“Strength isn’t measured by how much you can take before you break, it’s how much you can take after you’re broken.” – Coffin
Mary Harris is devastated when her husband of only two days, Matt, is killed in a car wreck as they’re leaving her parent’s house on Christmas. A short time earlier that same evening, Matt’s present to her was a new pair of pink running shoes and two tickets to Africa for both of them to compete in The Furnace – a brutal endurance race in the largest animal preserve in the world.
Her parents, especially her mother, are appalled that the newlywed couple plan to make this their honeymoon instead of more traditional spots like Paris or Venice. Their trip to Africa together, however, never happens.
The tragic accident which took her husband’s life, leaves Mary (Jamie Bernadette, I Spit on Your Grave: Déjà Vu) with a collapsed lung and dependent on a mask and oxygen tank.
The Furnace (2019) is the riveting and nerve-racking tale of Mary’s recovery and her journey to overcome the biggest challenge in her life – both physically and spiritually.
One day shortly after being released from the hospital, Mary is crying at Matt’s grave when she forsakes her faith in God, slamming her cross necklace down on the tombstone, and shouting, “I hate you!” Overhearing this, Coffin (Luthuli Dlamini, Mandela’s Gun) – a somewhat fitting name for a gravedigger – appears.
In her next visit to the cemetery, Mary visits Matt’s gravesite without her mask and oxygen tank, which sit just a couple feet away. She tries walking over to her oxygen, but collapses. Just like on her previous trip there, Coffin shows up.
When Mary asks him what he wants, he tells her, “I can help you.” Her response is expected: “I don’t want any help.”
Coffin’s reply, however, is poignant: “Well, what we want and what we need are often completely different.”
Mary: “And what is it that I need, huh?”
Coffin: “For someone to catch you.”
Mary: “Who says I’m gonna fall?”
Coffin: “You just did.”
They later meet for coffee where Coffin tells her about the civil war in his country and how we was fortunate enough to get out, but no one else in his family was able to. Back in Africa, he was a doctor, but didn’t practice it in the U.S. because the degrees are different. Additionally, he was blamed for another doctor’s negligence and misdiagnosis and spent five years in jail after a patient died.
Coffin tells Mary that he can help her because he’s a doctor. When she responds, “Not anymore.” He replies, “I put my faith in a higher power. … I’ve seen Him do incredible things.”
Training and the 10-Miler
Mary agrees to let Coffin train her and help her build up her endurance and lung capacity. Coffin sets her up on a training regimen that includes walking on a treadmill, blowing bubbles, running in the park, swimming, blowing up balloons, and holding her breath underwater. Slowly she is able to do all of these things again, including running close to a mile without using her oxygen mask.
Because of the progress she’s made during her training, Mary decides to enter a 10-mile park run. Coffin offers to run alongside her with her oxygen just in case she needs it, but she refuses. As racers begin crossing the finish line, Coffin notices that Mary is not among them. When paramedics are called away from the finish line to help a collapsed runner on the course, Coffin follows them.
The fallen runner is Mary. She ends up in the hospital where she almost dies.
Mary’s parents blame Coffin for pushing her to enter the race and for her near-death experience. A couple of days later, Mary’s dad shows up at the cemetery to tell him that he knows he was only trying to help, but that his wife wants him to pay for what happened. He encourages Coffin to return to Africa and hands him a ticket home.
Africa and the Race
Back home in Africa, Coffin opens his own medical practice and is working there when Mary shows up. At first, he is stunned, but later asks her why she is in Africa. She’s come to compete in The Furnace, and she wants Coffin to train her. He declines, calling the race “a deathtrap.”
Instead, Mary starts training on her own making sure to run by Coffin as often as possible. He finally agrees to help so that she is ready in time for the race.
Almost immediately upon beginning the Furnace, Mary encounters the endless beauty and dangerous animals the African wildlife preserve has to offer: elephants, zebras, hyenas, cheetahs, and lions. In addition to the threat that the wildlife poses, she has to contend with numerous other factors: pain from her previous injuries, sunburn, dehydration, starvation, hallucinations, getting lost, stings, food poisoning, seizures, and death.
However, every time Mary seemingly hits rock bottom, Raphaella (Laura Linn) – a mysterious competitor from Brazil – is there to help her up.
Will Mary be able to overcome the harsh conditions that Africa and the Furnace offer to finish the race? Are Raphaella or Coffin able to rescue her one final time … or does Mary have the strength and faith to do it on her own and finally let go of her painful past? Or does the environment and competition claim another victim?
To find out the answers to these questions and more, tune in to Inspiration TV on Saturday, September 5 at 9 p.m. ET and Sunday, September 6 at 5:30 p.m. ET to watch The Furnace (or watch it on Inspiration TV on Demand anytime).
John Farrell is the Digital Content Writer / Editor of Inspiration.org
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