The Power of Film: Love the Hard Way
With Jessi Knipple on February 14, 2012

This article continues our Power of Film series, in which thoughtful viewers share their experiences of meeting God at the movies. (SPOILERS are possible in this series.)

Film and art have, ever since I could remember, been predominate vehicles for God’s revelation of truth in my life. Maybe this has a connection with growing up in a household of artists.  Whatever the reason, I find that I have had so many profound experiences with film that choosing one specific one to write about is a hard task. In light of that I have chosen instead to write about a film that stuck with me for a long time after I saw it.

The 2001 independent film Love the Hard Way is a film about relationships and the costs of love. It centers on the relationship between Jack, a con-man and budding pulp novelist, and Claire, a graduate student at Columbia. Jack has his criminal life, which is the basis for his artistic life and in neither does he expect to be affected by the unexpected. When Jack meets Claire, he only sees her as another conquest. Yet through their relationship Claire sees past Jack’s walls of indifference and aloofness to the tender man who is in need of affection. Not wanting to be seen or tied down, Jack pushes Claire away, breaking off their relationship and trying to shatter her image of their relationship.  Claire in turn, to seek him back, journeys deeper and deeper into Jack’s shadow world of crime to get his attention and call him back to love.  It is only when Jack is faced with the fact that Claire’s love for him has led her to destruction that he allows himself to be affected and moved.

After watching this film for the first time, I could not get it out of my head. For days and weeks later I mulled over the story and the characters’ choices in the film. I kept coming back, trying to understand the two central characters. What was it about Jack that kept him so isolated from love? How could Claire allow herself to fall so deeply into “the dark side of the moon,” as it was described in the film, for this man who seemed unworthy?

There is and was something about this story that hits at the core of my understanding of relationships. While the way in which Claire goes about seeking a response and action from Jack is incredibly destructive, her call to love and willingness to risk struck my heart. For me the film stood as a reminder of fact that the call to love costs something and sometimes requires entering into dark and dangerous spaces.

While Claire is not a “Christ-figure,” there is something about her willingness to enter into the dark spaces of Jack’s world that imitated Christ on the cross for me. Jack sees Claire as innocent and outside his dark world. Her presence there shifts his view of this world and changes how he sees it. Christ’s presence in the world, and especially on the cross in all the horrificness, acts similarly to Claire’s presence in Jack’s world. It is a jarring reality.

I was also greatly impacted by Claire’s willingness to risk the loss of herself because of her love for Jack; and it is this willingness that acts as a catalyst to move Jack outside of himself. In the end, this "love the hard way" almost destroys both of the characters, yet it also works for their salvation. It shocks them out of their respective paths and leads them to a deeper understanding of themselves and their journey.

For me as a story-watcher and teller, the conflicts of love and relationship are something to which I am inherently drawn. Since my understanding of God is centered in relationality as a key aspect in the Godhead imaged through the imago dei, I find that I am drawn to art that asks questions about the fundamentals of relationships. Love the Hard Way does this. It asks questions about love and cost. How much does one risk for a lover who has abandoned you? What does it take to move someone to change his or her perspective?

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