Fireproof: Part 1
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):
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 works 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 managed 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’s 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!