This past week my Costner marathon took me to a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… Just kidding. It only took me to 1992, but I actually had not seen this one before, and it was written by one of my favorite screenwriters – Lawrence Kasdan. At last count, Kasdan has written more Star Wars films than George Lucas, or anyone else for that matter, including my favorite The Empire Strikes Back. He was also the writer for one of my favorite westerns – Silverado – as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark. There’s quite a diverse collection of films in his trophy case, including The Bodyguard.
Like I said, I had never seen this movie before, though I was very aware of it because of its music which has immortalized five of Whitney Houston’s hit singles on what is still the best-selling film soundtrack of all time. If you were looking to set the mood for a romantic evening back in the 90s, or you were pining for a lost love – you didn’t have to look any further than Whitney’s version of “I Will Always Love You,” which was a remake of Dolly Parton’s original tune, yet arguably the best recorded version of the song. Side note: I was neither pining for lost love nor attempting to generate romance in 1992, as I had only recently discovered comic books… “two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by,” you might say.
So anyway, unlike the previous Costner films I’ve reviewed so far, I went into this one with a fresh set of eyes, and a desire to finally see this movie which had eluded my view for so many years. And I was glad I did.
The plot is pretty straightforward. Whitney Houston dons the guise of a mega-famous singer named Rachel Marron who I would imagine isn’t that different from her real self at the time – when she was at the height of her career. Because of threats from an unknown stalker her manager hires Frank Farmer (Costner), a former secret service agent under the Reagan administration. What is not as straightforward as the plot, is the dynamic relationship between these two characters. There’s a lot of grit in the details of what ends up becoming the love story of two people who are as different as two people can be. They are complete opposites who journey together long enough to reach a place of complete trust with one another. Kasdan reverses the traditional order of the classic ‘Beauty and the Beast’ love story here by taking his characters first to a place of passionate romance, then to friendship, then to understanding, admiration, and trust. I’m not sure that it works quite as well on screen as the traditional avenue of trust, admiration, understanding, friendship, and then romance, but what does work is the complicated messiness of it all, the realness of the emotions spilling out of Costner and Houston, and the paradoxical beauty of two worlds colliding, smashing each other to pieces, and then being rebuilt into something new.
One of the things I really appreciate about older movies is that the Christological metaphors are usually not as subtle or as hidden as they often seem to be in newer films. That’s definitely the case with The Bodyguard. While the plot, as mentioned, is a non-traditional love story between two opposites, the wider meta-narrative is a compact declaration of one of the main themes in all of Scripture – best summed up by the Apostle Paul when he instructed the men he was addressing to, “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” If you suspect I might be reaching a little too hard for this metaphor, take note of the very end of the film which closes with the prayer of a priest holding up a cross and echoing a portion of the 23rd Psalm, “even though we may pass through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with us, guiding and protecting us.” Houston and Costner, having both grown up in the Baptist Church, knew exactly what movie they were making, and how timeless a story it really was.