The Bridges of Madison County (Affairs. Are They Really That Wonderful?)

April 16, 2011

You’re probably thinking “isn’t it a little late to analyze this movie?”. Yes and no. Yes because it came out in 1995, but no because I finally just saw it and there are timeless truths of the fallen human nature found in it! The novel, written by Robert Waller, was published a few years prior in 1992 and sold over 50 million copies worldwide. The notion of women’s self-entitlement to happiness sells!

What’s the story about? Hopefully you’ve read it or watched it by now. In a nut shell, Fransesca (played by Maryl Streep) has a women’s natural wild heart, yet her wild spirit is caged in by her simple, boring, country lifestyle. In addition, she describes her husband as “clean” (meaning faithful, yet non-adventurous). But it isn’t until Fransesca meets Robert Kincaid (played by Clint Eastwood), a charming, independent, traveling photographer for National Geographic, that she questions leaving her husband for the greener grass. There’s no reason her husband deserves to be left, but there is reason for her wanting to, namely, him being really boring.

Robert arrives while Fransesca’s husband and two children are out of town. They’ve left for four days to the fair. Robert stops by her house looking for Roseman bridge, a beautiful red bridge that he’s assigned to take pictures of. Since the directions are too confusing she accompanies him along the way. After a series of events the two quickly become friends, and then lovers.

They realize that the affair can only last a few days and she must decide if she’s going to leave a faithful, yet boring husband. If she does she can ride off into the sunset with prince charming who makes her feel like her body is a cherished sculpture. Her family returns home. She manages to keep the affair a complete secret and decides to stay in Iowa.

However, as a final attempt to take her with him, Robert approaches Fransesca in town. She’s inside her truck while her husband is in the store. Thinking that Robert had left town already, she glances down the street and sees Robert standing in the rain looking at her in desperation. His tears are mixed with the rain.

As her husband gets back in the truck, Robert gets inside his. Her husband pulls out onto the street right behind Robert’s truck. They’re stopped at a red light. Fransesca sees Robert put a medallion around his rear view mirror. It’s the one she gave him. The light turns green. Robert doesn’t move. The intensity builds since Fransesca knows this will either be the last time she sees her husband, or Robert. She has to decide.

Fransesca is holding the door handle, slowly turning it. Her husband starts honking. In a way, this shows that Fransesca’s husband doesn’t like Robert, and that Robert doesn’t care. The two are at odds in this short moment. If only her husband knew the truth, they’d really be enemies.

Robert still doesn’t move his truck. Everything in Fransesca desperately wants to get out of the truck while simultaneously she doesn’t. But after more honks, Robert begins to slowly make a left turn and drives away. Fransesca turns around to get one final look. Her secret Casanova is getting smaller and smaller. Her hand is still clenching the door handle. Eventually she lets go. Soon after she can’t control her emotions of missing Robert. They swell up inside her and she begins to sob on the drive home.

Her husband is confused as to why she’s crying and asks her what’s wrong. After no reply he turns on the radio for a distraction. He turns the tuner to a mundane news station, rather than the fun jazz station which her and Robert enjoyed together. This signifies that she must now completely transition out of her fantasy world that Robert provided and return to her crappy reality.

At the end of the movie Fransesca has died of old age and her children are carrying out her will to have her ashes spread at Roseman bridge. Before Robert came along, the bridge was simply an after thought. After Robert, the bridge became a symbol of their love. Now her ashes will forever merge with that symbol.

Now let me ask… did she do the right thing? What is the greater tragedy, that she didn’t get her heart’s desire, or that she secretly cheated on her husband? Did Robert do the right thing? Should he have romanticized her, slept with her, and pressured her to leave her family? Should he have kept his distance? Should he have returned again in the rain, only to torture her emotions and make her miss him even more?

They never even had a proper good-bye. Their hearts were joined together and then separated over the course of 4 days. Now this is how they’ll be forced to remember each other. Was her husband ultimately to blame for the affair? Even though she was longing for adventure and romance, did that give her the right to sin against him? Did it give her the right to brake the wedding vows they once made?

Did Fransesca and Robert really know each other? Did they know any bad things about each other, or only good things? Was it just a short-lived surface level infatuation? Was their “love” for each other self-deception since it had not been tested with time or children? Was a 4 day secret affair really worth it?

Anyone can obsess over an infatuation, especially when it’s short-lived. The thing is, emotions of infatuation are the most powerful when they’re short lived! When emotions are only acted upon because they are new, they never have the chance to become old. Every infatuation, crush, and love-sickness will eventually fade away once people are known more comprehensively.

It’s analogous to almost anything in life. For example, when you travel to Italy for only a week, you’ll be in sensory perception overload, and for the rest of your life when you hear the word “Italy” you’ll associate it with that week long experience. However, the locals there don’t have that perception because they’re familiar with it. They’d like to get out and travel to other places. And so it goes with anywhere in the world. And so it goes with relationships.

I’m not saying that love dies over time in relationships. That’s a myth too. There are 3 types of love. Erotic love, friendship love, and selfless love. Erotic love is the most powerful, yet the shortest lived. That’s why sex doesn’t last nearly as long as the implications of sex, whereby friendship love and selfless love take over in the long run. Those are most needed when it comes to having children and being able to respect each other. Erotic love gets relationships going. Not saying relationships should start out sexual. They shouldn’t.

I’m saying infatuation is a part of erotic love too. But that type of love isn’t supposed to sustain a relationship, only light the sparks to it. Relationships start out in a shallow, yet rapid river. Over time the river calms down. However, even though the water calms, it also becomes much deeper! And the rapid river can and will certainly come back at times, it will just be different then what it was at first. It will be more coupled with the other types of love, thus making it even more special than it was at first.

Here’s the major question I’d like to ask: Why did she have an affair in the first place?!

I would contend, it’s because she and her husband never understood and applied marriage principles which can be found in the book ‘His Needs, Her Needs’.

This book has sold over 2 million copies, which is good but that also means that an infatuation with affairs outweighs the desire to affair proof your marriage 25 to 1.

My wife and I had marital counseling before we got married and our pastor gave us this book to read. The book’s wisdom is brilliant. I would recommend it to everyone. Basically, it teaches that men have certain needs like sex, recreation, and respect, while woman have certain needs like affection, protection, and leadership. The man needs to find out what his wife’s greatest needs are (they’re different from woman to woman) and meet those on a constant bases, and vice-versa.

The same goes for love languages and how we each have different ways of demonstrating and receiving love. Some need flowers, some need to be touched, some need compliments, etc. Don’t expect the other person to know. Get over yourself and tell them. When they do what you like you’ll be glad. In doing all this, each person will have their needs met in their partner and will not have to go looking for it in someone else.

Here’s the reality. That “someone else” whom we have an affair with, wont meet our needs either. We’re too selfish to have all of our needs met in someone. It’s not supposed to work that way, which is why it NEVER does anyways. For example, let’s pretend that Fransesca opened the pick-up door, jumped into Robert’s truck, and lived happily ever after. You know that’s what most woman who watch this movie want to happen! But pretend that she could have done it guilt free and with no regrets. Then think of 10 years down the road after all the passion has died out, the sex is familiar, there are occasional arguments, and they annoy each other.

What will they do then? Will they be able to transport themselves back to the 4 days where their infatuation for each other was at its pinnacle? No. Should Fransesca just have another affair to make herself feel special again? No. The human heart is so desperate that we’ll have affairs on the very one’s we’re having affairs with! Rather, they will need to work it out with what the Bible calls “agape”, or selflessness.

I hope that woman watch this movie and walk away from it with a Biblical outlook, not a selfish, self-entitled, feeling sorry for Fransesca outlook. I also hope that husbands watch this movie and walk away with a greater determination to fulfill their wife’s needs. In fact, the movie gives us that example. Fransesca’s son realized that he doesn’t want to repeat his father’s foot steps.

He goes back to his wife and tells her he’s sorry if he hasn’t paid enough attention to her. By the look on her face she’s surprised, yet completely comforted. Fransesca’s husband only had to ask her, “hey deer, where do you want to travel to?” Then they could have had their own adventure together. Then later on when mysterious, sexy, Robert comes to the house she wouldn’t feel that she needs to have an affair with him because her needs would have already been met by her husband.

It’s disgusting to me that Fransesca chose to have her ashes scattered by Roseman bridge instead of being buried next to her husband. She had a 4 day affair with a stranger which made her feel like an Aretha Franklin “womaaaan” and that became the most precious thing to her upon her dying wish. Needing to feel loved isn’t the only thing that gives a woman worth. As a woman, thinking that you’re entitled to do whatever you want to do in order to feel loved is a form of feminism. I understand it’s not the cheating that’s supposedly courageous. It’s the desire to be loved and act upon it which is “courageous” in the feminist’s mindset.

But this desire should be acted upon with her husband, not against her husband. You ask, “but what if my husband never meets my needs and I never get fulfilled that way?” Jesus didn’t abandon you so why do you get to abandon your husband? It wasn’t pretty for Jesus to stay faithful to us when we rejected him. It cost his life. That’s how much he loved us in spite of us. That’s our standard too. He set the example and we’re supposed to follow it. Yes Fransesca was a good mother and a “proper” wife, but Jesus looks at the heart. You should strive to not give up on your husband because Christ didn’t give up on you.

This movie glamorizes affairs. Since some people are lead by only their emotions, they will feel emboldened by this movie to follow Fransesca’s lead. You can follow those emotions or you can follow the emotions that come from being reminded of the gospel. In the words of Derek Webb, “I am a whore I do confess, so I’ll put you on like a wedding dress, and I run down the aisle to you.” We aren’t that lovely to God. Yet, he treats us as though we are worthy anyways on the bases of Christ. Does Christ influence your love? It is the greatest and most beautiful love imaginable. Do you realize that that’s the kind of love that marriage is supposed to reveal? Just as Jesus exemplified it in the gospel. Worldly desires are selfish. Only the Spirit can give you the kind of love that is humble.




  1. I understand your points, but I am living in Francesca’s shoes right now. Everything is similar (even occurred in Iowa) except that instead of 4 days, I chose to continue it over a yr now to make sure it isn’t the short term infatuation you speak of. I have gone to marriage counseling. I get along with my husband just as she did. We have two beautiful children and are wonderful parents. When I was 25 and chose to marry him, I did so because I loved him, he is kind to me and others, I knew he would never hurt me, he would never go out late with his friends, he’d always put me first, he would get up in the middle of the night with our kids more than I do, he would do the majority of housework while I travel a few days a week for my career, he would be an amazing father, he would always treat me with respect. However, I have found that no amount of marriage counseling can make him spontaneous, adventurous, make me laugh with silly jokes, be romantic, be interested in helping others through the church or just with friends, want to go on picnics and look at the stars after the kids go to bed, and to kiss me and make love to me with passion versus just going through the motions. He doesn’t have that in him as much as he wants to. Does God want me to live a life like my grandma and grandpa where they are roommates their entire lives versus being with your soulmate and smiling every day? Do I fake my happiness, just live a life of being a roommate to someone I married because that’s what I chose 10 yrs ago and I need to fulfill my commitment? I can’t imagine my kids wanting that. Kids from divorced parents (including myself) continuously say they’d rather be FROM a broken home than IN one. I’ve learned that soulmates do exist and there are different forms of love. Soulmate love is where you truly miss that person as you are away from them at work every day. You can’t wait to wrap your arms around them as they walk in the door versus just look up and say, “Hi. How was your day?” I don’t know what I will do yet, but I keep praying that God knows my heart and he will lead me where I need to be.

    • I read your response. Life presents us with hard choices and every day is a struggle. Did you leave your husband or stay?

  2. Thanks for reading my article and replying. Sounds like you could relate a lot to the movie. What does your husband want? Does he still want to be with you? What are his feelings about you committing adultery on him?

    Sorry, I can only go off of what you’re telling me. I don’t know your whole story so I can only try to respond based on what you’ve said. I will repeat what I said above: “Jesus didn’t abandon you so why do you get to abandon your husband? It wasn’t pretty for Jesus to stay faithful to us when we rejected him. It cost his life. That’s how much he loved us in spite of us.”

    So why do you get to not follow Jesus’ example? Why do your felt needs get to come before following his example? Can you explain to me how that’s part of God’s plan from a Biblical angle? I don’t think you can.

    Also, not every person is going to have all the qualities we want in someone. You don’t have all the qualities your husband would want, i.e. remaining faithful to him, and that’s only one among many probably and he hasn’t cheated on you because of any of it like you have him. You should be thankful for that because there’s probably a lady out there who’d rock his world way more than you. You’re both in the same predicament. But that’s part of the journey. Your boyfriend may be romantic, but there’s probably a lot of qualities your husband has that he doesn’t. You should focus on your husbands strengths, not only your own desires. For example, your husband was able to be faithful and raise your kids good over a decade or so, while this other guy hasn’t done any of that with you. You’re husband knows how to love your kids better. This other person doesn’t. That should make you attracted to him.

    Maybe this other guy wouldn’t have the balls to do that, making your husband a real man. If this other guy was in your husband’s shoes, he wouldn’t have time to be romantic and understand you all the time. There’d be a lot of distractions from family life. But he’s freed up to use 100% of his time and energy to be all about “wonderful you”. That’s how it was in the movie. It’s unfair. It’s easy for him to appear so wonderful because of that. Even though you’ve been with him for a year, as opposed to 4 days, doesn’t mean he’s the Mr. Right you previously missed. He’ll provide some of the things you so desperately want to experience and feel, but not EVERYTHING you want to experience and feel. There will always be another Mr. Right (call him Mr. Right #2) who will possess qualities that even Mr. Right #1 doesn’t have. That’s life. You’re supposed to say “I do” with this in mind, having wisdom about the human condition before you jump in.

    Here’s the Christians perspective: you may not marry the one you want, but it’s probably the one you need (in God’s providence). Also, you’re not supposed to ultimately marry the one you love, but rather love the one you marry. None of this is a bad thing, it’s the beauty of marriage. I think you comparing yourself to your grandparents is a cop-out. Your grandparents, along with you and your husband, are not puppets. All can work together and try new things to revive your love. As far as your kids go, you should love them enough to not have them be in a broken home or even come from a broken home. It’s not either/or, but neither/nor. My parents were divorced after I moved out and trust me, it STILL effects you as a child for the worse. You may justify it in your own mind and think “they’re fine!”, but there’s things you can’t see beneath the surface (or don’t want to see) which still will effect them. And again, your reasoning about your kids also sounds like a cop-out.

    Faking your happiness? Of course your kids don’t want you to fake it, but that also doesn’t mean they want you to get a divorce so you don’t have to fake it! Get real. You need to keep working on your marriage and not give up, then you’ll be happy and wont fake it. So many people have better chemistry, especially with sense of humor, than their spouse. You should enjoy the fact that a friend understands you, but just leave it at that. Again, your husband will have that with other woman more than you to. It’s part of life, it doesn’t mean you need a divorce. Soulmates? I’d say my wife and I are soulmates. But so what? Even soulmates get annoyed by each other or wish the other person was different at times. You can’t avoid it. I consider myself a very romantic person, very creative, and can be very spontaneous. It’s very natural for me to be that way. Our proposal story blows everyone else’s out of the water I’m so stinking creative. But I guarantee I wont be a father like your husband was to your kids getting up in the night more than you. I want to be but will probably get there slower. I have a lot of other things that I need to work on which my wife wishes I had. You might be confused and think that just because this person possesses what your husband lacks that he’s more right for you. It’s not true. If you married him instead of your husband, eventually you’d find that he’s lacking other things that you desperately want, like a good family man. Trust me. A Casanova wont meet all of your needs. Seemingly perfect chemistry can’t alone carry
    everything a relationship needs. It will only give you a social extravaganza for a time. I promise.

    Are you around 35 now? If so, I hate to say it but you’re probably having divorce hormones early. You’re probably surrounding yourself with all kinds of woman who stroke your ego and only tell you what you want to hear, namely, that you’re affair is justified, deserved, or even courageous. You might even get mad at people who challenge your behavior and write them off as stiffs who don’t appreciate your need for “happiness”. Anyone who challenges you is your enemy and is blind. How did you find my blog? Were you doing searches for the movie to find others who are like-minded as you, or who also find the movie to be an inspiration for affairs? Did you keep your name anonymous because you don’t want someone who knows you and is against your decision to be able to challenge you? Did you write your response to me to justify your actions in light of this movie, and now will move on? Are you seeking Biblical guidance? Is Scripture a light unto your feet on this one, or are you aloof? I’m curious.

    Sorry for the hard words, but if you’re really searching God’s will over this, it’s pretty clear in Scripture. The answer is easy, but the solution takes time and work. I hope you repent and that you and your husband can see the light on the other side of the tunnel together. 🙂

  3. Your review was interesting until you recommended that male chauvinistic book, His Needs, Her Needs. And when you said that women are led by their emotions, you lost all your credibility with me.

    • In the book he speaks from his experience. He does not claim that his insights must be followed to a tee. On the other hand, it sounds like your standard of credibility must be followed to a tee. That’s very interesting.

      I updated my post. Thanks for pointing that out to me. I do not believe that all women are emotional. Everyone is different.

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