SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (BP)–“Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God and the face of this company to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony, which is an honorable estate instituted of God signifying unto us the mystical union which is betwixt God and His church.”
It is deeply refreshing, albeit somewhat surprising, to see such words uttered in a major Hollywood motion picture. Even more impressive is that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated the film for Best Actor, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay.
The only disappointment is that this line would never make it to the local Cineplex today. The movie is 55 years old.
The original “Father of the Bride” was released in 1950 to critical acclaim and was one of the most successful films of that year. Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor led this comical, yet heartwarming, look at a daughter’s wedding through the eyes of a wistful parent.
To watch the film today, it is almost shocking to see the matter-of-fact religiosity of the ceremony itself. The scene opens with a view from behind the altar, dominated by an immense cross. The officiating priest wears the traditional raiment of his position. And then there are the words:
“With this ring, I thee wed, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
The priest so refers to the Trinity three times within a few seconds:
“I pronounce that they are man and wife in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, bless and preserve and keep you. Lord, mercifully with His favor, look upon you and fill you with all spiritual benediction and grace, that ye may do live together in this life, that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting. Amen.”
No touch of irony. No jabs at the faithful. Just reverence during a holy ceremony. And considering that the film’s stars were not renowned for their off-screen family life, this reverent presumption of marriage’s sanctity is all the more impressive.
To see how times have changed, one only needs to look at the popular remake. Already nearly 15 years old, Steve Martin’s version is also deeply respectful to the institution of marriage — impressively so for a modern Hollywood release. But while so many of the newer film’s scenes are nearly identical to the original, the wedding ceremony itself is cleansed of even the slightest vestige of the divine.
The ceremony is held in what looks like a church, but no religious symbols are present within or without. And the words are steadfast in their vague agnosticism. Add to that the memorable, comical character of Martin Short’s flamboyant wedding planner, and it is easy to see that the sacred is no longer invited to this most traditional of ceremonies.
However, today it is easy to look at the 1991 release as a paean to traditional marriage. In more recent films, weddings are usually a mockery of the entire institution. The clergy are contemptible, the participants disinterested, and the disasters routine. The entire marital contract is a joke at best or a sham at least.
Now, this isn’t a nostalgic call to return culture to the fabled “good old days” of the 1950s. Still, it is interesting to note that once upon a time, not that long ago, Hollywood respected the sanctity of marriage. Not only did films strongly support the institution, this support was assumed to be the norm.
In this era of cohabitation, rampant “no fault” divorce, and the constant push by some for “same-sex marriage,” our popular culture has swung from the role of marriage advocate and supporter to that of an often fierce opponent. As courts and local officials arrogantly attempt to change the ancient meaning of the word “marriage” on the fly, Hollywood applauds with hyper-sympathetic portrayals of novel relationships that have no proven success or historic foundation. And it does this knowing that the vast majority of its audience disagrees with Hollywood sensitivities.
The film industry would do well again to offer the simple respect to marriage shown in the original “Father of the Bride.” Not only would this improve our popular culture, but it would almost certainly — much to Hollywood’s surprise — boost the film industry’s own bottom line. And that is far better than leaving its audience alone at the altar.
Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor, was executive director of the Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography under President Reagan. Alan E. Sears now is the president and CEO of the Alliance Defense Fund, a legal alliance defending religious liberty through strategy, training, funding and litigation, online at www.alliancedefensefund.org.