Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fireproof and the media's portrayal of marriage

As I wrote about on Friday, I watched the Christian-themed movie Fireproof. It’s a story about a man who finds his marriage in deep trouble, decides to try and save it, and then goes to great lengths to do so.

I appreciated the movies portrayal of marriage. Its take-home message is that marriages are really, really important, and that we should put lots of time and effort into making them as good as possible. Furthermore, moral conviction drives our commitment to marriage, above and beyond whatever we happen to be feeling about the marriage or our spouse. The movie ends with the couple reaffirming their marriage vows in a Christian-themed ceremony.

This got me to thinking about other, more common themes in the portrayal of marriage in the movies or on television.

One theme is along the lines of “my spouse, the hidden monster.” In this plot device, a couple is married for some time and the protagonist discovers hidden, creepy things about who they married. Maybe they have some addiction, or they are secretly a cold-blooded killer, or they are a Yankees fan, or something other nefarious activity.

Perhaps more common than that is the “happily ever after” view of marriage. Here movies focus on the various ups and downs of courting, and the big pay-off at the end is the couple getting married. The really interesting, story-telling stuff happens during dating, and marriage is a happily-ever-after state of affairs. A happy marriage is a function of finding the right person, and these movies focus on the ups and downs of doing so.

Most commonly, however, are movies that present marriage as a stable backdrop to the important things in life. In these movies, the dramatic tension comes elsewhere—from the protagonists’ work, hobbies, past history, whatever. Marriage is just a form of scenery, in the background giving some context to the characters but not being particularly important in and of itself.

Now, I’m not advocating that all films focus on marriage, or that those that do always take a particular viewpoint on it. However, it was very refreshing to watch a movie that held up marriage as important above and beyond the romantic impulses that lead people into it.

This fresh take on marriage is probably what made Fireproof a commercial success, grossing more than 30 million dollars (and clearly not costing that much to make). Because it made money, I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll see more films like it in the future.


K T Cat said...

You make a really good point that movies focus on the growth and life cycle of courtship. I would bet that's because there is spice to that part of life, a tension where the audience is wondering if the two will ever get together. Couldn't the same be done with a married couple in a movie?

Not having sat through all of Fireproof, I wouldn't know whether that movie did it or not. After reading these two posts, I'm curious again and might go back and give it another try.

Back to your point - haven't there been a few movies in the last few years where the romantic couple that gets together were formerly married to each other? That's a fantasy of many children of divorced parents. That might sell pretty well these days.

Brad Wright said...

Hey KT, I think you're right that selective aspects of relationships are highlighted for dramatic reasons, but that makes it all the more interesting when a movie highlights real married life.

Don't know about the ex-spouse movies. We don't see many movies... :-(

K T Cat said...

Personally, I prefer watching sports.


Gina Burgess said...

I loved "Fireproof", but my absolute favorite from this production group is "Facing the Giants".

Just a note to let you know, Brad, that I linked to your post about divorce rates. Thank you for the information -- and I use your book "Christians are Hate-filled ..." all the time. You make statistics almost fun :D

Brad Wright said...

Thank you, Gina. I'll have to check out Facing the Giants.