Burning Bridges

This summer's movie lineup features the usual share of brutal violence and raw sex—movies like Species and Judge Dredd that spray a few more layers of moral sewage into our culture. But the most potentially destructive movie of the summer may be a quiet little film that's beautifully shot . . . one that offers a haunting musical score, respected actors, and a peaceful, bucolic setting. So what makes a tranquil little movie like The Bridges of Madison County so harmful? It's because Bridges subtly teaches that families should be sacrificed on the altar of personal happiness. Bridges tells the story of Francesca Johnson, an Iowa farm wife played by actress Meryl Streep. Pains are taken to show how dreary Francesca's life is. At the kitchen table, her dull husband and obnoxious children noisily gulp down their dinner. They spend the rest of the evening slumped in front of the television. But all that changes when Francesca's family leaves to spend four days at the state fair. A photographer from National Geographic magazine, played by Clint Eastwood, turns up at Francesca's house asking for directions to a local covered bridge. The two promptly fall in love, and from that point the film turns into what one reviewer described as "the kind of romance that mostly appears in books with Fabio on the cover." After a passionate, four-day affair, Francesca's family returns. She reluctantly chooses family responsibilities over the man of her dreams. This choice makes it appear that Bridges gives the nod to family values—to keeping one's obligations to spouse and children. But Francesca's ultimate decision is made to look so unpalatable that filmgoers say they themselves would have made the opposite choice. In a Good Housekeeping magazine poll, almost half the respondents said they would have abandoned their own families under similar circumstances. That's appalling. Bridges does give lip service to the pain Francesca would cause her family if she left with her lover. But polls like the one by Good Housekeeping show what message women are really absorbing. The movie even ends with a now-elderly Francesca writing wistfully to her daughter: "Do what you have to do to be happy in life," as if she, like the viewer, thinks she made the wrong decision to stay with her family. Of course, Bridges doesn't tell viewers what the chances for happiness are for people who abandon one spouse in favor of a new one—that people who divorce and remarry suffer a 60-percent breakup rate. What Bridges does teach is that romantic love is all it takes to sustain a relationship—and that the intense level of passion that couples experience at the beginning of a relationship will never fade. But Christians know that lasting love takes commitment as well—a commitment that doesn't depend on feelings that may ebb and flow over the years. We hear a lot of criticism of the moral effect of films that offer little beyond mindless violence and sexuality. But public reaction to The Bridges of Madison County proves we have to watch out for the quiet, beautifully made films as well. Films that, in terms of their moral impact, can be even more deadly.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary