Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Love came so softly I didn't even hear it

While I was visiting the parental units over Christmas, we watched Love Comes Softly. It was an odd choice and no one could remember why it had been in the Netflix queue. It probably was one of those "Since you liked X, you'll like Y" things.

It wound up being pretty predictable, made even more so by the fact that the opening credits let us know that the movie was distributed by Faith & Values Media. Oh, boy. Katherine Heigl plays a pioneer woman moving West with her husband, who dies five minutes into the movie, the day they arrive at their homestead. A couple of days later, at the funeral, Dale Midkiff proposes marriage, ostensibly since the preacher is leaving the very next day. Not "real" marriage, mind you, but she needs a place to live and he needs someone to care for his small children. He even says he'll sleep in the lean-to outside the house. The rest of the movie is fairly predictable at that point: she learns to be a good homemaker, bonds with his tomboy daughter, convinces her to wear a dress, discovers she's pregnant by her late husband, is witnessed to by her new husband, and at the movie's climax, discovers she's in love with the new guy. The movie's title comes from a conversation Heigl has with her only female friend, who also, it turns out, entered into a marriage of convenience only to discover she loved her new husband. Love in a marriage, you see, is an optional thing that sometimes "comes softly," rather than being something you start with.

Marriage is therefore sometimes a thing you do because it is useful or practical and not out of sentiment. That's a pretty radical idea for this day and age.

Remember that this is a movie made by a "family values" business and broadcast on the freakin' Hallmark Channel. Normally, I don't believe that making a movie is an endorsement of what happens in a movie -- you can tell a story without advocating its events -- but remember that this production company has made "good values" the very differentiating factor in its business model. I can only conclude they are, on some level, holding up this example as something to be emulated.

It's the sort of thing that makes me want to point out to all the "protect traditional marriage" types that this is what a traditional marriage is. Before about the mid-1700s, you got married for economic, political, and practical reasons, not for love. It was expected that some degree of fondness would develop, but it was never central to the institution. Not only was the kind of soulmate-finding, all-consuming love we idolize in our popular media not expected in a marriage, but it was actually considered improper for much of Western history. This Christian attitude towards marriage reminds me of the creepiest thing I've ever seen on the Web.

Other than this sort of creepy aspect, I didn't hate the movie. I didn't love it, but it wasn't awful, either. Some one else must have agreed, because they didn't just make a sequel, they made five.


moon_grrl said...

I thought "Love Comes Softly" was a series of novels written by Janette Oke? My grade school's library had a whole glut of Christian fiction going on and, being a consummate bookworm, I read the vast majority of them. On top of being blatant propaganda, they are very poorly written with "pioneer" being one of the only complicated words.

Sounds like they didn't change the story much from the TV to the Telly. :-\

My opinion is I'd rather be alone than married or partnered to someone I didn't love. I also don't see myself as only being able to define who I am through men and childbearing, either.

moon_grrl said...

Bah, I meant "from the novel to the Telly".

Narc said...

Yes, this is the first of the movie-izations of the novels.

My opinion is I'd rather be alone than married or partnered to someone I didn't love.

But in an arranged marriage (another aspect of "traditional marriage") your opinion don't mean squat.

Boy, are you gonna make one bad surrendered wife.

Anonymous said...

Boy, are you gonna make one bad surrendered wife.

That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me. I'm all choked up, here. :-)

Narc said...

You're welcome. I consider it a feature, not a bug.

Fig said...

It's driving me crazy but there is some *good* children's book, it won a Caldecott I think, that has the same basic story line. A guy's wife dies, he's on the frontier with 2 kids and he thinks he needs some help. He sends back home for a woman to help him. Some woman who was older (like, gasp!, 26 or 27), unmarried, and wants to see the frontier comes out to join him. They DON'T get married, they work really hard side by side and eventually realize that they are in love with each other. That makes it seem insipid, but it's actually mostly a story about life on a really rural farm that's well written. This sounds like a christianized rip off of that. If I can think of the book I'll let you know.

moon_grrl said...

Hey, Dr Fig! Are you thinking of "Sarah Plain and Tall"?