John Hanlon

“Marriages aren’t fireproof.” So states Caleb Holt, the lead character of the new motion picture Fireproof, the third in a series of films created by the Sherwood Baptist Church community in Albany, Georgia.

This film, like its predecessors, contains powerful themes about faith, religion and morality—issues that are slowly becoming more prevalent in today’s films. Fireproof, a low-budget -- but high quality film -- about a marriage on the brink of divorce, is the latest film to attempt to prove that movies can be entertaining, and at the same time, instill values.

 Several days ago, I had the opportunity to attend an advance screening of Fireproof at the Family Research Council’s Values Voter Summit held in Washington D.C.  The film stars Kirk Cameron, a well-known Hollywood actor most famous for his role on the long-running television hit Growing Pains, which aired from 1985-1992.

Cameron, unlike the other cast members in the film, is a well-known actor.  After seeing the Sherwood Baptist Church’s previous film, Facing the Giants, Cameron expressed interest to the church and was eventually cast in the lead role in this film. The other actors in the movie are little-known volunteers who wanted to be a part of the production.

The movie opens with Caleb (Cameron’s character) at the end of the rope regarding his marriage. During his job as a firefighter, Caleb battles against flames, smoke and a fast-moving train and he endorses the firefighting idea of never leaving a partner behind. However, as Caleb battles by day against smoke and flames, in his home life, Caleb has to fight a war to save his marriage from destruction.

After learning his son’s marriage is on the brink, Caleb’s father provides him with a daily journal of assignments he should complete to save his marriage.  The film revolves around the challenges in meeting these daily goals. Throughout the forty days of this endeavor (where each day comes with a new task to be added to previous tasks), Caleb tries (with varying degrees of effort) to follow his father’s advice. Here’s where the story takes a spiritual turn:  As the days progress, Caleb realizes that neither he, nor his wife, can save the marriage alone. Nor can they save the marriage without God’s help and guidance.

Fireproof, like its predecessors Flywheel, and Facing the Giants, is a small movie that carries strong messages of faith, family and Christian values. These movies were created not by big-time Hollywood producers -- but by a church-going community that wanted to spread God’s message through motion pictures.

According to the website of the first film the church produced, “FLYWHEEL was conceived in spring 2002 after Alex and Stephen Kendrick, who are both pastors on the staff of Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia, saw the results of a survey from George Barna's organization that said movies and television shows are more influential in American culture than the church.” With that information, the brothers recruited local volunteers to do everything from acting to helping with the music for their movies.

The film Fireproof, unlike the previous films, predominantly focuses on the importance of marriage and the commitment that people make to each other when they take their vows.

As Gary Marx, a conservative who has worked in outreach in several presidential campaigns and also saw an advanced screening, told me, the uniqueness of this movie  is that “[T]here’s never been another movie … that made marriage the main subject of the movie.”

Of course, the concept of using movies to advance a cause is not new to the Hollywood world of movies and television. Since last September alone, we have seen several anti-war movies (Stop Loss, Lions for Lambs) flop at the box office.

We have also seen movies like the latest Rambo and The Dark Knight showcase messages through violence and the repercussions of it. Additionally, we have seen a sequel to the Christian-themed C.S. Lewis film The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe at the cinema as well as several new movies from Tyler Perry, who often sprinkles Christian themes into his movies (i.e. Why Did I Get Married? and Meet the Browns).

Even seemingly innocuous television programs that many people grew up watching like the teen television hit Saved by the Bell showcased messages to its young audience. In a recent lecture at Catholic University in Washington D.C., Dennis Haskins, who portrayed principal Richard Belding talked about the messages that the show delivered to its audience. Each episode had a message, he said-- which stands as a stark contrast to some of the television programs appealing to teenagers today.

According to Marx, the true test of Fireproof will likely be whether or not it can reach audiences beyond the church community, which is the main demographic for this film.

In the past, movies like The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and The Passion of the Christ have succeeded because they were able to reach a large audience that may or may not have the same beliefs that the films endorse. Films like Stop Loss and Lions for Lambs were unsuccessful because they were unable to reach that broad larger audience of people who agree or disagree with the main ideology of the film.

The general consensus seems to be that message media can -- and does -- succeed if the stories that hold up these messages are engaging and entertaining. A broader audience also must be open to the story itself. First and foremost, the story of the movie or show has to be good enough to get people into their seats at the multiplex or in their living rooms. Then the message will be able to reach that desired larger audience.

Fireproof contains a great story in it that has a purpose (not the other way around) and hopefully, because of that, this film will be able to reach a larger audience than the one that normally fills in the pews every Sunday morning during church.


John Hanlon

John Hanlon is the Operations Manager of Townhall.com. He can be found on Twitter @johnhanlon.