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A man and a woman sit close, talking, on a hillside.

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Kennedy Unthank
Adam R. Holz

Movie Review

Angel is used to men looking at her.

She’s made a living out of being the prettiest woman in the brothel, and she’s been with more men than she can count. The worst part? With every passing day, she realizes just how right her housekeeper Cleo’s advice had been when she was a little girl.

“All men want to do is use you,” Cleo had informed her. “That is God’s truth.”

So, it’s quite a system shock when Michael Hosea walks into her bedroom and wants to do nothing other than talk. What’s even more weird, the hardworking farmer who lives outside of Pair-a-dice, California, claims that God wants him to marry her.

Well, a proposal’s no big surprise. It’s her fifth proposal in a week.

What is a surprise, however, is that Michael doesn’t look at her in the lustful way the other men do. Instead, he sees right throughher façade. He just wants to love her with a biblical love.

“You did not choose the life you had, but you can choose the life you want,” Michael says.

But how far is Michael willing to love her? And, eventually, to forgive her, too?

Because the truth is that Angel’s servitude at the brothel is just one of the horrific traumas she’s endured. Not even Angel can move past the scars of her past, let alone actually share them with anyone. And if Michael ever found out just how unclean her past was, he’d never be able to love her, and she’d just be left even more broken than before.

“All men want to do is use you. That is God’s truth.”

But is it?

Positive Elements

As this story’s name implies, Redeeming Love focuses on redemption and forgiveness, themes that we’ll explore more fully in the Spiritual Elements section.

Angel’s painful story also offers an insightful case study into the struggle of self-condemnation. Even long after we’ve experienced deliverance from demeaning circumstances and the unconditional love of others, guilt and shame for our past choices can drive us into despair.

We see that dynamic repeatedly illustrated in Angel’s story. She desperately wants to trust the love and forgiveness that Michael offers her, but her shame warps her ability to believe that she’s worthy of that affection. That leads to a cycle of fleeing back to the degradation of her former way of life. Her choices cause Michael deep pain, but he never gives up on her—even as he gives her the freedom to choose either to stay with him or to run away again.

This story also shows us that evil often prevails simply because no one was willing to stand against it. Redeeming Love offers many compelling instances that show both the consequences of no one doing anything to resist evil as well as the positive impact caused when a single person takes action. Michael repeatedly acts as a champion for Angel. Angel, eventually, is able to do the same for other women trapped in the abusive cycle of prostitution. Likewise, Angel’s mother does all that she can (before dying when Angel is very young) to protect and care for her daughter.

Spiritual Elements

Redeeming Love retells the story of Hosea and his wife Gomer from Hosea 1-3. In that account, God calls on Hosea to marry a prostitute named Gomer, explaining to him that she would continue to return to her prostitution. Hosea was to continue bringing Gomer back and forgiving her, no matter how much it may have hurt him to see her leaving him for other men. The narrative symbolically compares Hosea to God consistently redeeming His unfaithful partner, Israel, even after she continues to forsake Him for false idols.

We see a similar story here. Veering a bit from the biblical account, however, Angel’s rejection of Michael isn’t so much about brazenly embracing idolatry and sin, as Gomer seemed to do. Rather, Angel is simply unable to comprehend the patient and forgiving love that Michael offers her over and over and over again. At one point, Michael tenderly tells her, “Sometimes you have to leave behind what you were born into to become who God meant you to be.” Angel’s journey is not only about learning how to ask others for forgiveness, but it is also one where she must learn how to accept that forgiveness herself.

Michael and Angel both pray at various moments throughout the film: Michael prays that God would give him strength and wisdom, and he prays that God would reveal to him how he should act regarding Angel’s actions. Angel prays the Lord’s Prayer with her mother when she’s a young girl, and she prays that God would guide her toward the right thing to do during a desperate plea as an adult.

In addition, there are many subtle allusions to biblical ideas throughout the film. Michael is often seen caring for and herding sheep, an animal often used by Jesus to depict His flock. Michael also owns a horse named Shadrach. In one scene, he washes Angel’s feet. He makes a reference to free will. Michael tells Angel that God talks to everyone, and he mentions that a man named Ezra brought him to faith.

Angel throws a cross into the ocean, rejecting the faith of her mother as a little girl when it seems her prayers have gone unanswered. She laments that she has “too many demons to be loved.” Angel desperately tries to clean herself in the river, yelling that she’s “unclean,” and Michael forgives her. Angel calls a truly wicked, murderous and rapacious man the “Father of Lies.”

Michael shares that “sometimes you have to leave behind what you were born into to become who God meant you to be.” A man says “Godspeed.” The spirit of a dead person talks to Angel. Michael appears to supernaturally sense that something is wrong. A song references Enoch being taken up into Heaven as well as Moses with the burning bush. At one point, Lauren Daigle’s “Rescue” plays in the background.

[Spoiler Warning] Angel reveals to Michael that her name is Sarah and is shortly after able to have children even though she was previously barren, possibly alluding to Sarah from the Bible who was given a child by God even though she was barren.

Sexual Content

We weren’t surprised that a movie about a man redeeming a prostitute would have some sexual content to navigate, but we were baffled by how explicit the content was.

Angel and Michael have sex twice. Both lengthy scenes (nearly four minutes of combined screentime) involve explicit movements, ecstatic facial expressions and sounds that definitely strain at the boundaries of what’s allowable in a PG-13 movie. Nudity is strategically avoided in one of those scenes, but both scenes have erotically charged feel to them. These scenes aren’t brief and suggestive, but lengthy and very sensual.

Angel is naked on at least three occasions, though nothing is fully revealed due to clever camerawork. However, on multiple occasions, her breasts are only covered by her hair or, in one instance, Michael’s hands. Angel straddles Michael while talking with him. Angel scrubs herself to the point of bleeding while naked in a river, trying to cleanse herself of her shame, and the side of her breast is partially visible.

A truly disturbing scene involves Angel hitching a wagon ride back to town as she flees her husband. Her driver is Michael’s brother-in-law, Paul, who sees Angel as a worthless prostitute but nonetheless essentially demands sex from her as payment for transporting her. The encounter takes place offscreen, and we see Angel vomiting afterward. Later in the film, Paul is deeply and sincerely penitent for his actions that day.

One of the men Angel has sex with turns out to be her biological father, who hadn’t seen her in many years. Another man has a penchant for sex with very young girls, and it’s implied that was the case with him and Angel when she was a prepubescent girl as well.

Early in the film, we learn that Angel’s conception was the result of an adulterous affair between her mother and a rich man. Angel’s father supported her mother for years, but then cuts off support. Angel’s mother is forced into a life of prostitution to support herself and her daughter. We see little Angel sitting outside rooms and shacks where her mother is selling herself. After Angel’s mother dies, she ends up in a brothel as a very young girl.

Kisses are shared between Angel and various male characters. Men pull up their pants, implying that they had just had sex. Many prostitutes sit in the laps of men. Women dance sensually on a stage. Rowdy men reference sexual acts. Scores of men participate in a daily lottery to determine who’ll win the opportunity to have sex with Angel that day.

A woman exposes her midriff to reveal scars. Multiple prostitutes are seen wearing revealing clothing that exposes and pronounces cleavage. A prostitute makes unwanted advances on Michael. We hear some crude euphemisms for sexual acts.

[Spoiler Warning] Angel helps establish a home and refuge for women who’ve been involved in sex work.

Violent Content

As it turns out, there’s a lot of violence in the gold rush days of California, and there are many instances of violence specifically against women in this film.

Angel is dropped off at a brothel as a child. It is implied that she and other young girls are groomed, raped and molested. In a particularly distressing and uncomfortable scene, the screams of two young girls can be heard in the background as a man sexually assaults them.

Throughout the movie, men physically assault Angel, including choking, beating and attempting to drown her. The madame at one brothel smacks Angel across the face. Two women beat and rob her, leaving her bloody in the street. Angel is forced to have an abortion against her will (and we see the doctor walking toward her with medical implements as Angel screams and is restrained by other men). At one point, she rapidly scratches at her arms with rocks. Angel hits a man with a pipe. Another woman is beaten by her husband in a flashback offscreen, though we see her bruised face later. A woman is murdered for helping Angel escape a brothel.

Michael is slapped, and he gets into a fistfight with three men. A man is punched in the face for his comments. An offscreen fire kills two people. Two others are hanged, one of which we see dangling after a lynch mob captures him for abusing small girls.

A man commits suicide with a pistol, and we see him put the gun to his head before he pulls the trigger (offscreen). A man is punched in the crotch. Someone dies of disease. Another man is strangled to death, and his body is stabbed and disgraced.

Crude or Profane Language

Four uses of the word “wh-re”. Additionally, we hear two uses of “b–ch,” and we hear one use each of “d–n,” “p-ss” and “h—.”

Drug and Alcohol Content

There are multiple scenes where prostitutes sit in a lounge room drinking alcohol. Angel is visibly impaired at least once, and she drinks on multiple occasions. An alcoholic man drinks from the collection of another man. Whiskey and brandy are consumed.

Other Negative Elements

A crowd gambles in a casino, and it’s clear that gambling and prostitution are closely linked. A general sense of women’s vulnerability to predatory men hangs over the entirety of the story, with the only exceptions being a couple of happily married women who don’t seem to be in such obvious jeopardy.

Conclusion

This ain’t your average Hallmark movie.

The biblical story of Hosea and his unfaithful wife, Gomer, helps us realize just how horribly we stray from God. Gomer’s prostitution represents the waywardness of Israel. More broadly, this story convicts us by suggesting that we, too, follow in Gomer’s rebellious footsteps when we choose sin over God’s faithful love, like a woman choosing to return to prostitution over the commitment to her husband.

Redeeming Love, based on the 1991 novel of the same name by Francine Rivers, loosely retells this story. We don’t get many details in Scripture regarding Gomer’s heart motivation. But emphasis is clearly placed on Gomer’s repeated unfaithfulness and her stubborn inclination to reject Hosea’s faithful love.

Here, however, Angel’s repeated return to her old life flows more from her shame and her struggle to believe that anyone could ever truly love her. She also, in her own strange way, thinks she’s doing Michael a favor by leaving him. She believes that she’s unable to have children because of a forced abortion, and she knows that a family is something that Michael wants. When a new family of homesteaders moves onto a nearby farm, Angel believes that a young woman there will be able to give Michael the family that she cannot.

That complex combination of motivations drives Angel to leave Michael over and over again. At each step of the way, Michael demonstrates grace, forgiveness and hope that perhaps one day his faithful love will fully win her over. And to receive Michael’s love, Angel will first fully have to receive the love and forgiveness that God offers her as well.

That’s a beautiful message. But there’s more that we need to talk about with regard to how this movie delivers it.

Redeeming Love isn’t the first Christian movie to try to depict a biblical story using a gritty, realistic approach regarding the sinfulness of man. Many of us have sat through the gut-wrenching and visceral scenes of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Likewise, the 2018 movie Unplanned, which deals with the subject of abortion, forces viewers to face the grim reality of that subject.

However, we would be remiss if we didn’t reiterate just how much sensual content this movie contains. We don’t want to knock Redeeming Love for its realistic approach. But we question how necessary it was to the plot to show the audience two long and intimate sex scenes, as well as several other scenes that include partial or near nudity. The average viewer certainly could’ve figured out what was going on without the need for such detailed sexual depictions.

Redeeming Love captures the beautiful story of what unconditional love truly looks like, especially when our sins may be too difficult for us to bear. Unfortunately, this poignant portrait of unconditional love also strays repeatedly into such provocative images that it might cause some who wrestle with pornography or sexual sin to stumble themselves.

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Kennedy Unthank

Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank betrayed his roots by leaving the wheat behind to study journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics.

Adam R. Holz

After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.