Recently a friend and I have been going back and forth on the merits of Fireproof (the movie). Much of the discussion revolved around a review of the movie written by Dalrock, an anti-feminist blogger.
Both Dalrock and my friend take a very strong stance on the negative effects of feminism and egalitarianism on the church. While I largely agree with them in principle, I think that their emphasis on feminism causes them to read it into things without warrant. I don’t agree that Fireproof is as lopsided as they seem to believe.
If you haven’t seen Fireproof yet, the rest of this post may contain spoilers.
A Bad Role Model?
In brief, my friend argued that Fireproof taught a lopsided view of responsibility in marriage. He interpreted the movie’s moral to mean that the husband is the only one responsible to make the marriage work. If he isn’t doing his part (or as Dalrock says, making her “haaaaapy”), the movie allegedly teaches wives that they are justified in forsaking their marriage vows, disrespecting their husbands, and courting other men, as Catherine does in the movie. Catherine, in his interpretation, is a role model for wives to follow.
Of course, in any story (or movie) with a moral, not all characters are intended as an example to follow. My friend’s argument assumes that Catherine is intended as an example for wives to follow. But it’s not at all clear that this is the authors’ intent. Rather, it seems that Catherine is intended as a foil to Caleb, the main character. He wants to save the marriage, but is on his own, since she doesn’t care any more.
If that’s the case, then rather than being a prescriptive definition of how wives ought to behave, Catherine is merely a description of how they often (perhaps even usually) do behave in such situations. My friend agreed that this is a reasonable (descriptive) depiction of the wife’s role in many divorces.
…Well, Maybe No Role Model
But, having granted that, he raised a new problem: Fireproof only presents a role model for men. If Caleb is the moral example of the movie, showing how husbands ought to fight for their marriage, where is the corresponding moral example for women? If the movie was really intended to strengthen marriages – as it claims – its focus seems a little one-sided (so the argument went).
In the first place, there’s nothing wrong with the movie choosing to focus on only one side of the relationship. Even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that the movie’s moral is lopsided, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that. For example, Dalrock’s blog focuses heavily on the excesses of women and feminists, while rarely mentioning the excesses of men (and anti-feminists). So there’s nothing inherently wrong with a lopsided presentation.
Further, the individual solution will necessarily be lopsided. A husband who wants to save his marriage can’t change his wife or how she behaves – he can only change the way he acts and treats her. Telling him what his wife should be doing doesn’t help him change his situation (though it might make him feel good to have the focus taken off himself). In that sense, Fireproof is not off base; it’s showing the difference that one person can make in a relationship.
Finally, note that Fireproof does give a moral example for wives. Caleb’s Love Dare isn’t just something husbands do to save their marriages. For example, Caleb’s father reveals that his wife (Caleb’s mother) was actually the one who used it to save their marriage. Although Caleb is a husband, he serves as a role model in this sense for both husbands and wives who want to fireproof their relationships.
In summary, then, there is no anti-masculine agenda. The message of Fireproof is essentially this: One person can change the course of a relationship. It doesn’t matter whether you’re the husband or the wife; you can treat your partner with love and respect, even if they don’t deserve it. And, if the Lord is gracious, you may win them back.
Will it work for everyone? Of course not. It’s a general principle, as you might find in the book of Proverbs. You can’t guarantee the outcome; you can’t control your partner and make them change. You can only change yourself. But often, that’s all you need to do.