- October 26, 2020
- Ivan Moore
Let’s take a Bible quiz! What do you remember about the story of the prophet Hosea from the Old Testament? The loose summary may go something like this. Hosea was a prophet who God told to marry a prostitute. Does that sound familiar? This basic synopsis of this highly poetic, highly symbolic work of Old Testament prophecy shortchanges the beauty of this story quite a bit. The temptation to boil Hosea down to these basic story beats is understandable, but, also, quite patriarchal.
One of God’s servants marrying a prostitute is salacious. It is a click-worthy headline. What happens, though, is that story often creates a very male-centric fantasy of the heroic husband and the flawed wife who always needs saving. It shouldn’t surprise you to know God is doing slightly more with Hosea’s marriage than challenging men to love their wives. In Hosea’s prophecy, Gomer very much becomes a symbol for Israel, the people of God. For a long time, men have seen themselves as Hosea, but we are all Gomer, the unfaithful spouse to a faithful God. Historically it has been challenging for many to see this book outside of a male lens and that also makes it challenging to apply a modern lens.
Enter Hosea, the new movie from writer/director Ryan Daniel Dobson. This is not your Bible’s Hosea. With this film, Dobson is attempting to bring this ancient story to life in a realistic, gritty way. How would this story play out in the modern day? Unfortunately, the film fails to grasp some of the foundational roots of the story of Hosea and Gomer. First of all, it does fall pray to a male-centric lens for most of the movie. The Walking Dead’s Avi Nash plays Henry who is our stand in for the prophet, and throughout the story is a solid rock of unconditional love. His only flaw is loving his Gomer blindly without acknowledging her flaws. Then, the movie also fails to truly understand who Gomer was.
The main protagonist is Cate, played by Victoria Secret model Camille Rowe. As children, Henry and Cate are best friends, but before they are old enough to truly explore their love for each other, Henry moves away. Henry doesn’t just leave Cate without her best friend but leaves her without a lifeline out of the abusive relationships in her life. What follows is a life of trauma and pain that, the film implies, leads Cate to a life of prostitution. This is one big area where Cate and Gomer diverge. Cate is trying to survive a life of being repeatedly victimized by men. Gomer was willingly unfaithful to her loving husband the same way the people of God are willingly unfaithful to God.
The people that Hosea was speaking to were exploiting the poor, ignoring the widows, and doing the exact opposite of what God was telling them would lead to complete human flourishing. Hosea’s life and the subsequent warnings that follow in the book are there to try and steer the people back to God before it’s too late. As it turns out, it was too late. Exile was imminent, but also wasn’t the end of the story. Like Hosea did with Gomer, God loved the people unconditionally and never let the people out of sight even when they were in captivity. Hosea ultimately pays for Gomer’s infidelity so their relationship can be restored, and, similarly, Jesus pays the ultimate price through his death on the cross so that we may be reconciled with God.
By creating a character so defined by her trauma, it alters the essence of Gomer’s story. Henry has so many reasons to continue to fight for Cate, Hosea had every reason to walk away from Gomer. Also, by creating a narrative where Cate is all but forced into prostitution, the film takes away some of the autonomy of Gomer from the original story. She made her own choices and acted on feelings and desires that were also her own.
As a modern-day retelling of the book in the Bible, Hosea, falls way short, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t compelling elements. Henry does love Cate in the face of very dire circumstances, and right before the film ends it does give Cate some very healthy autonomy and power over her life. Still, this could have been a different movie if the story of Hosea and Gomer wasn’t so steeped in a culture where men are powerful saviors and women are fragile damsels in distress. In order to fully appreciate Hosea and Gomer’s story, men have to start seeing themselves as the prostitute in need of unconditional love.
Hosea is currently available On Demand wherever you rent movies and is rated R for sexuality, violence, and language and does contain scenes of physical and sexual violence.