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January 18, 2009

Marriage hurts in ‘Not Easily Broken’ Couple struggles to stay together despite disappointment, expectations

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP


The title of the new movie “Not Easily Broken” refers to the Scripture passage: “A cord of three strands is not easily broken” (Eccl 4:12). The passage is quoted in the movie by a pastor to a young couple on their wedding day.

The cord in this reference is husband, wife and God. The couple in this movie is calm demeanored David (Morris Chestnut, “Boyz in the Hood”) and fiery Clarice (Taraji P. Henson, “Benjamin Button”). Along with quoting Ecclesiastes, the pastor reminds them that marriage is very hard. But of course, young love never listens.

We learn that David’s major-league baseball dreams are dashed when he’s injured, but Clarice’s dreams are realized as she becomes a high-powered real-estate agent and main supporter of the couple. However, her ambition, high lifestyle and disinterest in having children at the moment combine to tear the marriage apart.

At first, the story allows Clarice (and her mother who moved in) to attack David’s faults relentlessly. This constant barrage of criticism is reminiscent of another Scripture passage: “When words are many, sin is not absent” (Prv 10:19). We’d like to just clamp our hands over Clarice and her mother’s mouths.

Her one pet peeve about David that we might agree with is the amount of time he spends with his buddies and the kids he coaches. (We’ll catch up to Clarice’s faults later.) The everyday dialogue, the fights, the nitty-gritty of relationships all ring true without being dull or melodramatic.

Unfaithfulness, affairs and divorce are commonplace in Clarice and David’s world, but neither of them really want to go there themselves. Throughout the movie the viewer hears David’s contemplative commentary about how he sees life, and the wisdom he is trying to acquire. This seems to be something of a first for an African- American man in a film, and it’s wonderful.

Yes, David is tough, but his inner life reveals that he wants what everyone else wants. The proverbial life of crime tempting every inner-city African-American male in America is something David works against in his coaching of kids. It also makes him feel like the father he’s not.

When things are at their worst, David and Clarice turn to their pastor for marriage counseling, but aren’t successful. The couple splits. Here is a case of a mother’s bitter disappointment with marriage totally poisoning her daughter’s marriage. Clarice is grateful for all her mother gave her, teaching her to be strong, but she says, her mother never taught her how to love and care and forgive.

There’s lots of great marriage advice in “Not Easily Broken,” but even more, we see illustrated — with great realism — the experiences most couples go through, the traps and dead-ends many couples fall into. The pastor bided his time to ask Clarice this pointed question: “Did you really include God as that third strand in your marriage?”

The USCCB did not rate this film.

Burns, who ministers in Chicago, has a philosophy/theology degree from St. John’s University, N.Y., and studied screenwriting at the University of California- Los Angeles.