Films are stories and works of art – by nature, they have no religion. Therefore, “Christian films” are often hard to enjoy as films in of themselves. The message tends to overwhelm the story. While I am all for stories having messages and meaning, I believe that this should be more open to interpretation. As a viewer, I like to be able to enjoy a good story for its own sake on one level and be able to pick out symbolism, lessons, and religious imagery on a deeper level. Often, Christian symbolism is not what the filmmaker intended, but as a Christian viewer, I take the meaning to heart from the faith and tradition that I already have.
Hence I started watching Courageous with much trepidation and scepticism. Here is a film made by a Christian company, by a Christian director, written by Christians, starring avowed Christians, and marketed in Christian bookstores along with accompanying reading materials on the program that the main characters embark on. The message already overwhelmed the story in the summary on the back of the DVD case. To boot, many of the stars are also pastors and some of the Duggars made cameo appearances as extras.
I persevered, not because the first part of the film drew me in (it did not), but because by thirty minutes in, I realised that this film really did have a heart and a good story after all. There was a lot of humour and the characters struck me as realistic people once I got over their clunky, clichéd dialogue in some of the scenes. Above all, a large number of the actors looked like real people, flaws and all, rather than plastic dolls. The film was at its best when the characters acted naturally.
The plot is this: four police officers (and one tagalong friend) rally together when one of them loses a child in a freak accident. They are all fathers and for the most part, they are indeed good fathers. They pay the bills, they care for their children, and they are good husbands. They play with the kids, they look out for them, and they try to figure out how to connect with them. However, in his search for meaning after the loss of his daughter, the main police officer discovers that he is not being a good Christian father. After that, he tells his friends about what he has discovered, and sooner than later, they have all taken a vow to be the best Christian fathers that they can possibly be. The film then goes on to show them try to live out this vow and model a life of integrity and love to their children.
Honestly, I had a lot of complaints with the film as I watched it and as I drove home from church. Why was the tagalong friend the Hispanic one? He, along with his family, was portrayed highly stereotypically. The stereotypes were annoying, even if they may have been accurate. Also, the storyline was not crafted as well as it could have been. There were about three climaxes, causing ending fatigue, and the beginning started off with the aforementioned clunky, clichéd dialogue that did not develop into a decent storyline until the main character’s daughter died. Perhaps these were artistic choices – but they made for an awkward viewing experience.
My final complaint was that the film seemed to neglect the women and the role that the mothers do play in the Christian family and marriage. For two of the police officers, the women are not in the picture at all. The wives of the three main police officers are portrayed as cheerleaders, nags, or broken birds. While the film is trying to put to bed the stereotype that Christian mothers are the main vehicle for the faith of their children and that Christian fathers must be stern, aloof disciplinarians, it unfortunately spins the role of the mother out of the picture. Yes, this is a film about fathers and fatherhood, but the Christian wife and mother is not a passive cheerleader. If this was just a story, I could forgive the lack of focus on the women, but this film is intended to promote a way of life for Christian men. I can only hope that the accompanying books clarified the importance of the woman’s role. A wife is not an overgrown teenage daughter who needs protecting and educating.
Above paragraph aside, as a story alone, Courageous is a very good film. It is made by Protestants and reflects that theologically, but I would have been highly surprised if it had been otherwise. But the characters alone are wonderful. I enjoyed their stories and it was a pleasant escape to retreat into the foreign world of Christian America for two hours. If one is not a Christian, I would not recommend watching this film. There are lots of other stories that discuss the importance of fatherhood.