Friday, July 13, 2007
Evan can wait
Hello! This is Martin's wife Sara and I'm going to join him as a contributor to this blog. I'd like to begin by offering my thoughts on "Evan Almighty," the recent mega-million dollar "Christian" comedy that tanked (get it?) at the box-office. Martin and I went to see it mostly out of curiosity, eager to comment on a film that is supposed to appeal to us (as Christians), fully expecting a lousy film. Well, we weren't disappointed!
First, let me say that normally I would be cautious about revealing "spoilers" for those of you who hate sunlight so much that you still would want to see the film. But, if you've seen a preview, you've seen the movie. They even show the flood in the preview, which I thought could have been left as a mystery (will it come? won't it?). But no, they reveal everything.
The preview made me wonder about applying the label "Christian" to this movie. Somehow I thought that, if anything, there would be references to God and prayer but nothing particularly Christian, and I was right. The extent of the religion practiced by the characters is a prayer in the very beginning offered by Evan Baxter (Steve Carell [Michael Scott]), and his wife mentions that she has prayed with her sons, off-screen. Then, of course, there are the frequent appearances of God (Morgan Freeman), and obviously, the entire plot that's ripped from the story of Noah. So that's what makes this a religious film.
But, as Martin's said before, Hollywood has a flawed understanding of Christianity in general and what makes a film that Christians will want to see. Producers seem to think that Christianity is something that people do, like play soccer, or enjoy, like NASCAR, instead of something that people are. So a "Christian" or "faith-based" film will be one that wears its religion like a conceit. There are two aspects to the religion in this film: the religious story that makes up the plot, and the jokes and one-liners that refer to elements of Scripture, etc. The plot is substantially "religious" but operates on the assumption that when God calls you to something, he has to transform you into someone else entirely. If you must emulate an Old Testament figure, then you have to wear his ancient robes and scruffy hairstyle. Then again, it's a fantasy, and there would be no plot (and what's more, no jokes) if Steve Carell didn't suffer prodigious inexplicable hair growth, or wasn't accosted by animals from all over the world who travel from their native Africa or Asia to be saved from a local flood in Northern Virginia.
Then there are the throwaway jokes about unleavened bread and frankincense that are meant to make Bible readers feel like insiders (I know what myrrh is! Ha ha!) without making actual sense. Again it's obvious that this religion thing is just something thrown in to make the film appear Christian and attract Christian dollars, while completely lacking anything authentically Christian.
I think Christian filmgoers want to see movies that portray Christians as we really are - normal people, motivated by our Christian faith. Filmmakers don't understand that there are countless people obeying God's call to extraordinary things who aren't covered in white beards or bird poop (there really were no jokes apart from the hair and the animals). A Christian film could just show people acting on their Christian principles in normal situations, but for some reason, if a character mentions God or goes to a church it becomes a specifically "Christian" film, and is only marketed to Christians (unless they go to a Catholic church, in which case it's a mobster film). It seems that producers are so afraid of alienating atheists or whomever that if, say, the kid in "Toy Story" were to return from church one day to play with his toys or have two parents then no one would have seen the film. (Christians, however, aren't alienated by watching characters with no discernible religion because we're long used to it.)
The writer also had no idea what sort of issues or themes interest religious moviegoers, either. God's reason for the ark-building and the flood-sending was to return a developed valley to its natural state and stop some legislation that would sell off the edges of national parkland. So God sends a flood to destroy countless people's homes and inflict severe damage on Washington DC so that trees will have someplace to live. Apparently God has never seen the wide expanses of wilderness that cover the central-western United States, or almost all of Canada, or huge chunks of Russia and central Asia and much of Africa and Australia, not to mention all the oceans, so he needs to reclaim a DC suburb for the wild. And of all the human affairs in which God can interfere, he chooses national park re-appropriation. The greatest evil facing mankind, after all, is cruelty to the planet and some trees.
So overall, the movie wasn't morally offensive or anything, just another misfire from movie execs trying to cash in on the vast and apparently incomprehensible Christian market. Stay tuned for Martin's review!