Marriage, Hollywood and Reflection

Now that I am recently retired from my day job, Julie and I are beginning to watch more movies together.  We are even going out to see new releases- something pretty new for us, except for the Bond flicks, for which which my dear wife graciously endures my obsession to see them immediately upon release. (I am counting the days until the November 7 premier of Spectre!) Now- I think you would agree that you and I need to be careful what movies we choose to see. There are movies that hold up the things of God and there are movies that hold up the things of the enemy,  and then there are movies that do both. Makes it hard to pick sometimes, doesn’t it? (Unfortunately, I think the latest Bond film will likely fall into this category.)   Now- please stay with me here.  Its not my purpose here to put you on a guilt trip over any movies you may have chosen to see recently.  Instead, I want to take a brief look at how marriage is portrayed in the movies, and what it says, or doesn’t say,  about us. To be followed by what God says about us.


It should be no surprise that marriage is often a central subject in Hollywood films.  Unless your film is a nature documentary you need to have a plot. A plot is comprised of people in relationship with each other, and marriage is a very common state of human relationship. According to Gallup just over 50% of people 16 or older in the United States are married. Given that, let me offer up a set of statements below on marriage and Hollywood that will lead us into something interesting.  I think most people would agree with #1 and #2, and I can probably prove #3 and #4 if you need me to. Here goes-


  1. Most married people want to have a good marriage.
  2. Hollywood tries to make movies that people want to see.  (I make no assumptions here on why they make movies- be it monetary gain, artful expression, etc.- You can decide)
  3. Hollywood makes more movies about bad marriages than good ones. 
  4. More people go to see movies about bad marriages than good ones (check outthe blockbusters - Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf, Fatal attraction, War of the Roses, many more…) 


Here is what’s puzzling- If most people want a good marriage and desire the good feelings that come from it, then why do so many of us flock to movies depicting horrible marriages?  You would expect it to be painful and repulsive to watch two married people dole out psychological and physical punishment and literally try to kill each other. Its the exact opposite of what we want for our selves.  In my opinion the overall movie experience here is quite different than say an action adventure, where we might be vicariously sharing the emotional rush by putting ourselves into the car chases. And none of us has ever driven a car that fast.   For a movie about a bad marriage, why would we be drawn to such a sad spectacle about a relationship so familiar to us- make believe or not?  The ancient Greek thinkers such as Aristotle saw viewing tragedy as a means of catharsis- the purging of repressed negative emotions, resulting in renewal and restoration.  More recently a group of Ohio State researchers examined 361 college students reaction to the tragic 2007 love story Atonement.  Perhaps you have seen it?  Based on their findings they proposed that watching tragedy inspires self-reflection, which allows us to re-focus on those people in our lives we might otherwise take for granted. Like our spouse. The melancholy emotions these tales arouse ultimately provoke pleasant feelings of gratitude sometime after the movie.  Heady stuff. In a simpler sense- Are we are looking to feel good about our own marriage by comparing it to a really bad one? See- I’m not that bad! (Hmm- having never plotted to kill my wife is a pretty low bar, don’t you think?). Or maybe we are just curious- How bad can it get?  Either way, whether we intend to achieve a Greek catharsis, or whether we don’t even know why we do it, you can’t get around the fact that millions of married people (myself included) are plunking down 10 bucks to watch stories about people doing reallybad things for their marriage. So what gives?



Now- the Bible tells us something entirely different. In Phillipians 4:8 Paulinstructs us to seek good thoughts - ones that are true, noble, right, lovely, praiseworthy and admirable. Notice he doesn’t say - “except when it comes to your wife.”  Interesting concept, this “seeking thoughts”. I don’t know about you, but I don’t spend much time seeking thoughts.  Instead, most thoughts in my head, at least initial ones,  are a reaction to something that I experienced.  Moreover, I can only really think about one thing at a time (male trait) and sowith limited time and narrow bandwidth I had better be looking for good things to put in my head in order to get the “good thoughts” Paul is describing.  Then there is the instruction that we are to love our wives as we love ourselves. (Ephesians 5:28)  In fact, one of the ways we as believers are to love others is to pray for them. Easy right? Nope- depending on the time it can be incredibly difficult. But didn’t we just learn these past 6 weeks that nothing is impossible with God?  Perhaps we should look for a But God moment right inside ourselves- helping us pray for our spouses.  Incidentally, if you remain committed to movies to help you reflect on your marriage, then check out War Room. It won’t win any Oscars, but you will get the message about what can happen in a marriage when people pray for their spouses.  With Scripture and a good flick or two like these we might receive something else to inspire us for reflection- the Holy Spirit. 



Ben CotterComment