One of the major criticisms some Christians level against Hollywood is that sin is portrayed constantly on screen. For years I have argued that, in most cases, there must be sin for there to be conflict, and thus a compelling story.
Sin has always been in films. Scarlett O’Hara married three men she did not love, the last two for money. There is a word for a woman who sleeps with a man for money, but I do not think it appears in “Gone With the Wind.” I love that classic film, but I would not want my daughter modeling her morals after those of Miss O’Hara.
Christians should find at least objectionable, if not alarming, the guilt-free fornication of James Bond or the casualty-free violence of a Schwarzenegger movie. Yet these movies and others like them sell millions of tickets, some even to conservative Christians. Meanwhile, “The Secret Lives of Dentists,” which takes the consequences of sin very seriously, will be lucky to sell as many tickets during the film’s entire run as the last Bond film sold in its first weekend.
“Secret Lives” tells the story of a marriage and a family. Critics have raved about how the film depicts authentic family life. Teaching a preschooler not to hit or dealing with the flu as it moves through each family member are not subjects for blockbusters. “Secret Lives,” however, is more interested in reality than most films, and the screenplay gets the reality of family and marriage right. This film will ring true for anyone who has lived through marriage and children for any amount of time.
The catalyst for the film’s major storyline comes when David (Campbell Scott) thinks he sees his wife fooling around with another man outside his range of vision. He struggles with what he should do. He imagines all the worst-case scenarios, placing his wife with every man he can imagine she may choose.
He struggles with his own conscience, depicted on screen as one of David’s obnoxious dental patients. He considers the ramifications of confronting her. (The scenes between Campbell Scott and Dennis Leary are the best in the film, both because of the acting and the editing.) The most powerful moment comes when David admits he does not want to confront her, because then his family, including the lives of his three young daughters, will never be the same.
Told with compelling narration using dentistry, the profession of both David and his wife, as a metaphor for marriage in much the same way “One Hour Photo” used film developing as a metaphor for life, this is a smart screenplay filled with honesty. David, the film’s protagonist, is fully exposed to the audience, especially when he speaks lines like, “Where her eyes once held passion, now there is only regret.”
Couples who have been married for more than 10 years, especially those with children, may find watching this film and then discussing it to be very therapeutic for their own marriages.
Since this review began with a discussion of objectionable material, here is one word of caution: Though there is almost no nudity in the film, there are several scenes where David imagines his wife doing immoral things. These scenes may be troubling to some.
In a year when the best films all seem to deal with some aspect of family, “The Secret Lives of Dentists” is another very good film. In fact, it may be the most realistic depiction of marriage and family filmed in a long time. Beyond that, the film is an accurate depiction of how destructive sin, or even suspected sin, can be to a relationship. This is a lesson all mature Christians should welcome to the multiplex.
Roger Thomas is pastor of First Baptist Church in Albemarle, N.C.
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality and language
Director: Alan Rudolph
Writer: Craig Lucas
Cast: David Hurst: Campbell Scott; Slater: Denis Leary; Laura: Robin Tunney; Larry: Peter Samuel; Dana Hurst: Hope Davis.