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“” In the middle of all this, they bang on about Jesus a lot. Because that's important and Jesus died on the cross for our sins when he was a little baby. So that proves God's real and stop masturbating, you dirty bastard.
|—Jim Sterling, Movie Defense Force|
an advertisement a film produced by Sherwood Pictures, the propaganda wing of Sherwood Baptist Church, a megachurch in Albany, Georgia, and directed by Alex Kendrick. It features washed-up TV child actor prominent movie star Kirk Cameron and a whole lot of parishioners there at the megachurch.
It is generally regarded as a piece of trash, likely because the producers were more concerned about whether the actors had tithed sufficiently to the church than whether they could actually act; however, it has been roundly drooled over among the Christian wingnut set, winning numerous awards at Christian film festivals and from Christian awards bodies, and selling a great number of copies on DVD, no doubt so that every megachurch in the country can add it to their library.
Cliff's notes version of storyline
The film starts with 'Peter Lorre in M' levels of creepiness, as an unseen small girl, obviously having gotten too many ideas from being an attendee at abstinence balls, informs her mother that she wishes to marry her father upon attaining adulthood.
A number of years later, Kirk Cameron's character, a fireman named Caleb Holt who has not condescended to Accept Jesus Christ as his Personal Lord and Saviour™, upbraids one of his subordinates at the fire department for making the error of abandoning his partner in the middle of a fire, the proper attitude being that "you never leave your partner behind."
Ambling on home, he promptly engages in a spat with his wife, Catherine, played by the daughter of the megachurch's senior pastor. It transpires that this lovely lady *gasp!* holds employment, and she is whining about having to discharge the duties of her job in addition to the duties of a wife, such as taking the man's uniforms to and from the dry-cleaners. She is also sore that he possesses $24,000 in a bank-account when their house is quite desperately in need of improvements, such as new curtains.
A minor dispute over the aforementioned uniforms has soon escalated into a full-blown bawling session, in which he backs her against a wall and screams at her. However, since profanity is not allowed in this nice clean PG-rated film, the poor slighted lover is reduced to calling her a "woman."[note 1] Mrs. Holt, being awfully flustered, informs him that she wants a divorce; he exits the house, upsets their wheelie-bin full of trash, and kicks the latter all over the yard.
Mr. Holt is much put out about his upcoming divorce and blabs about it to his friends. Another of his subordinates at the fire station, who has saved his flagging marriage by Finding the Lord™, attempts to illustrate what happens in a divorce by gluing the station's salt and pepper shaker together, then warning Mr. Holt that if he tries to pull them apart he will break them.
Mr. Holt also tells his father, who has followed much the same routine concerning his marriage and God. On a walk through the country, leading to a wooden cross that has been inexplicably placed there, his father tells him to hold off on his divorce for forty days; then, despite Mr. Holt's insistence that he does not want to do any "religious thing," he sends Mr. Holt a book of his own authorship, entitled The Love Dare, containing forty days' worth of tasks designed to rescue his marriage.
In the first few days Mr. Holt tries to carry the program out on the cheap, doing such things as pouring out her coffee and passing up a $45 batch of flowers in favor of a $25 batch. She (correctly) assumes that there are games afoot, remaining skeptical of the gestures. Mr. Holt is very frustrated over this, eventually screaming at his father that he cannot keep pouring his love out at someone who rejects it. This (quite coincidentally, of course) sets the stage for his father to tell him about how the Love of God™ does just this very thing. Mr. Holt reacts to this brilliant exposition as any reasonable person would, viz., by converting to Christianity on the spot.
A little while later, a house "very conveniently" starts burning down right after a small girl enters it. Mr. Holt saves the girl's life and sustains some burns on his arm, becoming a hero to everyone except his wife. Owing to the burns on his arm, the doctor treating Mr. Holt advises him not to put on his wedding ring until the burns have healed; Mr. Holt puts it on anyway.
At one point Mr. Holt is examining boats on an online shopping site when a Worldly Temptation comes up in the form of *ugh!* a girl in a low-cut shirt on his computer screen. Mrs. Holt had been rather put out by the fact that Mr. Holt was accustomed to viewing what was euphemistically and cryptically referred to as "trash";[note 2] Mr. Holt now reacts to the appearance of this harlot in a very reasonable manner: he says, "Lord, no more addictions," and then destroys said computer with a baseball bat.[note 3]
What eventually makes Mr. Holt's venture a success, however, is when Mrs. Holt finds out that he had spent his $24,000 on much-needed medical equipment for her ill mother and her heart completely melts. Meanwhile, back at the fire station, the subordinate who had initially spoken to him about God and marriage makes a shocking revelation about his love-life: he was *gasp!* married once before and his current wife is his second. In keeping with the level of consistency generally observed among the evangelical set, the entire theme of the film is that one does not abandon one's wife, but it is, of course, perfectly all right for this fellow to continue living with his second wife after splitting with his first, even when Jesus said that was committing adultery.
Talk in the fire station is interrupted; Mrs. Holt has arrived. Mr. Holt goes out to meet her and they eventually enjoy a passionate smooching session. This was filmed quite dramatically, in silhouette, and not because the pastors-cum-directors actually knew anything about cinematography: it was because, at Kirk Cameron's insistence, his actual wife, Chelsea Noble, was standing in for the pastor's daughter, since Mr. Cameron thinks he will eventually go to hell if he even pretends to smooch with anyone but Mrs. Cameron. (It's called acting, Mr. Cameron. You should try it sometime. And if one on-screen kiss will lead you into infidelity, your marriage is seriously in trouble.)[note 4]
In the final scene, Mr. and Mrs. Holt are out at the inexplicably placed wooden cross for a lovely covenant marriage. One is just waiting for someone to shout, Don't do it, people! Don't put that ball and chain on yourselves! Instead, one is only treated to another shattering of the irony meters as Mr. Cameron, who was so squeamish about on-screen smooching, stands calmly through a play-acted wedding service with the pastor's daughter.
The pastor's daughter says that she is now apparently engaged to be married and is excited to put the principles of the film to work in her upcoming marriage. (Careful, there; you're going the right way to making evilutionists out of your children.)
My father's accent
Note the difference in Mr. Holt's accent and that of his father's. While it's not uncommon to speak with a different inflection than your parents (Bush Sr. and Bush Jr.), it's still funny to watch the two men talking to each other.
"Dad, I'm having a problem with my marriage."
"Sun, yuh need tuh far-proof it, cuz Jezus dahd fer ya."
“”Merchandising! Merchandising! Where the real money from the movie is made!
The film, as mentioned before, acts as one long advertisement for the Sherwood Baptist Church, which is made plain by the fact that the first part of the ending credits is the URL of the film's tie-in website, FireproofYourMarriage.com.
Besides such exciting exclusive products as Salvation®, the Kingdom of Heaven™, and the Personal Lord and Saviour™, this site offers a whole line of tie-in merchandise offered in conjunction with a bevy of Christian retail partners.[note 5]
- The Love Dare. The book used in the film actually exists and was written by the pastors-cum-directors. Yours for $14.99! And it even comes with a free bumper-sticker!
- The Fireproof Your Marriage Couples-Kit. In the advertisers' own words: "Great for personal study, as a wedding gift or for pre-martial [sic]/marriage counseling." Get this for $29.95 while your marriage is still in the pre-martial stage, because you don't want to wait until your wife starts throwing kung-fu spin kicks at you in frustration!
- Safe Eyes: A Web-filtering program to stop your wayward husband from looking at
anything without a nihil obstattrash on the Internet. Buy this and you can save yourself those costly episodes of computer smashing.[note 6]
- Fireproof-themed prayer cards: At a price of just $3 per pair, these inspirational cards can help you nurture your relationship with your spouse and also act as an emetic for anyone else who happens to look at them.
Objective critical analysis
The film's makers did not bother holding pre-release screenings for critics, preferring to show it to pastors, presumably because the latter group would be more sympathetic. However this didn't stop several secular critics casting an eye over it. As of September 2018, ten years after release, the film is rated 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, with 8 positive and 12 negative reviews. Positive reviewers include Neil Genzlinger for the New York Times who reckoned the cast were surprisingly good, and despite its gimmicky premise, and two central characters with no discernible romantic attraction or reason to be together, the film is better than most Christian movies and doesn't really go off the rails until two thirds of the way through. (This seems like damning with faint praise but Rotten Tomatoes calls it a thumbs-up.) Entertainment Weekly criticised the film for downplaying Christianity into just another entry in a list of ways to save your marriage, "right between buying roses and preparing a candlelit dinner."
A number of critics remarked on the banality of the film's portrayal of a failed relationship, although opinion was divided as to whether this can be classed as realism, or in contrast it portrays a marriage abnormally free of genuine issues, in which absolutely nothing is at stake. Multiple critics contrasted it with the entertaining melodrama of classic marital dysfunction story Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? AV Club (rating: F) noted "the problem with Cameron and Bethea's marriage is that he's pissed off because his wife actually expects something from him, like extending a little kindness to her or washing a dish every once in awhile." The consensus is that the film is less bad than bland, with dull characters and a refusal to go hysterically off-the-wall till late on; this isn't much of a recommendation even for those looking for some hate-watching.
The film did not receive a direct sequel, but director Alex Kendrick followed it with police drama Courageous (2011) and then another marital drama, War Room (2015), a different take on relationship troubles set in an African-American community (despite no actual references to race).
- Hi, I'm Jesus Christ and I can fireproof your marriage for just $29.95!
- Although this might be a serious insult in Christianity; see for example 1 Timothy 2:11
- Some might say that she could just as well have been referring instead to the megachurch's propaganda.
- Which is, of course, extremely reasonable compared with what Jesus said to do in that situation, viz., castrate yourself (Matthew 5:29).
- In his case he might think that kissing someone else is infidelity.
- Which, as Dave Barry would say, we are not making up.
- Some would say that this takes all the merit out of not looking at the smut, since one does not have to rely on one's own will-power to refrain from it.
- Fireproof - The Official White People Problems Movie
- Matthew 5:31
- Some highlights from the catalog
- Fireproof, Entertainment Weekly, Oct 10, 2008
- Fireproof, Rotten Tomatoes, acessed 3 Sept 2018
- Fireproof, Neil Genzlinger, New York Times, 27 Sept 2008
- Fireproof, Scott Tobias, AV Club, Sept 28, 2008
- War Room Review, The Guardian, 28 Aug 2015.