(AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is the only R-rated movie I’ve used in this series. I’ve only seen it on TV so some scenes may have been deleted. The rating code mentions sexual material, but since it’s about a prostitute that is a given. Made about 30 years ago, the version I saw is mild compared to current movies or TV.)
The 1990 Garry Marshall-directed romantic comedy Pretty Woman is a semi-Cinderella tale. Except the sweet heroine isn’t scrubbing fireplaces and being abused by relatives; she’s a “working girl” in the world’s oldest profession—prostitution. The script writers soften what is a harsh, depraved life by depicting that she’s trying to make enough money to get an education.
Wealthy, handsome corporate raider Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) has had a series of girlfriends who feel neglected by his workaholic life. After another break-up, Edward takes a drive and ends up lost in the Hollywood Boulevard area. He stops for directions and is approached by a beautiful young prostitute, Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts), wearing a short blonde wig. He pays her to stay with him in his penthouse suite that night. The next morning he asks her to stay the week and attend some business functions with him—for $3,000.
He gives her money to go shopping on Rodeo Drive for appropriate clothes. A haughty saleswoman refuses to wait on her because she is dressed as a prostitute. She returns empty-handed to the hotel. There Barney the hotel manager (Hector Elizondo) tells her they are making an exception to her staying there only because Edward is a special guest. Knowing she needs help, Vivian tells Barney she wasn’t even able to get a dress for dinner. He has the hotel boutique outfit her. Seeing another problem ahead, Barney coaches her on dinner table etiquette.
When Edwards returns, he is stunned by Vivian’s beauty in her formal red dress. The business dinner goes well, and he is especially pleased with her ability to talk with people and put them at ease. The next day, after Vivian explains her problems shopping that left her with only a dinner dress, Edward takes her out and spends “an obscene amount of money” on clothes for her.
Dressed in expensive clothes and carrying designer shopping bags, Vivian goes back to the shop where the saleswoman had been rude to her. The saleswoman begins to fawn over this elegant woman—until Vivian points out she is the same woman she dissed the day before. Then she reminds her of the kind of commission she missed: “Big mistake! Big!” (A celebratory moment for any viewer who has ever experienced snobbery from a salesperson.)
That night she and Edward talk into the night about their lives and how they came to where they are. With each scene the audience likes infectious, kind-hearted Vivian more. And it’s obvious that Vivian is falling for this handsome, rich man who treats her so well. Edward doesn’t realize it yet, but he is also falling for, as the cliché goes, “the prostitute with the heart of gold.”
Conflict enters when Edward’s lawyer/business partner, Philip Stuckey (Jason Alexander), becomes worried Vivian might be an industrial spy. To reassure him, Edward tells him privately that she is a prostitute. So Philip tries to “hire” Vivian. When she finds out that Philip felt free to do that because Edward told him, Vivian is furious and plans to leave. But Edward persuades her to keep the deal they made and stay the week.
Edward stops working early the next day and takes Vivian on a date to the opera. She is moved to tears by the music, and he sees again there is a depth to her he hadn’t imagined. Over breakfast, Edward offers to support her as his mistress. Rather than accepting what he considers a generous offer, she is insulted and tells him this is not the fairytale ending she wants—or will settle for.
Edward is about to close the deal he’d been working on when things that Vivian said make him change his mind about dismantling yet another family company and putting many out of work. Instead, he wants to enjoy life. Philip finds out that Vivian’s influence has quelled the deal. He goes to the hotel and blames her for changing Edward. When he tries to come on to her again, she rejects him, and he hits her. Edward arrives in time to protect her and throw him out.
SPOILER ALERT: Not seeing the kind of future she wants with the man she loves, Vivian decides to go home and start a different kind of life. Rather than going to the airport and leaving town, Edward finally realizes what he is losing. He goes to the apartment where she lives, climbs up the fire escape (even though afraid of heights) and makes the kind of proposal that every fairytale ends with.
To make the analogy between Vivian Ward and a Bible woman is simple. In Joshua 2 we see that Rahab was a prostitute living in the pagan city of Jericho, one of the cities the Israelites would take over as God gave them that land. When two Israelite spies entered the city, she hid them, lied to the king’s men about their whereabouts, and helped them escape. She asked the spies to promise protection for her and her family when the Israelites attacked. They told her to hang a red rope outside her window on the city wall, to have all her family inside the house, and not to disclose anything about them. Then they would all be spared.
Despite her original occupation, Rahab is one of the most admired women in the Bible, even showing up as the only woman to rate a paragraph in the roll call of saints in Hebrews 11 (v. 31). As that chapter says repeatedly, she too acted “by faith.”
Rahab knew she needed to be saved. A woman once came to Charles Wesley and asked him to pray for her because she was a great sinner. He said, “You certainly are a great sinner, and I will be glad to pray for you.” Then she exclaimed, “Who has been talking to you about me? I am just as good as anyone else in this community!” Rahab wouldn’t have had that reaction.
Rahab was open to God. She had heard how the God of the Israelites brought them out of slavery in Egypt by parting the Red Sea. She realized that such a powerful God couldn’t be fought against. Like people in every age, the Holy Spirit had to convict her and draw her to faith. It shows that it sometimes takes a minimal amount of information to bring about a conversion. On the other hand, someone can be raised in a believing household, be taken to church every time the door is open, and still reject the faith of their parents.
Rahab had a confident faith in God. She believed He could make a way to save her and her family. God provided this opportunity when He led the two spies directly to Rahab’s house—to the only believer in the city. She made a deal with God’s representatives and believed that they would keep it. Hanging the red rope in the window of her house built on the exterior wall could have brought death to her. But God prevented that. She kept the red rope in the window to mark her house, even though she knew it would be a number of days before the Israelites could attack. The red rope (color of blood) was a visible token much like the blood on the doorposts had been when the death angel struck the Egyptian firstborn and spared the Israelites.
Rahab had a caring faith. When the Jews captured Jericho, they found Rahab and her family in her house and rescued them as promised (Joshua 6:21–25). I wonder how many people were there. She couldn’t force anyone to be there; she could only tell them this was the way to be saved. The same is true with us and our families. We can’t make them believe, but we can be a witness to them. When people really know and love the Lord, they want others to know and love Him too. We all care for our families, but not everyone has to risk their life to save them. Rahab did to make sure they were all saved. What a shame it would have been if she had decided not to talk to some of her relatives. “Oh, Uncle Abezar would never believe this and he’d make fun of me.”
Rahab had a fulfilling life. She and her family were not left behind. They were accepted as new Israelites. How do we know? Because Rahab is one of four women’s names found in the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5). Her husband’s name was Salmon and they had a son named Boaz–who will become the kinsman redeemer who also marries a foreign woman, Ruth, whose story is told in the book of Ruth. Rahab becomes the great-grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus Christ. Notice the grace of God. He who could choose His own ancestors included in that line a former prostitute.
If I was producing a movie about Rahab’s life, I would have her husband be one of the two spies she rescued. The spies knew her and must have admired her courage. But it would also take a man of courage, who didn’t care how others talked about him (because they probably did) to marry a woman like Rahab. And so, I believe, Rahab probably achieved what few women did in that culture—a true love match.
In other words, she got her fairytale ending.
©2016 by Vicki Huffman
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