Hope Springs: Just What the Doctor Ordered

February 11, 2013 — Leave a comment

For Mature Audiences Only (Double Entendre Intended)

by Steve Childers

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During the last few years my wife, Becky, and I have become members of a new demographic group that’s quickly dying off called “Thirtysomethings”—couples who have been married for more than 30 years (32 so far).

The first time I heard about the movie Hope Springs (PG-13, starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones, and Steve Carell) was from my doctor at my annual check-up. He walked into the examining room, looked up at me and said, “Well, have you and Becky seen the sex movie yet?” I said, “No, I don’t think so.” He then told me every couple should see it, especially those who’ve been married a long time—like us.

I disregarded my physician’s advice for the last several months—conveniently long enough for the video to be available for streaming in my own living room so no one would catch me walking out of the theatre. Last Saturday night I mustered up the courage to watch it with Becky. I’ll be honest. Even though Rotten Tomatoes gave it good ratings, I was still cynical (one of my issues)—especially after I read the Rolling Stone review that referred to it as the “AARP version” of young love.

Here’s the story line: After 3 decades of marriage, empty-nester Kay Soames (Streep) realizes she and her husband, Arnold (Jones), have settled for being amiable roommates. Kay deeply longs for something they once had, but haven’t had in a very long time–emotional and physical intimacy. So she cleverly manipulates Arnold to attend a week of intense marriage counseling at Dr. Feld’s (Carell) Center for Intensive Couples Therapy.

And intense it is. Easy it is not. After experiencing a few blundering, fleeting glimpses of what used to be, they return home and fall back into the same platonic patterns. Having naively and tenaciously held to the hope of something more for years, Kay finally gives up. But Arnold finally wakes up from his slumber of relational passivity, heroically embraces his fears underneath it, and discovers a renewed longing for something more.

As Arnold begins to risk moving toward Kay in new ways, Kay finds herself awakened to new ways she wants to move toward him. They decide to begin their new journey toward greater intimacy by renewing their marriage vows on the beach with Dr. Field officiating and a few close family members and friends observing. With unfeigned transparency and humor, they stand on the beach and read to each other the new vows they have written (yes, Becky and I played it back several times so we could write these down):

Kay: After 32 years of marriage, I can honestly say that I love you more than I ever did.

Arnold: The day I met you changed my life and made my life. I can’t imagine living my life without you. It wouldn’t be any kind of life at all.

Kay: When I think about spending the rest of my life with you I only regret that it won’t be long enough. So I now want to make this next chapter of our lives something that we’ll both cherish. I vow to watch more golf with you without complaining.

Arnold: I vow to watch less golf and to buy you good presents that aren’t for the house—like jewelry.

Kay: I vow not to cut my hair any shorter than it is because I know you like it longer.

Arnold: I vow not to complain so much if I can help it (but sometimes there really is something that needs to be complained about). I vow to go to one of those sleep studies like you’ve been asking me to go to. I vow to take you somewhere once a year that’s more than 200 miles away from home that isn’t to see a family member.

Kay: Now on this wonderful day I give you the rest of my life, and I thank God every day that you’re in it.

Arnold: I vow to tell you how I feel. Not just when you ask me. And I’ll tell you how I feel about this. I love it and I love you.

Kay: I love you.

We all know that syrupy happy endings are provisional (my cynicism starting to rise up here). But to my surprise I found this movie to be anything but Pollyannaish. Director David Frankel’s intent was clearly not the typical Hollywood disingenuous use of erotic imagery. This movie is not one you’d probably feel comfortable watching with your mother or your kids. And it may even be too offensive for some adults. So consider yourself warned.

In the end, Hope Springs is a counter-cultural case for not giving up on your relationship—even after it dies. It’s a radical call to repentance from unloving, long-term relational patterns of passivity and indifference. And it’s also a call to a new resurrection hope for a deeper intimacy that’s worth fighting for.

At a critical turning point in the movie, Dr. Feld privately asks Arnold whether he’s done everything possible to save his marriage. If not, Dr. Feld says, he’ll live with regret later. “The moment is here,” Dr. Feld tells Arnold. “You have to ask yourself, have I done all that I could? Is this the best you can do?” And, of course, it wasn’t.