After “Noah,” “God’s Not Dead,” and “Heaven is for Real,” this week brings yet another entry in The Year of the Christian Movie – “Irreplaceable,” a film produced by Focus on the Family and screening for one night only this Tuesday, May 6 at over 700 theaters nationwide. “Irreplaceable” is a documentary that asks, “What is the family?” and “Does it still matter in today’s society?”
The narrative involves New Zealander Tim Sisarich bidding goodbye to his own wife and five children to jet around the world in search of answers to these questions. Sisarich, with his shaved head, unshaven face, and charming accent, seems chosen for his ability to relate to Gen-Xers and millennials (he also works for Focus on the Family New Zealand).
The film has enough fast cuts and interesting visuals – everything from old home movies to man-on-the-street interviews to clips of Elvis Presley and Hugh Hefner – to engage throughout its 90-minute running time. However, its content, particularly at the beginning, is also at a high intellectual level. Philosopher Roger Scruton educates us on the differences between Aristotle (a defender of the family) and Plato (whose more collectivist view saw children – and women – as the property of the state). Christian author Nancy Pearcey contrasts the views of Rousseau, who wanted to make disconnected individuals dependent on the state, and the American Founders, who knew that rights are “inalienable” only because they come from our Creator.
The film looks first at the devaluation of sex under the sexual revolution. A discussion of the hook-up culture includes author Elizabeth Marquardt noting how bizarre it is that treating sex as a purely physical event and not an emotional one would be considered progress.
The film then argues that if we devalue sex, we will devalue marriage. Film and culture critic Michael Medved debunks the myth of a “50 percent divorce rate” (actually 70 percent of first marriages endure) and the myth that premarital cohabitation will increase the chances of a successful marriage (it actually reduces them).
If you devalue marriage, you devalue being a parent – or more specifically, being a mother or a father, since the importance of gender roles (“not deterministic, but dynamic”) is emphasized.
If you devalue parents, then you devalue children. Jonathan Last, author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, says that the sexual revolution dismembered the “iron triangle” of marriage, sex, and baby-making, and the resulting indifference in the West to creating the next generation constitutes a form of “civilizational sickness.”
The film does not shy away from the issue of abortion, lamenting the notion that women should have to “throw away their children to achieve equality.” It is not conservative men who are waging a “war on women” – commentator Ashley McGuire laments that in our culture, “women press women to do things that degrade women,” and absurdly call it “feminism.”
The pain and harm of fatherlessness is one recurring theme throughout the film. One of the most touching moments is when Carey Casey of the National Center for Fathering, stands in a football stadium and says that many a gifted player who performs before 80,000 fans would give anything to look up in the stands and see just one fan – his father – giving him a wave.
Personal stories of loving parents facing challenges – a couple with a Down syndrome child, a father who adopted a foster child who later ran away – round out the narrative. Lest the audience be discouraged by the family’s decline – or their own contributions to it – the film concludes with the assurances that “there is no such thing as a perfect family. Everyone is broken, but nobody is beyond repair.”
Irreplaceable is actually a long trailer for a new Focus on the Family curriculum called The Family Project, which is intended to do for the theology of the family what the organization’s Truth Project did for Christian worldview and apologetics.
At the preview screening I attended in Washington, Focus on the Family President Jim Daly said that one cinema chain was reluctant to air the film because it addresses only “right-wing marriage” – that is, marriage between one man and one woman. However, an official of the LGBT-activist Gill Foundation – with whom Focus has found common ground on sex trafficking legislation in Colorado – offered to contact the theater chain on Daly’s behalf!
God’s design for marriage – the intact, nuclear family rooted in the marriage of a man and a woman – is, in a word, irreplaceable. This movie is as powerful a defense of that truth as you will find on film.
Peter Sprigg is a Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C.