Still, there’s something icky about this love story. It hinges on a fundamental power imbalance: Angel literally can’t say no to Michael’s evening visits (even if all he wants during them is to press her constantly about the life he can give her), and when she finally does accept his proposal, it’s while lying bruised and battered after one of her employer’s thugs beats her within an inch of her life. At best, Michael has a serious savior complex. At worst, it’s some God-fearing mutation of the whole Madonna-whore deal, maybe a desire to make one into the other—to assure that the “finest girl west of the Rockies” is his and his alone. Rivers claims to have modeled Redeeming Love on the Book of Hosea, but in what way is Angel, trafficked from a young age, a sinner in need of redemption? She’s a faultless victim, not a lost transgressor.


What we’re seeing, in the end, is a kind of merging of courtship and missionary work: a denominational Harlequin romance where getting the girl and saving her soul are one and the same. Isn’t the pushy determination of a smitten boy who refuses to take no for an answer a kissing cousin to tireless evangelizing? Those not charmed or aroused by the story of a woman who eventually relents to the entreaties of a preachy suitor, if only as an alternative to the nonstop misery she’s otherwise experienced, will be left to acknowledge the screaming void where the chemistry should be. There’s no real tension here, because Michael is a boringly incorruptible saint, waiting patiently for the woman he doesn’t know but loves all the same to come around. Maybe there’s an accidental critique in Redeeming Love, a twin portrait of seduction and conversion as acts of just steadily wearing someone down.