Redeeming Love’s blurry lines
The story of Hosea can’t overcome its depictions of immorality
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Redeeming Love, currently in theaters, is a faithful adaptation of the 1991 romance novel of the same name by Francine Rivers in which she retells the Biblical story of Hosea, setting it during the California Gold Rush. Devoted fans of the book will probably enjoy this faith-based film, but everyone else can safely give it a pass.
Angel, played by Abigail Cowen, is the prettiest prostitute in a small mining town called Pair-A-Dice. She’s so popular the brothel holds a lottery each day to see who will get the chance to hire her. Tom Lewis, in his first feature film, plays Michael Hosea, a farmer who relies on his Christian principles. And just like Hosea in the Bible, Michael decides God wants him to marry the prostitute. Michael pays double to buy Angel’s time, but he just wants to talk. She initially rebuffs his proposal, but in the end she agrees to marry him and move to his farm 20 miles away. Angel struggles to believe she’s worthy of love and abandons Michael more than once.
Redeeming Love left me conflicted. On the one hand, the film feels like a step forward for faith-based entertainment reaching a mainstream audience. On the other hand, Redeeming Love still has some problems.
The film boasts production values higher than those typically seen in faith-based movies. The sets, costuming, and cinematography were all quite good. Director D.J. Caruso does solid work, but the movie probably needed to be 20 minutes shorter. The dialogue was only occasionally heavy-handed, and I found myself pleasantly surprised at the acting, despite Lewis’ delivery suggesting a Matthew McConaughey impersonation.
Though Redeeming Love is relatively well made, not every Christian should see it. I certainly can’t recommend taking children or teenagers. The movie seeks to boost its credibility with an authentic grittiness, and all forms of human depravity are on display, some of them quite graphic.
One expects depictions of adultery and fornication in a movie about prostitution, but we also see lying, theft, greed, murder, suicide, incest, abortion, pedophilia, abuse, enslavement, arson, and vigilantism. Though the language is relatively mild, some viewers won’t enjoy the violence and disturbing subject matter.
Redeeming Love also tests the limits of its PG-13 rating with prolonged scenes of partial nudity and sensuality. At Angel and Michael’s first meeting, Angel walks around the room naked trying to tempt him. We see her from behind. We see her partially reflected in a mirror. We see long shots of Angel with her hair artfully arranged to conceal the parts of her body that would get the film an R rating. Caruso attempts verisimilitude, but the scene distracts the viewer because no one’s hair stays in place like that unless it’s been glued down. The film also contains two long sex scenes. Again, clever camera work and Michael’s hands obscure full nudity.
Moreover, the film’s script contains some structural problems. The character Michael hurts the story because he’s just too good to be true. His unwavering righteousness sucks the narrative tension from the movie because we don’t ever wonder how he will react. Michael is a stand-in for the Bible’s Hosea who is ultimately a picture of Jesus, so perhaps making Michael less than perfect wasn’t an option, but this approach turns the story into an allegory, and allegories aren’t easy to make.
As an allegory, Redeeming Love fails to depict the redemption found in the book of Hosea and the New Testament. Hosea’s wife is a prostitute who symbolizes the unfaithful people of Israel, and in the New Testament unfaithful Israel symbolizes sinners redeemed by Christ.
But the movie depicts Angel as a victim rather than a sinner. Christ makes whole that which is broken, but if that’s the intended imagery, it makes it all the more infuriating when Michael refuses to pursue his wife at the movie’s end, claiming she must exercise her free will. The blurred lines between sin and damage and redemption and saving oneself leave the movie with a confused subtext that fails to redeem the relentless depictions of immorality.
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