Oh Fireproof, I wish I had known what I was getting into. The movie started out with a couple in the throes of emotionally abusing each other, and continued for an uncomfortably long amount of time while they hurled the most spiteful, bitter insults at each other. The husband acted like a demanding douchebag, and the woman like a needy bitch.
The worst part watching was how obviously avoidable or trivial their fights were - oh no you ate the last bagel, oh no you look at porn. It's pretty clear that all they needed to do was show some basic respect and consideration for each other and their fights would have been nonexistent, or at least handled rationally. At the climax of the dysfunctional marriage fight, the guy ends up getting so heated, he visibly frightens the wife who then claims she "wants out". He takes out his frustration by attacking the garbage can, so we know this gem of a husband has anger issues too.
We are then introduced to the work buddy black best friend who has a fantastic relationship with his black wife (no racial intermingling here!). After a near-death rescue experience the black friend says he's not worried about death because "he knows where he's going", but just didn't want to get there from a train. Excuse me, but why? Why not go to heaven and live it up? I love how they knew about the dissonance there: the guy fighting to stay alive but still knowing he will go to heaven, and they try to use a one-liner to cover it up. 'Because you don't want to get there by a train' seems like a pretty lousy excuse not to go to the most amazing place in all creation. Great job masking that dissonance, fellas.
Anyway, the near-death experience was just a plot device to ask our protagonist what he thinks will happen after he dies, and he's not sure. A perfect, moldable target. Another firefighter guy says he's sure that he will go down into the ground and that's it. The husband asks the atheist, "Yeah, but how are you sure? One of you guys is right, and I don't know, he [the Christian] seems like he's for real." After that unbelievably terrible rendering of Pascal's Wager, and the atheist's non-response, I perked up from my games and knew something was up.
No self-respecting atheist would let that one slide. I realized immediately that this might be a Christian propaganda movie, and dropped my game and started furiously taking notes. I didn't remember what Cameron looked like, and had I known Kirk Cameron was the protagonist, I would have started taking notes immediately. Looking back, I should have recognized him by his acting skills.
We then cut to another firefighing buddy offering Cameron advice. He takes a salt and pepper shaker and glues them together in a representative bond of holy matrimony. His analogy works because, "salt and pepper are so different, but you always find them together." By now I am floored at the sexism of this movie. Men and women are different but if you force them to stay together with glue, it makes it fantastic! I wondered if that made for a marriage, then what's a big box of salt, a gay orgy? And could two pepper shakers get glued together?
Earlier in the movie they showed a cut scene of the men and women discussing the breakup fight - he's so insensitive, she's hypersensitive, he's too messy, she's too neat. Could this movie have gotten any more gender stereotypical? What about a little androgyny, please! The other work buddy then informs Cameron that his wedding ring is a symbol of a life-long covenant with God. Which might convince someone who believed in god.
Cameron then meets with his dad, a smarmy aging Christian who is always sitting in front of a phone waiting for his son to call (sometimes his mom is equally creepy sitting slightly off-camera eavesdropping on the conversation). He tells his dad his relationship's in trouble, and rebuffs any advice from his mom because he's a sexist prick and she's an enemy girl who doesn't understand. The dad makes the husband wait for 40 days (how Biblical!) before getting a divorce. Cameron gets a book with tidbits of daily advice to try and save his failed marriage.
They only gave us a few days of the actual advice - don't say mean stuff to your partner, make little gestures of love, invest time and effort and money into your partner, get to know your partner and ask about your partner's day. All fantastic advice, but there are much better sources than the bible. Take Gottman, a mathematician-turned psychologist who turned a scientific rational eye to relationships. He's studied this stuff and come up with rational and scientifically sound advice. Since we are only given about 4 or 5 days worth of advice based on biblical passages, let me fill in a few more days with biblical relationship advice, since Fireproof seems to have chosen only bits of advice that jive with the sort of answers boring old science has come up with.
Wives should submit to their husbands so Cameron should just demand his due respect as head of the house.
He should also remember to wife to the preacher and make her eat dirt-water after learning about the doctor (to be exposed!), and recall not to sit on anything his wife sat on when she has her period. Perhaps he should take a second wife that will treat him better and make her jealous, or he could always claim she was not a virgin and get her stoned to death.
Don't forget also if he just abandons his wife he will get everlasting glory in heaven.
After that, the wife starts chatting up a nice, handsome doctor at her job, oh no! She might find someone who has similar long-term goals and interests and treats her well. The whole doctor angle gets fleshed out later when he horribly expresses concern, admiration and respect for her. His only crime is that he seems to genuinely care for her and like her. Clearly, this is a man who she should stay the hell away from if she ever hopes to have a meaningful, mutually-rewarding relationship. (Well, it is revealed he's married too, how convenient for the plot. I hesitate to think what their excuse would have been if he'd been single. Oh, wait, they reveal that too, his crime is hitting on a married woman, what a slut.)
She gets home and catches Cameron looking at porn on the Internet. First of all, I have to object to the placement of the computer: in the middle of a living room with an opening into the dining room. Arguably the most visible spot to put a computer ever. Good luck looking at porn and not getting caught. Second, he's not even masturbating, just making googly eyes. I guess to keep the movie PG-13, but still, sheesh. Third, what the hell is her problem with her husband looking at porn on the Internet? She goes so far as to say that he's "not honorable!". Maybe she should try it some time. I wrote down in my notes, "WHAT A PRUUUDDEEEE."
After a botched attempt at a fancy date, he takes a baseball slugger to the trash can, expanding on his anger issues yet again. Clearly, a man who thinks beating up on a trash can is an acceptable form of venting is a man worth keeping.
Then, when the guy's attempts to fix the relationship is at his lowest, his dad drives out to meet him and talk to him about Christ. I found this a fantastic analogy to the real life - you will get preached to you when you are at your most vulnerable, when you are willing to try anything that might help. They drive home the Christian message really hard here - if you accept Christ who's always forgiving no matter what, you will also become forgiving and be able to have a good marriage. It has my favorite cinematographic (if that's the right word) scene - the guy asks how he can forgive his wife, and the dad stands under a cross lit up with the light of
I've always thought that the highly-touted exceptionless-forgiving attitude was fantastic for people in emotionally or physically abusive relationships. Black eyes, broken bones? Told you're inferior and worthless? Just forgive your partner! He or she deserves unconditional respect and admiration!
After a heroic rescue and doctor drama, Cameron's at home again, on the Internet looking at boats, an established hobby. An ad pops up - "wanna see? Click here!" Adblock plus and firefox will take care of that little annoyance, I tell you. I think it leads to porn, but since they dance around it and never say the word porn, it's a bit hard to tell. Maybe the sexy girl in the photo wants to show him her enormous Jenga collection, maybe it's a rickroll. We will never know, because he flips out, gets up and emotionally beats himself for thinking about clicking on that link. With the help of the advice book, he decides not only to not click the link, but to take his computer outside and destroy it with a baseball bat.
I don't know about you, but I'd be pretty pissed if I came home to my family computer destroyed. What about important documents, games, or ability to check email at home? Let alone the fact that he could have sold or environmentally-correctly disposed of the computer? Or what about the ability to, I don't know, block popups, install kid filters, whatever! If you want to be a prude and force yourself not to look at people naked, don't throw the rest of the Internet out with the porn.
They play a shitty Christian rock song while there's a cut scene of the guy doing his own dishes, how thoughtful of him! She gets sick, and then he takes care of her - again preying on the weak. While he has been acting quite nice to her towards the end of the movie, anyone who's familiar with the cycle of violence knows why.
Often abusive people get into a cycle where they are abusive nearly to the point where their partner can't stand it, and they switch to being regretful and all loving and making up. The other person stays hoping that this new loving stage is there for good, but unfortunately it just gradually cycles back into abuse again. It can be very hard to escape the cycle because that loving stage is so appealing, and we feel so comfortable that it's easy to forgive the abusive stage. Interestingly, that's exactly the advice of this movie - to forgive as much as humanly possible and it will all get better. Fantastic.
Perhaps if marriage were not viewed as a covenant, if they were not starting with the conclusion that marriage above all else is desirable, they would have come to the more rational conclusion. Unfortunately, starting at the conclusion is the crux of Christian logic. Sometimes relationships should end. They allow both partners to make healthier decision in the future and will end the cycle of abuse. I hate movies where the message is to make it work no matter what, especially when the other person "is sorry" and "really means it". (Don't even get me started on the futility of marriage counseling - a feel-good exercise that only extends a bad marriage or simply fails altogether.)
The end of the movie reveals two things - first of all that the wife has noticed a change in the husband that she wants (it's Christianity!) and that Cameron was a sexist bastard, really using his mom's advice not his dad's. The dad knew he wouldn't accept it from the mom, so he pretended it was his own. Wow.
One thing I love about this movie, in true fundie fashion, is that even if the fantasy story actually happened, it would say nothing about if Christianity was true. The only evidence attempt they made about the existence of the god of the bible was the throwaway about Pascal's Wager. There was no rational evidence, no argument for god. Just a vague promise that reading a book will cure your marriage. Even if accepting Jesus saved your marriage, does that mean Jesus existed?