Largely a remake of Sleeping with the Enemy with (spoiler!) a supernatural twist at the end, the story wasn’t particularly genius, or original, the dialogue wasn’t particularly witty, snappy or deep, (see the dismal list of quotes here), and yet people are flocking to see it. Why? I think the answer to that question is probably the most intriguing thing about the movie.
I think it’s because people long for beauty and love, and Nicholas Sparks always promises to deliver a second serving of both in his stories. They are filled with beautiful people—flawed perhaps, but usually striving hard to move in the right direction and become better, which really minimizes the flaws without making the characters totally out of reach. They are almost always (actually, I can’t think of a single exception, but I’m not a Sparks expert) set around water, usually the ocean, in some peaceful, small idyllic town where neighbors care and the pace is slow. The setting, the people, the music, the pace of the movie…it’s all rather idyllic in its beauty.
The love is generally about as idyllic as the setting. Two beautiful people who are really intrinsically good who only need each other to help overcome whatever haunts them and/or to bring out the better qualities of their nature. In this case, Katie (aka Erin) needed to learn to trust again (understandable since her husband was a controlling, abusive, drunken psychopath) and Alex was just the one to help her do that. Alex needed to find love again, since he lost the love of his life to cancer…and who wouldn’t love sweet little damsel-in-distress Katie who was as beautiful as she was kind and good?!
I may sound a bit sarcastic, but if I’m honest, I get sucked in too. For some reason I’m little loathe to admit it, as if it somehow makes me weak that I like these things too (my intellectual snobbery showing its ugly little head)—but I do. Most of us do (in some form or another), and not because of a weakness in us, but because of how we are made. We are made in the image of God—the same God who loves beauty so much He filled the earth with it and who is so in love with LOVE that he filled the earth with all its varying forms, from marriage to brotherly love, so in love with LOVE that He died for it and so that He could restore it and bring it to you and to me. We are made in HIS image, so of course we too are in love with love and beauty…and I think this is one of the reason so many people flock to see (or read) the latest Nicholas Sparks’ stories—because they are filled with and celebrate the very ideas of love and beauty.
Some may feel that his characters (and/or stories) are too saccharine, too perfect, too good…but this too is part of the draw. It lifts us from the imperfection of our worlds and gives us hope for something better: a better love, a simpler life, a more beautiful existence, a lover who loves us better than we ever hoped for… This temporary break from our reality, this glimpse into something more idyllic is at least a break from our harsher reality. Escapism can go too far and be problematic, but in its place it is helpful. It allows a reset of our emotions and energies so that we can return to our realities refreshed and ready to handle them with more grace. (God thought respite important enough to command a day of rest weekly, though he may have had different ideas about how we rest/escape than Nicholas Sparks.)
So at the least the movies provide a sense of escape that can be helpful. Often, they provide more than escape by providing hope, a glimpse of something better that is worth waiting for, working for, hoping for. And at their best, the stories provide more than escape, and more than hope—they provide inspiration. The arguably idyllic characters can, if you let them, inspire you to be better than you are, to live a better life than you are. They provide this beautiful picture of something better than what you are experiencing, and in the best scenario, viewers aspire to achieve some of that perfection in their own lives. Subtly, often subconsciously even, this dialogue begins to take place in your thoughts: “It’s so beautiful when someone loves unconditionally; maybe I can love that way too. I love that he was so attentive to her needs, I should be more attentive to the needs of my loved ones myself.”
Nicholas Sparks’ stories may have their faults, but maybe it isn’t such a bad thing to offer a little bit of idealism to aspire to and a little hope of better things to come. The caution we need to have is when we expect to find those better things in what the world has to offer, rather than in God and eternity with the perfect and true lover of our souls. Romantic love is great—it was God’s idea in the first place—but it’s not perfect. Only God’s love is perfect. If you are longing for what you find in Sparks’ pieces, then maybe what your soul is really thirsty for is more of Him. It just might be pointing to the fact that you were made for eternity and life with Him in perfect union, and everything else leaves you hungry for something greater.
Questions for Discussion:
- How do you feel about Safe Haven (or any of Sparks stories in general)? Are you an unabashed fan, are they a guilty pleasure, or do you cringe at the thought? Why?
- Do you find his characters flawed, honest and real, or too good to be true?
- Are you inspired by his characters or do you find them overwhelming, too perfect to live up to?
- How do the movies make you feel? Inspired to do better, or discontented with what you have? Why?
- Alex was a thoughtful, tender pursuer of Katie’s soul. How does that make you feel? Do you feel that your soul has ever been well pursued, loved and cared for? Is there a safe place for your soul?
- How do you feel about the idea that God wants to be the pursuer of your soul, the safe place you turn to, the one whose love makes you complete?
By Stacey Tuttle