Redeeming Love (2022)


I read the book this film is based on at fourteen and the one thing I remember about it, other than hiding it from my mother because it felt “dirty,” is it was the most sexualized book I had read up to that point. It also has not aged well, since it deals with a controlling husband who won’t take “no” for an answer (justified, by his fans, as being in the right, because “God told me you belonged to me”). Fortunately, the movie has made him less of a creep, but it is still problematic in some of its themes… and it now has the distinction of being the first Christian movie with graphic sex scenes in it.

Angel (Abigail Cowen) has had few choices in her life. She was sold to a brothel as a child after her mother died, and now works in a small Midwestern town where men pay a fee to land in the lottery in the hopes of spending an hour with her. She’s a cynic who doesn’t hold out much hope for a life beyond what she has, although she’s trying hard to work her way into buying her freedom. Then comes Michael (Tom Lewis), a man desperate for a wife who is told by God that Angel is the woman he needs to rescue. Unlike all the other salivating men in town, he pays for her time but doesn’t want to touch her. He talks to her instead, asks her questions about her life, tries to coax her out.

And, he asks her every time, to marry him and run away with him. Angel rolls her eyes and calls him a fool, and even tries to push him off on another girl. All he needs, she thinks, is a good roll in the sack. But after she baits her pimp’s guard into beating her half to death, Angel rescues her from the whorehouse, marries her, and takes her twenty miles into the country to a little farm house. Angel sees this as just another stop on her road to freedom, but Michael wants her to settle down and know that she is loved. But it’s going to be a hard sell, because Angel doesn’t feel worthy of love… his, or God’s.

Let’s get the hard stuff out of the way first. The movie has improved on the book in that Michael is not nearly as controlling. In the book, he gives Angel no more freedom than the madam who forced her to work. Whenever she runs off (and that’s a lot), he marches into town and hauls her back; she has no say in the matter, as his property. In the movie, at least he asks her if she wants to stay in this place, or if she will come home with him, and she always makes the choice to come home. After a point, he stops chasing her and it’s up to her whether she returns to him or not, a few years later. In the book, he has a ferocious temper and at one point, confesses he wants to beat the hell out of her; that’s not a problem in this movie. In the book, Michael’s brother in law demands sex from Angel in exchange for a ride to town, and Michael blames her for ‘tempting him.’ In the movie, this still happens but without the blame; Michael merely says he knew what had happened because of the guilt on his brother in law’s face. And there is a scene of redemption with him (which doesn’t happen in the book) where he’s apologetic.


But there’s a lot of other “stuff” that is a problem for me. “God told me to marry you” is seen as romantic in this film; in reality, you most often find it in fundamentalist men who don’t believe women have a say in such matters, and who won’t take no for an answer. It’s also a film in which, like most Christian books, they want to see just how traumatized they can make the “broken” heroine. Not only did her mother die when young, she was sold to a pedophile and abused, she was impregnated, and forced into an abortion against her will (all of which we see in flashbacks), and she cannot have any kids due to an “operation.” Then her own father pays to have sex with her (he doesn't know who she is). Plus, her father beat up her mother and abandoned them both. One of those things would be enough to traumatize Angel; all of that seems excessive and kinky, in an attempt to build up Angel as a lost soul. Sexualizing the book of Hosea and making it about a prostitute also has a tawdry feel to it—not just knowing you are dealing with prostitutes and pedophiles, but in how often Angel is almost naked, with her hair covering her breasts.

It’s always bothered me that this story has been sold as one of the great “Christian romances,” because it’s symbolic of a Bible story about an errant wife Hosea continues to bring home; I do not like thinking about God as someone who is going to take me against my will and won't take no for an answer. So many young women idolize Michael, whereas I saw him as controlling and borderline abusive. I do like him a lot better in the movie than in the book, which plays up the trope of how sexy a man is who wants to control you, and who could beat you up and won't, but there's just too much ick involved in the story for me to enjoy it. The movie didn’t leave me feeling as dirty as fourteen year old me, sneaking the book back into the library bag and hoping my mother never found out I read it because she would have deemed it pornographic, but it’s not something I ever want to watch again.

Sexual Content:
Two graphic, clothed sex scenes shot very sensually (almost four minutes of them moaning and heavily breathing and rubbing against each other); many scenes of her topless, with only her long hair covering her breasts; a man forces her to have sex with him in exchange for a ride into town (she is shown vomiting afterward). Angel has sex with her own father (off-screen). It's implied she's slept with men, that her mother has paying clients, and that she is sold to a man who prefers little girls (he has two girls in his rooms when she meets him later, and she hears them screaming as they are assaulted; she exposes him to the crowd as a pedophile).
Four uses of whore, two of bitch, one of damn, piss, and hell.
Sexual violence; a woman is beaten almost to death and left bloody and bruised. A woman is murdered for helping Angel escape from a brothel. She is forced to have an abortion against her will (she is screamed and held down on a table). A woman is beaten by her husband off-screen, but we see her bruised face. Michael gets into a fistfight. A man is hanged by a mob for abusing little girls (we see his feet dangling). A man commits suicide with a pistol (off-screen). A man is punched in the crotch. A man is strangled.

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