Romancing the Stone


Joan Wilder is an introverted romance novelist who lives alone, endlessly waiting for her hero “Jesse” to arrive at her door and sweep her off her feet. Who appears at her door instead is the man (Zolo) who murdered her brother in law, searching for a treasure map he sent to Joan before his death. Joan finds out her..

Romancing the Stone (1984)

Rated PG

Dir. Robert Zemeckis, 20th Century Fox 
Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner, Danny DeVito 

A romance novelist’s quiet life is thrown for a loop when her sister is kidnapped, and she must try to rescue her and find a buried treasure with the help of a reckless soldier of fortune. 

Opening Thoughts

I was ten when I saw this movie, so on the first viewing, I think there was a lot I didn’t understand about this movie. One thing that struck a chord with me was that writers are apparently people who hang around with their cats in their pajamas all day and have gorgeous apartments in New York City, which made me immediately decide I wanted to be a writer. Like any Indiana Jones movie, this movie is action packed and has some very funny moments, like when Jack and Joan meet Joan’s “number one fan” in a tiny village in the jungle. It’s a bit more of an adult adventure with some emphasis on drinking, drugs, and sex, but on the whole, a lot of fun!

Coming up on the Men at the Movies podcast, we get you ready for Valentine’s Day with Romancing the Stone. Joan is a woman in hiding, feeling inadequate and lacking. Her adventure reveals her strength and identity as she transforms from hopeless to hopeful. Find out how as we discuss God’s truth in this movie.

Spoilers For Romancing the Stone Below!

Joan Wilder is an introverted romance novelist who lives alone, endlessly waiting for her hero “Jesse” to arrive at her door and sweep her off her feet. Who appears at her door instead is the man (Zolo) who murdered her brother in law, searching for a treasure map he sent to Joan before his death. Joan finds out her sister, Elaine, has been kidnapped by antiquities dealers who also want the map, and who threaten to kill Elaine unless Joan comes to Colombia and brings them the map. 

Joan arrives in Colombia, followed by Zolo, and after her bus crashes in the jungle, she is saved from Zolo by a wandering stranger, Jack. Joan hires Jack to take her to Cartagena to meet with the kidnappers, and along the way they must avoid Zolo and his men, fight off wild animals, and survive the jungle. They are helped along the way by Joan’s “number one fan”, Juan, a drug kingpin who reads her romance novels to his friends on Saturdays. Jack and Joan begin to fall in love, and eventually decide to search for the treasure themselves to have more leverage in rescuing Elaine. 

They find the treasure, a heart shaped emerald called “El Corazon”, but are separated after going over a waterfall. Joan makes it to Cartagena on her own, and meets up with the kidnappers and is reunited with her sister, but Zolo and his men have captured Jack and attack them. Zolo demands the stone, which Jack throws to him, but it is devoured by a crocodile. Zolo falls into a nest of crocodiles and Jack flees as the police arrive. Joan and her sister return to New York, where Joan writes a new book about her experiences. On her way home, she is greeted by Jack aboard a boat called the “Angelina”, after Joan’s literary heroine, and they “sail” away down the street together. 

So What Did God Show Me?

The writer/introvert in me still loves the beginning. Joan all cozy in her apartment, feeling on top of the world because she finished her book. But something that stood out to me was Joan, kind of like Bilbo Baggins, is not interested in any kind of adventure or excitement; she much prefers to manufacture it herself in her novels. That way, she has control over what happens with the story, who lives, who dies, who they love, and where they go, and that is enough for her. The author Allen Arnold said, “We grow most on journeys where we have the least control,” and Joan isn’t growing, unless it’s more growing more reclusive! Her need for control has gotten to the point that she won’t even date unless it’s someone like her hero she made up, “Jesse”. But one of the problems with being so in control of everything is that we don’t realize we are not in control at all! We might think we are, but as Joan is soon to realize, her carefully controlled non-adventure is about to take a hard right into uncharted territory.   

The other problem is that if we live our lives controlling everything, we eventually come to discover that we lose our ability to live. We can’t allow ourselves to live freely if we are constantly weighing our choices and actions, trying to decide which is “right” and which is “wrong”. God doesn’t want a robot, or someone who is always trying to be “good” by making the “right” choices. Rather, He wants us to live a life in Him, a life more abundant, where our choices and actions come from living close to Him and knowing His heart, where His desires become our own. Psalm 37: 4-5 says “Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the LORD.  Trust him, and he will help you.” 

-Once her sister gets kidnapped, Joan’s carefully regulated life starts going sideways. This meek and mild novelist who lives vicariously through her books is now being catapulted out of her safe place because she is the only one who can rescue her sister. And while this is something Joan feels she has no idea how to actually do, (as Gloria tells her “You’re completely unprepared!”) Joan reminds Gloria that “She’s my sister.” Joan is willing to embrace the crazy if it means she can save her sister. We may run from the things we don’t feel equipped to do, the scary things, the things that we think aren’t for us, but God knows how to move us and shake us up. Love for others (and God) is a most powerful motivator as well as a potent persuader, especially if He’s put a task before you that seems impossible and is the last thing we want to do. And God loves us too much to leave us as we are. He wants more for us, even if (at first anyway) we don’t want more! 

-Jack has had several opportunities to blow off Joan’s deal and leave her behind to her pursuers, but he doesn’t. Sure, it could be the money. But is $375 (Which, I researched, is a little over $1000 in today’s money) really worth getting your head blown off? No, I think Jack stays because deep down, he’s honorable and cares about Joan as a woman, and wants her to know that, even if he does appear roguish on the surface. After all, he tells Joan that his middle initial “T” stands for trustworthy. This made me think about how even though God is nothing but good, we still (me included!) have trouble trusting Him at times. God is infinitely worthy of our trust and is also infinitely patient in His efforts to show us that His is. If you feel like God can’t be trusted, I suggest you go back and look over the times in your life when you felt alone or like God abandoned you. Look for the ways He worked in your life that you might not have recognized at the time! 

 -I freaking LOVE the scene with Juan the “bellmaker” and his ‘Lil Mule, “Pepe”. It’s definitely my favorite scene in the whole movie, I laugh with delight every single time. I’m telling you, I hope I have fans like Juan someday, because well, every author needs a fan like Juan <3 The way Juan ends up being a surprising and much-needed ally for Jack and Joan made me think about how God specializes in working in ways we do not expect. The absolute last thing Joan expects to find in the wilds of Columbia is a drug lord who is her biggest fan, but, the last thing we expect is usually where God steps in. God, like Juan, is our “Number One Fan”. God is fascinated by us, is interested in everything we do, and loves to spend time with us, and He is also willing to go to the ends of the earth to help us in our times of need. And I can totally picture God, like Juan, sweeping us away with a wild and crazy grin on his face, laughing like a lunatic. As we hang on for dear life, He’s all, “What are you worried about? Sit back and enjoy the ride! I got this!” as He gives us a mischievous wink. 

 -When they get separated at the waterfall, Joan is in a position again where she’s not sure if she can trust Jack, and although he has made some dodgy efforts, like trying to photocopy her map for himself, on the whole, he’s remained honest. But now that they are forced to split up, Joan must rely on herself to free her sister. God sometimes seems like He disappears, and I can agree that that is a terrifying feeling. But while God never truly disappears, He may step back out of our sight so that we can take the next few steps on the road ourselves. He allows this to happen to help us grow. If a baby only ever learned to walk by holding on to someone’s hand, he would never be able to walk on his own! God steps back to allow us to grow in self-confidence as we are stretched beyond our limits so that we can see what we are truly capable of.  Those times also strengthen our trust in Him, that while we can’t see/sense Him, He’s still there and He’ll be back. 

 -When Joan is being attacked by Zolo, here is where we see the real change from the Joan at the beginning of the movie to the new, adventurous Joan. She has changed, gone from meek and mild to finding strength she didn’t know she had in order to fight her enemy and defend her sister. And we see, when it comes right down to it, she doesn’t need Jack anymore, she is able to defeat Zolo on her own, even though she was calling out for Jack to save her the whole time! How many times in life do we feel like we can’t go it alone or accomplish what we need to because everything is just too big and scary, and we’re calling out to God to save us? Sometimes He does, but sometimes He’s standing, just off to the side, because He knows, even if we don’t, that we got this. It may not be the best feeling, but God is committed to building us, every step of the way, into the epic heroes that we were born to be! 

-The ending of the movie is so great. It ties perfectly back to the beginning of the movie to show how Joan has come full circle. She’s back in New York and her adventure is over. Or is it? Joan’s adventure, the one that she once only dreamed of in carefully scripted books, came to life and the experience of it has changed her forever. She is more confident and sure of herself, and the woman who once shunned the thought of a blind date now describes herself as a “hopeful” romantic. But she also has come to realize that even though she loves him, she doesn’t “need” Jack, because everything she needs she has inside of her. She doesn’t need him to save her anymore, she doesn’t need him to fulfill her. And that is precisely the moment when Jack comes back into her life, and she is able to embrace being with him because she loves him, not because she “needs” him.  

Men (and women) weren’t meant to fulfill or “complete” each other, it’s just not possible (sorry Jerry Maguire). But when we invite God in, and find our satisfaction in the One who can completely fulfill us the way no one else can, I believe it changes you as a person so that when the right one does come along, you’re in the best place possible to receive them. A place where you can both pursue adventures together, with God. 

Closing Thoughts

Like Joan, it took me a long time to come to the point in my life where I’m at right now. For years, and I mean decades, I was waiting for my hero to come into my life, marry me, and take me on a grand adventure. I thought I couldn’t really start living my life until I was married. But then one day I read a terrific book, I Don’t Wait Anymore, by Grace Thornton. Grace was, like me, a woman who thought she knew what she wanted in life, what she had asked God to give her. But then everything upended and she was left adrift and unsure in how to proceed in her own life. But when she realized that God had so much more for her, and that her life was meant to be lived, everything changed. That book changed my whole mindset on life, and I decided I was through with just waiting for things to happen to me. All the things I thought I could only do with a man in my life (travel, meet new people, start new projects) I decided to just do. I didn’t want to lose out on the experience of doing these things just because I was single! 

I’d encourage you to do the same. God has given you a life and everything you need to go out and live with gusto (what the Bible calls, “a life more abundant”). What are you waiting for? Maybe you’re sitting there going, “Oh, Sarah, but my life is so dull. Nothing ever happens to me/ I don’t have the resources or abilities to do what I want to do.” If that’s what you’re thinking, I’d encourage you with something that helped me tremendously in my life’s adventure. I started a “Reverse Bucket List.” Now, I think most of us have some kind of bucket list, “go skydiving”, “swim with dolphins”, “scale Mt Everest” or whatever. I had one too (I still do), but I was getting frustrated because my bucket list wasn’t getting any shorter. So I got the idea (from Pinterest, maybe? I can’t remember) to do a reverse bucket list, and instead list all the things I have done. My current list is eight pages long, and baby, it just keeps growing. I pull it out every so often and read it over when I get down in the dumps and feel like my life is totally lame and I’m just a pathetic loser. What a lie from the enemy! I’ve had an incredibly epic life, according to my list! And it ain’t over yet…  

If you’d like some more inside scoop on my thoughts on this movie, please check out the super fun podcast I did with Paul MacDonald over at the Men at the Movies podcast! You can find the link below. 

What’s on your bucket list? How about your REVERSE bucket list? Drop your biggest adventure in the comments! I’ll start: I went to not one, not two, but THREE Oscar parties in Hollywood with the cast of Lord of the Rings, and it was FREAKING AMAZING. Still one of the best things I ever did. 

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