A week from today, the movie Evan Almighty will hit theaters across the continent. A projected summer blockbuster, it is the sequel to 2003’s hit comedy Bruce Almighty which starred Jim Carrey and pulled in over $200,000,000 at the box office. Evan Almighty is, I believe, the most expensive comedy ever made with a budget said to exceed $175,000,000. Clearly the studios are expecting it to be as successful as its predecessor.
I did not see Bruce Almighty. It struck me as utterly blasphemous and I could not bring myself to watch it. I was surprised, and shocked even, to hear how many Christians watched, enjoyed, and recommended it. A couple of times I got close to clicking the “Buy” button on “Video on Demand” but just couldn’t pull the trigger. I wanted to watch it just to see what the fuss was all about; I wanted to analyze it and review it as objectively as was possible. But I couldn’t. Here’s why:
Carrey stars as Bruce Nolan, a television reporter in Buffalo, New York who lives a normal life with his sweet girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Aniston). But Bruce isn’t satisfied, and after a particularly bad day where everything goes wrong, he blames God. After spewing a tirade of curses God’s way, God (Morgan Freeman in a gentlemanly white suit) responds and challenges Bruce to take over and see if he can run things better. Of course, there are some conditions; Bruce can only have the “almighty” powers for 24 hours and only in the Buffalo area. This doesn’t stop Bruce, and he responds to his newfound powers with selfish, childlike zeal. Like a kid in a candy store, Bruce sets off making one hysterical, yet disastrous, decision after another. He pulls the moon closer to the earth so he can have a more romantic evening with Grace, unaware that his actions cause a tidal wave in Japan and responds to the prayers of the world with a mass-email “yes” that creates millions of lottery winners, riots, and mayhem. Ultimately, Bruce proves he is only human, and cannot possibly fill God’s shoes, although he has a great time trying.
Maybe my concerns were irrational, but when I thought about the film I just knew there was no way I could watch it with a clean conscience. While it sounded like the moral of the story was somewhat useful (“We are only human and cannot comprehend how or why God does what He does”) the journey to this moral seemed terribly blasphemous, beginning with having a person play the role of God and going on from there. The end doesn’t often justify the means and I knew this would be the case for me with Bruce Almighty. The previews for the film, which were shown constantly on television, showed that the movie also had some vulgar elements (see this synopsis at Plugged In). My conscience just would not allow me to see it. So I didn’t. I couldn’t.
And now comes the sequel, Evan Almighty, the plot for which looks something like this:
Steve Carell (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), reprising his role as the polished, preening newscaster Evan Baxter of Bruce Almighty, is the next one anointed by God to accomplish a holy mission in the hilarious new comedy Evan Almighty. Blockbuster comedy director Tom Shadyac (The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar, Bruce Almighty) returns behind the camera for this next episode of divine intervention. This time, however, his cast grows two-by-two.
Newly elected to Congress, Evan leaves Buffalo behind and shepherds his family to suburban northern Virginia. Once there, his life gets turned upside-down when God (Morgan Freeman) appears and mysteriously commands him to build an ark. But his befuddled family just can’t decide whether Evan is having an extraordinary mid-life crisis or is truly onto something of Biblical proportions…
So while the first film dealt with the way God works, the second deals with faith. It is, in effect, an update of the story of Noah. I don’t know if the filmmaker attempts to reconcile the fact that God has made it clear that he will never again destroy the earth in a flood. I don’t know if this film presupposes that the first flood never really happened. According to this glowing review by a believer it seems the film deals with flooding that occurs because of environmental issues (the reviewer offers this hint: “Check your cinematic and political critiques at the door. Just have some fun.”). Morgan Freeman reprises his role as God, commands Evan to build an ark, and much hilarity ensues.
I have three concerns and these form three reasons I can’t and won’t go to see this movie.
At Christian Answers I read an interesting interview with the film’s director, Tom Shadyac, who is a professing Roman Catholic and who has directed, among other films, Ace Ventura, The Nutty Professor and Liar, Liar. The interview took place after the release of Bruce Almighty and one thing the interviewer said really struck me: “Well, I have to be honest, I laughed so hard at this movie, and I was so touched by it emotionally that while I was watching it, I didn’t think about the curse words and things like that.” And this is exactly why I will not go and watch Evan Almighty. If I go, I know I will laugh. I will laugh at things that are meant to be funny but which are actually dead serious. Only later will I realize what I’ve done. The genre of film will reduce my defenses and allow me to laugh at things that may be blasphemous or vulgar or otherwise unbiblical. So, like Bruce Almighty, I’ll just stay away even though part of me really would love to see this one.
I have a second concern. The promotion for this film has included marketing it to Christians. In fact, the cover of a recent issue of Christianity Today was part of a four-page spread advertising the film and a ministry initiative called ArkAlmighty (which seems to promote good deeds by matching people with a need with someone who can fulfill it). A recent article in the New York Times got it right: “More important than the lesson Mel Gibson taught Hollywood about drunken anti-Semitic tirades (that they’re bad for publicity) is the one gleaned from his 2004 film ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ The movie demonstrated just how many evangelical moviegoers there are and how much money can be made from them.” Christians are proving that they are ripe for the picking and that they will shell over money for just about any project deemed “Christian.” Of course the film’s official site has no mention of the programs they’ve developed for Christians (though they do provide links to environmental programs). The people marketing the film want to have it both ways: they want to market the film to Christians but don’t want unbelievers to know they are doing this. They are taking advantage of this Christian market, trying to lure them in to see a film that looks anything but appropriate for Christians.
But I think my greatest and overarching concern is this: this movie, like the one before it, makes light of our faith. When people walked out of Bruce Almighty I don’t think they had a greater and deeper understanding of God. They did not have greater love for and respect for Him. The genre simply could not bring so serious and important and biblical a message. Amidst all of the laughs and vulgarity there would simply not have been opportunity to really help people understand God better, despite the filmmaker’s attempts. And when people walk away from Evan Almighty they will not love God more. I don’t think they will have a greater understanding of the Bible. In fact, I suspect they’ll see the biblical story of the flood as being as fictional as this movie–a quaint plot but completely unrealistic and implausible. Mere fiction. This movie will not and cannot bring anyone closer to God. Rather, it will necessarily project a false image of God, a false understanding of Him. And we’re being told to watch this, to enjoy this, and to bring our families to see it so they can laugh with us.