Redeeming Love – Movie Review from a Jew
Redeeming Love – What is it About
I love this movie. When Rotten Tomatoes says critics give this movie a 11/100 and regular people give this movie a 95/100 that’s something you have to see. The movie, ostensibly, is about a woman born to a cheating mother. The father leaves the mother, the mother falls into prostitution, and the daughter is born into same. The woman is given a glimmer of a chance to escape her life of prostitution should she choose to be with a man who never wavers in his devotion to her.
The story is actually the story of the Jews leaving G-d to serve idols – that is, forces and powers that are falsely believed to have independent power. G-d sends the Jews away and then is there when the Jews are ready to be redeemed. This isn’t something I made up as a, “hey, look how I can make this fit into religion.” The story is written by evangelical Christian. I’m getting to like the things they provide us as of late – such as the best Jewish museum I’ve ever been to. Redeeming Love reminds me a lot of Shawshank Redemption.
The story is based on the book of Hosea
Hosea Chapters 1 and 2 (excerpts)
Hosea Chapter 3
The Concept of Teshuvah (Return)
What this movie gets so right is that it follows the “meandering” language of Hosea about the love between a man and woman / G-d and man. When one gets so steeped in other powers, whether it be drugs, alcohol, prostitution, bowing down to false G-ds (money? addiction? anger?), you’re stuck. These things are alluring. People don’t “worship idols” unless they’re serious about it. If it didn’t have staying power people wouldn’t do it.
Then – to try and get “back on the path” – that’s not easy. Typical religious movies, whether they be Jewish or Christian, tend me something like: a) Man does something evil; b) Man shown the light; c) Man is good. That’s cute when it is a kid’s story (looking at you Dr. Middos) though a problem when adults see religion as one-dimensional. Dunning-Kruger has to be all over that.
What makes Redeeming Love so great is that it is so realistic and full of depth. What makes it real is also what makes for a small audience, unfortunately. Those most interested in the movie are probably religious people who are unlikely to watch movies about prostitutes, adultery, child exploitation, and emotional imprisonment. Secular audiences include many who will say … story based on religion, ugh. The movie manages to just barely get a PG-13 rating by avoiding full nudity, in one instance, with long hair over breasts … so it’s not something I ever want any many watching without a wife chaperone. (Really.)
The protagonist, Angel, has little choice in life outside of becoming a prostitute during the California Gold Rush. Could she have chosen otherwise? Yes … with amazing difficulty. The allure of a madam who literally helps her off her feet is hard to turn down when you have no other help. G-d, so to speak, has turned away at that time. Could you have done better? When you’re raised as a child with idolatry / prostitution … likely not. At least, not at first.
Teshuvah requires constant work. There is work and there are setbacks. It’s a never-ending struggle. No matter your starting point in life, what G-d wants from you is to grow and do more for yourself and for the world. The midrash says that a poor man left alone with money or any man left alone with a prostitute is going to sin eventually. These are tests not to put yourself in. How do you escape that? How do you not get sucked back in to doing the wrong thing even when you believe it is wrong?
Enter G-d Into the Picture
The heading is kind of a pun. Hosea, the leading man in the movie, provides a choice. Woman (the Jews) gets beaten up by the idol and a man (G-d) is there to say, “I’ll provide you what you need at all costs – do you want it?” At first, it’s easy. “Hey – this is going great … what’s the catch?” The catch is trusting yourself – never trust yourself until the day you die, says Pirkei Avos. Is this what I want? … and what happens when I pull away? … and what happens when other factors pull me away?
This is the process. This is the depth of what life is really like. This is the greatness of the movie – it’s real. The back and forth tug, the ups and downs, the help from G-d and then the seeming hiding of G-d … like the common analogy of a child who is helped to walk and then parents step away and watch him fall. Are the parents evil? Probably not.
The growth is up to you. The setbacks are sometimes in your control and sometimes not in your control. Sometimes Angel makes poor choices and other times she’s in situations not of her own making. She is literally recaptured by her oppressors at times. Escape, again, seems not possible. Will keep it at that to avoid spoilers.
The man is always there for her yet will go without physical relations until the trust and emotions are there. She must come to realize the man is there while he goes “a long time without fornication or marrying”. That’s a lot more work then just having the physical relationship! It’s decades of work for people and millennia of work for the Jewish people. “Just give up” says Candice. G-d says … yeah, I’m not actually going to let you fall so far that you can’t get up.
Why Do Critics Hate this Movie?
I only have educated guesses. First, people who watch movies for a living tend not to be religious and so will have a negative bias. Second, many of them just don’t get it. This is not your standard romantic “boy meets girl, let’s fight, let’s kiss”. This is … “we’re completely different from each other and I am here to help you should you want it.”
I normally don’t write blog articles about movies I watch though the critic reviews and stuff you find on the internet about this movie drove me to write my own internet contribution.
Here’s some quotes and my responses to critics:
“. . . the 19th-century setting protecting the story from the pesky “women’s lib” movement, which would suggest that Angel have her own autonomy” – Katie Welsh, Tribute News Service. <– wrong. If it were written today it would be about sex-trafficking of women into brothels in rural China getting AIDS … and guess what .. women’s lib isn’t going to help them. Further, quit thinking because you’re a liberal woman in a blue state that you have so much autonomy. We’re all trapped by our surroundings.
“The leads are earnest, but lack chemistry, while the script rams its points home like a piledriver.” – David Parkinson. I’ll actually agree on the “piledriver” comment … I just don’t see a problem with that. The points are clearly articulated and overall arc of the story is complete and consistent. As for “lack of chemistry” … OMG. No duh! This isn’t a movie about physical chemistry! You missed the point Parkinson! Real relationships are based on emotional, intellectual, and spiritual connection. Physical chemistry AFTER all that. The movies about physical beauty and romance are nice stories and nothing more. (Shrek 2 gets this quite right.)
“The movie’s sexist and awfully preachy message is that an abused woman can overcome child rape, forced prostitution, and incest if a religious man falls in love with her.” – Carla Hay <– Missed the point. I feel like secular love stories go to one of two extremes – 1) Cinderella … some day my prince will come; 2) Frozen … I don’t need a man to do anything for me! The reality is that in a relationship – or any partnership – it takes two. We live in a society of people. You think an abused woman is escaping all that without help from someone? … and no, he didn’t just “fall in love with her”. The “falling in love” only came AFTER an hour and half of movie and building a relationship with her.
Sorry critics – this doesn’t fit into your world view. Again – 95% of people who watched the movie liked it. What do we need movie critics for if they are so out of touch with what people like?