted God not to give her anything she couldn’t handle. To give her credit, Belle actually gives Eric some credit for strength in this scene, complimenting the strength it took for him to stop drinking. Eric, who apparently took Belle’s snide remarks in the car to heart, points out that he started drinking. Perfect Belle, of course, did not.
I don’t mean to play Tragedy Olympics here, but I will point out their situations were quite different. Belle lost her mother as a young adult. That is incredibly sad, but Belle had her family and friends to comfort and support her, and a job to do (to focus her energies) as she helped raise her brothers and sister. Eric, OTOH, had nobody to help him through the shocking and incredibly traumatic loss of his wife RIGHT IN FRONT OF HIM.
Plus (and I’m probably going to sound like a jerk right now) Belle’s mother died young, but predeceased her children, the normal and expected course of events. Eric was widowed (widowered?) at something like twenty-three. That certainly adds an extra level of shock and horror.
Eric heads to New York for a consultation, and rather cutely calls Belle as soon as he lands, much like a boyfriend would. (I love his nervously awkward attempt at conversation: “So, um…how are your classes going?” and his self-conscious geez-what-a-dork-I-am head shake as he hangs up.)
Back in Utah, Anna and Belle chat. Anna is picking up that Belle likes Eric, but she still kinda wants Belle to pity-date Craig. Belle, for her part, is feeling womany pangs of conscience for no reason (“I was kinda rude to him the last time I saw him…I mean, not really, but still, I shoulda been…”).
Quick refresher: last time Belle saw Craig, he scolded her for not being at his beck and call 24/7, then repeatedly insulted a man while standing in that man’s own yard. So Belle can give herself a break any time, now.
But she doesn’t, and they have lunch together. The sound in this scene is horrible—it sound like they stuck a boombox under the table to simulate restaurant music playing.
Belle is miffed by the fact that after having lunch with her, Craig wants to spend more time with her. I know, right? Shocking. Almost as though when she acts like she likes dating him, he wants to plan the next date. Creepy stalker that he is, he is almost charming (expressing wishes for her happiness), but then overplays his hand by caressing her hands and waxing on about how special she is. Belle, of course, does not see this behavior as grounds for just cutting off the relationship.
Can this relationship be saved?
Then Belle decides to play creepy stalker herself, wandering around Eric’s house at night, contemplating his commemorative liquor bottle, etc. She considers calling him, but decides against it.
So, we know that with Belle and Eric careening towards mutual admissions of affection, we need a final conflict!
The next day (or possibly two or three days later; who knows), Belle is wandering around Eric’s house, muttering “Where is he?” Um, at his out-of-town business meeting, right?
Nope, Belle sees him out the window, wandering his ground (Eric really has a thing for hanging out in the cold outdoors). This is all pretty awkwardly set up—we have no indication of how much time has passed.
Belle takes this opportunity to head into Eric’s office, sit in his chair, and read the files he has laid out on his desk. Geez. Belle, that is Eric’s stuff—leave it alone!
She’s so enthralled (and so inconsiderate of other people’s stuff), that she takes the files into the kitchen, so she can read and snack under the watchful eye of Mrs. Haygood (I know I kept calling her Mrs. Higgin in Part 1, but IMDB confirms that she is Mrs. Haygood. I’m sorry, but when the actors say the name, it sounds like Higgin every time!)
Oh, and Mrs. Haygood is unpacking groceries, including a carton of twenty-four eggs. Holy crap! Look, only Eric and Mrs. Haygood (maybe) live in this house. I’m starting to feel like Eric is another Jordan Scoville, cursed of a sensitive tummy, with the added problem that everyone around him keeps trying to force-feed him. Remember that humongous breakfast?
Eric does not take kindly to Belle butting into his business, though I can only assume we’re meant to side with her during this exchange:
Belle: Eric, it’s my job—
Eric: Your job is to do what I tell you.
Belle: You know, despite what you may believe, I can think for myself. And if you really want a decent assistant, let me do something besides running errands for you.
*they establish the fact that Belle actually knows that Eric is a consultant, and move the fight into the office*
Belle: Look, you might as well let me do something more useful—you only have so many shirts I can take to the cleaners.
Eric: I can buy more!
Ha! I really like this guy.
Belle: What do you have to lose? I’ll still do all the menial stuff; just give me a chance to show you what I can do.
Eric: You’ve been here a couple of weeks, do you think I trust you with anything of impor—
Belle: If you want a real assistant, then yes!
Okay, as shitty as it was of Eric to threaten to call Belle’s dad’s boss if Belle didn’t work for him to pay off the debt, Eric still has a point. He is her boss, weird and wrong though this situation is, and he calls the shots. And she’s doing personal-assistant-type work: coordinating his schedule, making his life easier by doing business chores. I mean, it’s not like he’s calling her an “assistant” and then making her scrub the floors and clean toilets (not that there is anything wrong with such work: I’ve done it today myself!).
My point is, Belle is acting like this is her MBA internship or something, and thus that she deserves to be involved in the actual workings of Eric’s business. Which she doesn’t. At all.
Nevertheless, Eric hands Belle a bunch of files…
Eric: Fine. Read all these. When you start to understand what you’re really dealing with, then we’ll talk.
He stalks off, and Belle gets a “ha-ha, I won” smirk on her face. As you would.
After a long morning of reading files and doing zero real work for Eric, Belle wanders into the “staff kitchen,” and just straight-up asks Mrs. Haygood why Eric is the way he is. Which seems a bit rude since he just gave her exactly what she wanted.
But Mrs. Haygood turns out to be quite happy to divulge the private details of Eric’s life to a relative stranger!
Eric used to be married and had a successful business with a couple of his friends, and…
Mrs. Haygood: He went to church, strong as everyone else.
I’ll just cut in here to say that I find that a weird turn of phrase. Eric went to church strongly?
Beauty vs. Belle Change!
Mrs. Higgin: He went on a mission to…um…oh, someplace in Europe.
[This line is cut.]
(I wonder where Belle’s brother is? Africa? Orlando?)
Mrs. Haygood: Then his wife died. Sarah was her name. It was an accident, but Eric took it very hard.
Wait, so if someone you love dies in an accident, you usually don’t take it hard, the hell???
Mrs. Haygood: He blamed God for it. Stopped going to church, then he started drinking.
Belle: So that is true.
This bit about drinking plays out the same in both versions, and in a rather different way than I would have expected. After all, the idea is that Mormons don’t drink at all, ever, and there is certainly a strong strain in conservative Christianity these days that also says that any good Christians…never drink, ever.
In light of this, it’s interesting that, despite Belle’s initial reaction, the real problem is that Eric’s drinking became problem drinking, not merely having a glass of wine with dinner.
Mrs. Haygood: Alcohol affected Eric so much that his business partners…his so-called friends…ousted him from his own company. He was alright financially, as you can see. That just made matters worse. He was drinking so much that his whole life was out of control. … Got so bad, he eventually checked himself into one of those rehab clinics. Hasn’t had a drink in five years.
That’s…really cool of Eric. That’s a lot of tragedy in a short amount of time, and he handled it all himself.
Which…I’m not sure that’s a great point for a Christian movie to make. Problems come along in life, or you even create them yourself? Why, solve them yourself! With no help from family, friends, the church, or God!
But of course, Eric is still mean. Which sucks and all, but is not like being a creepy stalker. And hell, apart from not paying his former assistant for her last two weeks of work, he’s mostly just kinda snappish, which lots of people are who haven’t gone through widower-hood in his early twenties.
(I’m guessing as to the age. Mormon boys usually go on missions at age 19 or 20, and missions last two years. And Mrs. Higgin seems to place the mission and the death of Sarah very close together in time, which makes it seem like Eric got back from Europe and almost immediately got married. That would also fit with the fact that this all happened ten years ago, putting Eric in his early thirties, which is how old he looks.)
(Then again, it is often risky to guess a man’s age. I’m always reminded of the line from All About Eve:
Margo: Bill’s thirty-two. He looks thirty-two. He looked it five years ago. He’ll look it twenty years from now. I hate men.
Gorammit, I love that movie. Haven’t seen it? Watch it!)
Anyway, Mrs. Haygood philosophizes on Eric’s attitude:
Mrs. Haygood: Everybody takes hard times differently. For Eric, he still blames God. And all those rumors don’t help, either.
I know, right, what with the church using him as a Sunday School lesson and all!
That evening, as Belle is reading Eric’s files, she gets a call from Craig, inviting her out to dinner or a movie. She semi-politely puts him off for “maybe this weekend,” and it all seems perfectly innocuous until the camera pans back to reveal that Craig called her from his car which is parked outside Belle’s house.
Weirdly, as Craig pulls away, light hijinks music plays. Because creepy stalking behavior is goofy fun, I guess.
The next day, Belle talks to Eric in his bitchin’ home theater about the files she’s read.
Eric: Tell me what you learned.
Belle: I thought your analysis was pretty good.
Eric: *rolls his eyes* That means so much to me.
I don’t blame him for the sarcasm here. It really does sound like she’s giving him a vapid compliment to avoid the question. And I like that Eric doesn’t just take every compliment and run with it, as his due.
Belle continues her compliments on Eric’s intelligence and insight, but of course finds that his fault is that he’s “a little harsh on them.” Because when companies hire a consultant to help them do better, they really need everything to be candy-coated, I guess.
(Not for nothing, but Eric just can’t keep the smile off his face in this scene, even when he’s supposed to be annoyed. Naturally, this does not lead to a reshoot. Don’t get me wrong, I like this treatment of the Beast as a basically decent guy who is mean to everyone, but really just needs a hug, but stop smiling when you’re supposed to be angry.)
Eric boots Belle out of the theater, and goes to work out. Say what you will about the guy, but he’s found constructive ways to cope with stress.
Later, at her real part-time job, Anna is a good friend to Belle again:
Beauty vs. Belle Change!
Anna: Is it really worth it? I mean, your dad could find another job eventually.
Belle: Nnnnn…it took him months to find this one. Plus, with James on his mission and Mike and Kelli…we need the stability.
Anna: Is it really worth it? I mean, your dad could find another job eventually.
Belle: Nnnnn…it took him months to find this one. Plus, with James away at school and Mike and Kelli…we need the stability.
(Interesting naming scheme for the kids in this family. The girls are Belle and Kelli, two sorta-popular, “modern” names that sound similar. The boys are James and Michael, two very popular, classic Bible names. Of course, Belle must be Belle, but it’s still interesting to think about.)
Short scene: Mrs. Haygood tells Eric dinner is ready and to hurry or it’ll get cold. He’s nonplussed by the news. Totally the reincarnation of Jordan Scoville. After the tense day he’s had, he’ll probably have tummy troubles all night long.
Eh, maybe I was wrong, because turns out Eric was catching a cold. The next morning, when Belle comes into his room to drop his clean clothes, she catches him still in bed, miserable and coughing. But he’s also in better spirits than we’ve ever seen him:
Belle: I’m so sorry, I thought you were already in the office. I should’ve checked…sorry.
Eric: *small smile* Good thing I wasn’t in the shower.
(At this line, Belle genuinely blushes. It’s actually pretty cute.)
Then Eric very sweetly apologizes—twice!—for his behavior yesterday, and gives her the day off. (Though how a day off would matter in the paying-for-the-vase scheme is left unsaid. Maybe he’ll just mark a credit for a day’s work.)
The next day, Belle seems emboldened enough by the apology to inquire about the (very weird-looking) bottle of liquor Eric keeps in a display box in his office.
Beauty vs. Belle Change!
Belle: Isn’t it kind of a temptation?
Eric: That’s coming from someone who would never understand. Have you ever had a drop of alcohol in your life?
Belle: No, and you knew that. But that’s why I’m asking. I really don’t understand.
Belle: Isn’t it kind of a temptation?
Eric: That’s coming from someone who would never understand. Have you ever had a drop of alcohol in your life?
Belle: *gives him a “c’mon, really” look*
This edit makes a lot of sense. In Beauty, Eric knows that a good Mormon girl like Belle wouldn’t touch alcohol. In Belle, Eric knows Belle is a serious Christian, but that’s no guarantee that she’s never tasted alcohol.
Eric explains that the weird bottle is “a reminder…to never go there again.” Eric kinda rocks. Also, all this talk of drinking is making me thirsty.
Hang on a minute.
Anyway, they both take different business calls, which culminates with Belle taking the fall for Eric forgetting to send out an urgent package yesterday (because he was sick). Eric is quite touched by this (though it’s implied that he sets the record straight with the client), and even asks Belle to edit his response to a client, to make it more “diplomatic.” Aww, she is thawing his cold, cold heart!
But it turns out to be a case of three steps forward, two steps back. When Eric reads Belle’s edits, he finds that she’s written things like “too harsh, too critical, too mean.” Eric gets ticked at this, and though this is supposed to be another instance of his beastly temper, I really don’t blame him. It’s not exactly constructive criticism.
He tosses her notes off the balcony, and goes to play some pool. I like this characterization of Eric—they’ve hit several times that he really needs a physical outlet when he gets stressed. And sure enough, after a few minutes, he feels remorse and goes down to help Belle pick up the papers. And I don’t even blame her here for being a bit ticked at him for running hot and cold.
He helps her up (this being, I think, the first time they’ve touched), and they go for a little walk together. Eric explains that his wife did all the gardening and landscaping, which I assume means that Eric grew up in this house, since he and his very young wife lived here as newlyweds.
Belle: How long ago did she pass away?
Eric: Ten years ago. But you knew that, didn’t you? Mrs. Haygood has a tendency to talk about my history.
Wow. I would have a tendency to fire the gossipy wench, if she talked about my history to everyone she met.
Eric apologizes freaking again, emphasizing twice that he appreciates her work. What a doll he’s turning out to be.
Interestingly, the next scene finds Belle doing her MBA homework in Eric’s living room. That seems…odd. Why not just go home and do it? Does she think he’ll be happy that she’s doing homework while on his clock?
I guess he is, because he starts to help her with it, aided by the romantic montage music.
It’s not a training montage, of course, but a Falling in Love montage, where they are shown working together, looking at the Bible or Book of Mormon together, playing basketball together, playing pool together.
One shot shows Mrs. Haygood watching them, smiling and nodding in satisfaction. Hate that gossipy bitch.
Just as things are looking up, though, here comes
Gaston Craig to spoil things. He shows up at Eric’s house while Belle is working. (Creepy!) He scolds her for not being available to him at all times, and Belle tries to be nice to him, but clearly this guy needs a kick in the ass.
He may be a creepy stalker, but he’s not a fool, and quickly discerns that Belle likes Eric. He’s more annoyed by the fact that Eric is rich than anything else, though he then brings up Eric’s “questionable” nature. But it’s when he calls Eric “beast” that Belle actually gets pissed and buggers off.
Oh, and Eric witnessed the whole thing (from the balcony above them)! (Kudos to the screenwriters for not having Belle say something that could be misinterpreted as mean to Eric, and making a “Big Misunderstanding” plotline. Eric only sees and hears that Belle is being fair and nice and that she won’t hear Eric be disrespected by someone standing in his freaking yard.)
I like that Craig is becoming creepier and creepier.
Next time: a kinda-sorta date! And Belle actually attempts to (re)convert Eric!
I’ve teased this puppy twice now, so it’s time for a bit of intro before we begin.
I saw Belle and the Beast: A Christian Romance on my local Christian station, and found out the fascinating history that followed: originally called Beauty and the Beast: A Latter-Day Tale, it was released in 2007, according to IMDB. Wierdly, though, IMDB shows the picture as the movie I saw, Belle and the Beast. If the DVD release dates on IMDB and Amazon are accurate, the Mormon references were scrubbed, and Belle came out on DVD a few months after Beauty.
The runtimes also show 92 minutes for Beauty and 91 minutes for Belle. I’m pretty sure I know what that Mormon minute was.
So here I am going to cover both Beauty (Mormon) and Belle (not-Mormon). A note before we begin: the subtitles of the movies notwithstanding, there are RTCs and others out there who do not think Mormons are “real Christians.” (They do the same with Catholics, as we’ve seen in the Left Behind and Underground Zealot series.) As far as I’m concerned, Mormons are Christians: they believe in Jesus as lord and savior, which makes them as Christian as any Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, or Anglican. So I’m going to try and avoid making reference to the “Christian” version versus the “Latter-Day” version, and instead do as follows:
Beauty = Beauty and the Beast: A Latter-Day Tale. This one came first.
Belle = Belle and the Beast: A Christian Romance. The edited version, shown on Christian television stations.
I will also note exactly where the two movies differ—what the edits are.
On with the show!
As we pan over what I can safely assume are the beautiful mountains of Utah, the narrator intones:
Once upon a time, in a land not unlike your own, there lived a beautiful young woman named Belle. She was kind and thoughtful, selfless and hard-working. Above all, Belle loved God and her family. Belle spent her time pursuing her education and working to help her family. She brightened the day of all who met her, with her cheerful outlook on life, a reflection of her faith. But in the same land lived one concerned with no one but himself. He had great wealth and lived in the utmost luxury. Yet no one envied him. He was a ruthless, cold-hearted man. His name was Eric Landry. Yet throughout the land, he was more commonly called The Beast.
A lot of this strikes me as stuff that could be acted out in the first act, not told, especially since we are dealing with a remake of a well-known tale. But what do I know?
During all this, we get a shot of Belle striding purposefully out of her (pretty nice) house and hopping into her car, then a pan of Eric’s cool, old-school mansion.
Then inside, where Eric’s housekeeper-cook (and apparently, his only help in this massive house), Mrs. Higgin. She is our Mrs. Potts substitute, I assume.
She slides Eric’s breakfast across the counter to him, like Eric’s house is a greasy-spoon diner or something. Now, granted, I am the kind of person who can barely look at food before noon, but this, to me, looks frakking disgusting:
Look at all that food! (And there are two eggs there—one is hiding behind the parsley.) Is this the only food Eric is allowed all week or something. Holy crap.
Eric, whom I immediately recognize as a man after my own heart, snaps that this is not breakfast, and Mrs. Higgin responds that she’ll toast him a bagel. Then she schluffs the whole mess into the trash.
What, lady, you didn’t think to ask him what he wanted before you set out on this mission to cook the entire house? I think this bit is meant to show that Eric is unappreciative of what he has, but to me, it just makes Mrs. Higgin look like an idiot. (It’s not like she’s new around here, either—it is implied that she’s worked for Eric for years. She should know his tastes.)
Meanwhile, we find that Belle works at an orthodontist’s office with her BFF, Anna. Anna has the makings of an interesting character, makings that are nearly destroyed because the director didn’t tell her to slow down when she speaks.
“Idunnowhatyou’regonnadowithanMBAanyway,” Anna says, so we know that MBA student Belle will be able to stand toe-to-toe with businessman Eric.
Anna is also Belle’s self-appointed wingwoman, and is trying to set up her cousin, Craig, with Belle. So we know who our Gaston substitute will be.
Back at Casa Landry, Eric is having an argument with his assistant, a very pretty young woman not granted the dignity of a name, right in front of the schlubby fireplace repairman.
The dialogue is so bad that I can’t tell who is right or wrong as far as the actual dispute goes, but it all culminates with this:
Assistant: Like you have a relationship with anyone.
Eric: You’re fired!
Assistant: Y’know what? Don’t bother. I’ve had my resignation typed up for weeks. *hand him the letter*
Eric: Well, then, judging by the date on this thing, I don’t have to pay you for the last few weeks, now do I?
Assistant: *stalks out*
Um…I’m not sure that’s quite how it works, Eric.
But never mind! The important thing is that one second later, the schlubby repairman stands up and swing around, knocking over and breaking a vase/urn type thingy.
Vase/urn type thingy, 0.224 seconds pre-breakage
Eric pitches a fit, which I can kinda understand. I mean, isn’t it the repairman’s responsibility to move breakables out of the way before he begins his work, precisely because something like this might happen.
Eric: This is worth the lives of ten people. Twenty, if they’re you!
Heh. I am actually sympathizing with Eric at this point. He really does seem to be surrounded by fools.
Eric informs Schlubby Repairman that he’ll be calling his boss in the morning, Schlubby Repairman whinily begs for his job, and Eric orders him out.
That night, Belle is fixing dinner for her tweenage brother and sister, Mike and Kelli. Mike serves no purpose whatsoever as a character, and his sole “trait” is that he snidely repeats other people’s words:
Belle: You’re lucky [that your teacher grades on a curve].
Kelli: Yeah, I know.
Mike: Yeah, I know.
Kelli: Mike, stop acting like a seven-year-old.
Mike: Mike, stop acting like a seven-year-old.
I don’t blame Kelli one bit. That would drive me crazy, too.
In Belle, this dialogue is simply cut out.
Belle calls her father to the dinner table. So, in both versions, this is the moment we find out that (gasp!) Schlubby Repairman is Belle’s father!
After dinner, Belle realizes that something is wrong, and gets her dad to admit what happened. There is a bit of subtlety here (or maybe I just want there to be): it is implied that Belle’s father is a chronic job-loser and generally a whiny, spineless wuss.
Again, I may be seeing what I want here.
Then again, the original Beauty and the Beast tale is kinda predicated on Belle’s father being a whiny wuss, no?
Belle’s Dad: The man’s a…a beast. … Mr. Landry is a powerful man, and a spiteful one. Everyone knows it: the church, the town, everyone.
Question: If everyone knows what a dick Eric is, why are Belle and her dad so certain that the boss will fire the dad on Eric’s complaint?
Oh, well. With a look that says she has walked this road before, Belle steps in to clean up her father’s mess (figuratively, at least; I assume Mrs. Higgin cleaned up the literal mess), and goes to Landry’s mansion. After being buzzed in by Mrs. Higgin, she wanders around the house to find Eric, who, for reasons best known to himself, is sitting outside on a bench in the snowy night, doing absolutely nothing.
I do not sit outside in the snow in the middle of the night for fun. But that’s just me.
Eric: So you’re the repairman’s daughter. You must be an idiot, too.
*snerk* I kinda like this guy.
Belle and Eric go back and forth on the issue, and the dialogue is not bad here. We’re probably meant to think of Eric as being really cold (and he’s out in the snow, har!) but to me, he makes a valid point that no matter the financial straits of the Watson family, Belle’s dad still frakked up and now he is out a vase.
Beauty vs. Belle Change!
Belle: Please, I have a sister and two brothers, one whom’s on a mission, and they need our support.
Belle: Please, I have a sister and two brothers, one who’s away at college, and they need our support.
Belle makes the situation seem a bit more dire. When boys are off on missions, aren’t their living expenses covered by the Church?
Either way, Eric suggests Belle’s mother find a job. Belle’s mother has been dead for years, of course, to which Eric responds, “lovely sob story,” which is a pretty good Dick Move. He’s also not impressed by the fact that, with only a part-time job, she complains about her family’s destitution, and I kinda get where he’s coming from, especially since she’s also pursuing an advanced degree. Not that she shouldn’t, mind you, but I see his point.
Naturally, they strike up the classic Beauty and the Beast deal, where she’ll work as his assistant until he feels the vase thingy is paid off.
The next evening, Belle has to blow off Anna’s setup of her and Craig, so she can work for Eric. And we get the first glimpse of our Gaston:
He kinda looks like a Made-for-Christian-Movies Matthew Lillard. Not a bad-looking dude, but also not very Gaston-like, especially next to the classicly handsome Eric Landry.
At Landry Mansion:
Eric: You have a name?
Eric: Good. When I ring, you come.
Belle: No, it means “beauty.”
Eric: *glances at her* If you say so.
Ha! Never change, Eric.
Belle is rather put out by the fact that Eric expects her to run errands, like picking up his dry cleaning. Clearly, she expects this job to be more along the lines of an internship, but more on that later.
Beauty vs. Belle Change!
Belle wanders around the mansion, trying to find Eric’s room so she can hang up his suits. She finds a Book of Mormon on a bookshelf.
Belle wanders around the mansion, trying to find Eric’s room so she can hang up his suits. She finds a Bible on a bookshelf.
Later, Mrs. Higgin serves up some pie for Eric and Belle. In a callback to Belle’s bookishness, Eric tasks her with organizing his books. Considering this is her first day and all, and considering the circumstances under which she is working, Belle does not take this request very well:
Eric: When you’re finished [with your snack], I want you to alphabetize the books.
Belle: Are you sure? I can do—
Eric: I want you to alphabetize the books.
Belle: You know, I can do more than filing and alphabetizing of you want; I’m pretty organized.
Eric: Well then, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Okay, Eric’s definitely done some dickish things so far, but this time, I’m on his side. Belle is the assistant, so it is her job to do what he asks. What’s wrong, Belle, is organizing the books beneath you or something?
That night, Kelli and Mike are making dinner, because they’re good kids (except for the repeating-people thing). But everyone wants to hear all about Belle’s day!
Beauty vs. Belle Change!
Kelli: Last week in Sunday School, Sister Robertson used him as an example of pride and anger. … She says that’s what keeps him from coming to church. That, and the alcohol.
Kelli: Last week in Sunday School, Mrs. Robertson used him as an example of pride and anger. … She says that’s what keeps him from coming to church. That, and the alcohol.
Belle at least has the decency to say that Sister/Mrs. Robertson is “not nice” to do that, and yeah. Seriously, this is how Sunday School works (I have no firsthand knowledge here): teachers just take people from the community and run them down to the children as a lesson? Not nice, indeed. Also not mature or loving.
This is also our first hint that Eric drinks. Which is obviously a big deal both from a RTC and a Mormon standpoint. But so far, we have only seen Eric drink milk and orange juice, like a good Mormon.
The next day, Eric is a bit short with Belle, and she finds out that he plays basketball with himself to de-stress.
After that excitement, we get to something a bit more interesting: the increasing creepiness of Craig.
He shows up at Belle’s house after dinner unannounced, and asks her out for ice cream. She (none too excitedly) accepts, and he reveals that he has already brought two pints and spoons, so they can eat on the porch and chat. Which…is almost kinda sweet, but swings a bit too far into creepy and pushy.
And considering that they haven’t even had one date yet, Craig turns out to be more than a bit presumptuous.
Craig: Maybe it’s time you settled down, find somebody to take care of you.
Belle: I can take care of myself pretty well.
Craig: You know what I mean. Like a boyfriend…or a husband.
Belle: *chokes on her ice cream* Just haven’t found the right guy.
Craig: Maybe he’s sitting right next to you.
Dude! Slow down! I mean, confidence is attractive and all, but geez!
Belle calls him on this, but Craig isn’t one for listening:
Craig: Sometimes you just have to trust your feelings. And if you’re not sure, you can trust mine.
Belle wisely calls it a night. (Unwisely, she tells Craig the location of her second job.) Damn, we’re not even a quarter into the movie, and already the romantic rival has been revealed as a creepy stalker.
The next morning, Belle arrives at the mansion early, to find Eric in the hot tub. He tells her to find a book if she likes, and read until he’s done.
Beauty vs. Belle Change!
Belle reads the Book of Mormon, Third Nephi.
Eric lets Belle read for exactly twenty seconds before calling her back, which is kinda funny, since he had just opened a book himself. We are then treated to far more skin that I am accustomed to seeing in a Christian film, The Passion of the Christ notwithstanding.
Hubba. Also, I love her sweater and want it for my own.
Of course, Belle carried the Bible/Book of Mormon back in with her, which sparks a fight. Despite the book being, in Belle’s words, “a nice copy,” Eric demands she “get rid of it,” and, when she refuses, he tosses it into the hot tub.
Question: Are there nice and not nice copies of Bibles and Books of Mormon? Because both books like quite ordinary to me. It’s not like they’re gilt-edged or family books, is all I’m saying.
Beauty vs. Belle Change!
Eric: It’s just a book.
Belle: No, it’s scripture.
Eric: It’s just a book.
Belle: No, it’s God’s word.
This change, more than any other, confuses the heck outta me. Don’t those two things mean the same thing? Couldn’t they be used interchangeably? Is this lifelong atheist missing something here?
Anyway, Belle demands that he not be so disrespectful as to toss the book into the water, to which Eric sensibly responds that it’s his house and his book, and he can do what he likes. Which, again, yeah.
Despite the previous disrespect Eric has shown her, it is this incident which prompts Belle to make a midday rant call to Anna. Anna is a really good friend to Belle, here, and if the actress didn’t rush every single line, I wouldn’t have to rewind five times to understand how good a friend she is. But, in a nutshell, she talks Belle down.
(Moment of Hilarity alert: While having this conversation, Belle is packing a bag for Eric’s out-of-town business meeting. She grabs a slipper, sniffs it, makes a face, then tosses it into the suitcase.)
That evening, another rather humorous conversation takes place, as Kelli theorizes that since Eric is a rich, mysterious bachelor, he probably has a Batmannish secret identity and, if Belle plays her cards right, she could be Batgirl.
Why, in Christian movies, are the secondary characters always more interesting and amusing than the main ones. Belle is okay, I guess (though I have yet to see any evidence that she “brightens the day” of everyone around her, and Eric is not great as a “Beast.” His anger is so forced, and he comes across as nothing so much as a nice person who just can’t act believably angry. And together, they have decent chemistry…but nothing like the electricity between these two:
So sweet it makes my heart hurt.
Will Belle melt the Beast’s not-really-all-that-cold heart?
Will she ever stop whining about her work?
Will Craig become even creepier?
Will I swoon some more over Once Upon a Time’s Belle and Rumplestiltskin? (Yes.)
On the plane back to the USSA, Jae reveals why she had no concern whatsoever about the fate about to befall her beloved brother:
“I do not believe this slaughter is going to take place. If it doesn’t, it will tell me a lot about your fellow believers and the effectiveness of their prayers. If it does, besides being the most shocked person in the world, I can’t promise how it will make me feel about God. I suppose I will have to believe He is real, but I would have a hard time understanding Him or liking Him much.”
Paul worried about Jae…
He’s worried about Jae??? Jae will be fine, Paul. How about sparing a bit of worry for your brother-in-law, a person you claimed to love back in Chapter 1:
“I know Berlitz is a strange bird,” [Jae] said, “but I love him.”
“And that’s reason enough for me to as well.” [said Paul]
But is a few short hours, Berlitz will die and be sent to an eternity of torture in Hell, for the crime of being raised in a secular world by secular parents, and having a brother-in-law who doesn’t care enough to warn him about the murders he knows are coming.
Let’s unpack the rest of Jae’s comment, though. She says that if the slaughter doesn’t come to pass, it will tell her a lot about believers and the efficacy of prayer. But that’s true either way, no? Jae already knows that her husband and thousands of his “brothers and sisters” are praying for the mass murder of millions of innocents, including children. (Granted, according to Jenkinsian “logic,” the smaller children would probably Pass Go and go straight to Heaven, but not the kids over the magical age of twelve.) Why do the murders not have to come to pass in order for Jae to know that these people are horrible sociopaths?
And then Jae says that if the murders do happen, she will be the most shocked person in the world. I doubt that, as almost every family in the world is likely to suffer at least one unexpected death. But whatever, I’ll forgive her hyperbole since she doesn’t believe it will happen.
And she will “have to believe,” but would have a hard time understanding or liking God. Overstatement followed by understatement.
Besides, Jae has already prayed to God, though she hasn’t “made the transaction” and prayed the sinner’s prayer. So she’s not officially RTC yet, though her attitude about her husband others like him show her most of the way there.
Oh, and Paul still could not give less of a shit about this whole situation. After noting that the slaughter will take place at midnight, Bern time, and that is 6:00 p.m. in D.C., Paul simply sleeps the sleep of the sociopath for the rest of the flight.
They arrive in D.C. in late morning, meaning Paul still has hours to talk to Berlitz, but he just could not possible care less. They basically do nothing all day until the kids come home from school and Ranold comes home from work. Berlitz and Aryanna are going to come over for dinner and celebrate.
In the meantime, Ranold offers Paul a drink, and I think it’s important to note that one of Paul’s final actions in this book is to tell yet another lie:
“I got a little shut-eye on the plane, but alcohol would probably put me out for a week.”
Liar. Paul slept for almost the whole flight, and won’t drink at all now, because good little RTCs don’t drink.
Paul is checking his watch again and again (superspy that he is), and Ranold notices (because he actually is observant) and thinks that Paul just wants to watch himself be the hero on the news again. So, with only a couple of minutes left until the mass murder, they plant themselves in the living room.
Paul drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair.
“Man, I cannot wait for everyone to croak!”
And he doesn’t have long to wait…
At six straight up…
DAMN, I hate that turn of phrase. “Six straight up”??? It’s six o’clock, you jerk!
…it was as if the power went off in the house.
And the power has gone out everywhere, all over the world. So God did a momentary blackout so he could carry out all the murders.
If there’s anything fortunate about this, at least God killed them quickly. The first death we see is the news anchorman, who is slumped over his desk when the TV comes back on, and then Aryanna calls from the car–
Margaret answers the landline, and when Aryanna tells her that Berlitz is dead, his poor mother faints.
(By the way, Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!)
Berlitz was driving, and slumps over when the lights go out (even the headlights of cars), and Aryanna, because she is apparently a FRAKKING BADASS, takes control of the car and steers it to safety.
Gorramitall, Aryanna, why isn’t this book about you?
Paul and Ranold both get skull calls, as the women, Aryanna and Jae, are left to handle the actual crisis.
Enzo Fabrizio has called Paul to gossip. As you would at such a moment.
“It’s happened, Paul. Are you watching the news?”
“Yes, Enzo, I’m just sipping a virgin daiquiri in front of the tube. Because this worldwide crisis has NO EFFECT WHATSOEVER on my actual life and the people I profess to ‘love’.”
Bia has called Ranold. Tai, her son in college, has died. It’s a sad commentary on Bia’s life that the only person she can call for moral support is Ranold, who is himself processing the death of his only son.
People’s actions (and inaction) here rather call back to the crisis of Soon, when L.A. is dessicated. Ranold is stopped for a moment by a panic attack, Bia springs into action. Paul does absolutely nothing.
Here, Ranold is paralyzed for a moment, the women do everything they can (Aryanna, you frakking rock) and Paul does absolutely nothing.
Ranold’s shock is short-lived, however:
“I’ve got to get to Berlitz and help Aryanna,” he said.
GOOD MAN, Ranold.
“Paul, will you come?”
Paul doesn’t even get the chance to say no; Jae says it for him:
“Let him stay with Mom, Dad,” Jae said.
Then Paul makes one of the bigger dumbass mistakes of his life: he tells Ranold RIGHT NOW what’s happened.
“Ranold,” Paul said. “it’s happened.”
You’d think Ranold would realize kinda what’s happened. Both his and Bia’s sons have died at the same moment. He may not think God is behind it, but surely he must think that the Christian terrorists are carrying out their evil plot.
“The curse. The plague. The warning from the underground.”
“Well, okay, not so much a ‘warning’ as it was the fervent mass prayer that millions of innocents die. Isn’t God just the best???”
“What? What?” Ranold looked wildly at everyone in the kitchen, his eyes finally landing on Connor. “But, but your son, your firstborn is fine!”
We’ll get back to this.
The kids burst into tears. Ranold stormed out.
Jae helped her mother into a chair and fanned her. “You kids help me with Grandma. Now! Get me a glass of water. Paul, you’d better check the news.”
Yes, five-year-old child, help me with a grown woman in shock. Paul, go do nothing.
Why does he need to check the news? They both know what’s happening.
(Let’s also note that despite Jae’s prediction that she would be “the most shocked person in the world,” she is handling this with aplomb. You go, girl-who-is-not-quite-yet-RTC.)
So Paul, on the advice of both his buddy and his wife, goes and watched TV. What a helpful dude. Of course, he immediately sees that this is happening all over the world, including to Ball Dangler, who lost his firstborn son.
And on that note, the book ends. Boom.
Much like the cliffhanger ending of Soon, which ended exactly post-”miracle.” So stylistically, I can’t fault the stories for that.
But that firstborn thing…
Ball Dangler’s eldest son (he has four sons and no daughters) is dead. Okay, makes sense. Berlitz is dead. Again, fair enough. He is older than Jae.
Why is Ranold shocked that Connor is alive. Remember, Brie is two years older than her brother.
To my secularly-raised mind, Paul and Jae do not have a “firstborn son.” They have a firstborn daughter and a secondborn son. They have no child who could be affected by the “plague.”
But, I’ve been wrong before, so I checked with reliable sources.
According to my sister-in-law’s Sunday School classes (she was raised Catholic), Connor would be included in the plague. Because he is the first son in the family, and because daughters don’t count, don’tcha know.
It actually makes perfect sense to me that Jenkins/God would think this way. So, let’s roll with it.
So, that’s the children. What about their parents?
Because Connor is not in the crosshairs because Paul is a Christian.
But Jae is not. She might have prayed once and might believe in God, but she doesn’t actually come to Jesus “all the way” until Chapter 4 of Shadowed.
So, daughters don’t count, and mothers don’t count.
Everyone’s shocked, I’m sure.
This is also driven home by the fact that Paul himself is spared the plague. His mother was an atheist and his father was a Christian. Then again, this could also be because both his parents are dead. (Chalk it up, once again, to my secular upbringing, but I just think that people are still their parents’ children, even when the parent is dead.)
(On that note, I was really worried for Ranold earlier in the book, as it is strongly implied that he is an only child. But, presumably, his parents are dead, so he is also spared the plague.)
In conclusion, in order for God to bring the Hellhammer down on your sorry ass, you need to be the oldest boy in the family (but not necessarily the oldest child, and your father must be an alive non-Christian.)
Another note of interest: I know that Jenkins thinks that RTC-ianity is the only real religion, but perhaps even in Atheistopia, there are secret underground Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and pagans. Their firstborn sons are dead, too, and roasting in Hell.
So, that’s Silenced. Worse and even more depressing than Soon.
Before we move on to some awesome Christian movies, let’s have a secular moment of silence (or Silenced, if you will) for poor Berlitz Decenti. And a moment of respect for the awesomeness of his wife, Aryanna.
Okay, that’s done. On to Belle and the Beast!