Thursday, June 21, 2007

What Floats Your Boat?

By Graham H. Moes
Graybrook Film Critic

If environmentalism is the religion of liberals -- complete with end-times prophecies, carbon offset indulgences for “sins” and Al Gore’s scriptures on hotel nightstands -- the Church of Green can now boast its own Noah account in Evan Almighty.

The crazy thing is, many broad-minded Christians can lay claim to Universal's biblical comic epic too.

Yes, in terms of its worldview, Evan Almighty might be the oddest bird caught on film since that seagull Randy Johnson obliterated with a fastball a few years ago.

On the one hand, it’s a by-the-numbers, mostly liberal message movie that elevates urban sprawl to the 8th Deadly Sin. Think "Jonah and the Whale" re-told as "Free Willy."

On the other hand, it’s predicated on the freestanding premise God is real, loves His creatures and demands their service in a universe He fully controls.

Steve Carell (The Office, 40 Year Old Virgin) reprises his supporting role as news anchor Evan Baxter from Bruce Almighty. Recently elected to congress on a "change the world" slogan, Evan moves into a massive new housing development for the super rich in Virginia with his wife Joan (Joan of ARK, get it?) and three sons.

Overwhelmed by the task, he prays God will show him how to make good on his campaign promise. In the film's funniest sequence, God shows up -- again and again and again -- to hammer home His reply that Evan is to hammer up a massive ark, on-load the animals He'll send, and prepare for a second flood intended to wipe the once pristine valley clean of the encroaching works of man.

In a plot lifted directly from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the increasingly driven neo-Noah throws himself into the mission from God, to the horror of his coworkers, ridicule of his constituents and abandonment by his wife.

The subplot, lifted directly from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, involves Evan being used by a senior congressman to launch a bill allowing residential construction in our national parks.

When it works, which if more often than not, the film has Steve Carell to thank.

The endearing dopiness that drives his Office persona powers the subplot -- essentially a series of sequences in which he morphs from GQ congressman to Geico Caveman to Gandalf the Burlap in a matter of days, all the while dodging all creatures great and small as they track him two-by-two around the beltway.

(The very thought of Jim Carrey hamming it up past the punchline in this role makes me cringe.)

Carell's other mode, the pie-eyed earnestness that barely salvaged 40 Year Old Virgin, delivers the A-storyline, a funny, family friendly, cynicism-free affair that almost makes Leave it to Beaver seem sordid in comparison.

This movie is clearly post-Passion of the Christ. The questionable premise and morally iffy gags that put Bruce Almighty beyond the reach of many Christians has been replaced by a genuine attempt at affirming our faith.

That said, it's largely the shiny happy "seeker sensitive" version of Christianity presented. Easy on the fire and brimstone, extra rainbow please.

God all but apologizes for the big misunderstanding last time he flooded earth. Forget all that "wrath" talk. Really it was all about bringing folks closer: Noah's family coming together on a nautical family project, the animals arriving all two-by-two and cozy-like, etc.

"Ark," in fact, turns out to be an acronym for "Act of Random Kindness."

Nor, it seems, is Jehovah concerned for His glory first and foremost. He does everything because He loves us and wants us to be in communion with Him. That happens to be a major debate in the church today, actually. And in this respect, Evan Almighty is more Joel Osteen than St. Augustine.

Then again, Christians of every stripe will warm to the unprecedented depiction of a man standing before the unbelieving world, compelled by God to play the holy fool. Much like the original Noah must have done. Sure, Paul Scofield did it in 1966's A Man for All Seasons, but here, smack dab in the middle of a 2007 summer blockbuster comedy? Fairly unusual.

I'll leave it at that. As comedy, it has its moments despite running out of gas a bit early. As spectacle, it delivers a nice ride in the third act. (Can't wait to see a historical epic on the original Noah now.) As theology... Eh. Not so much.

Bottom line, how this film floats your boat will depend on the degree to which you hold your political and doctrinal standards close. Either way, the debate to come as this one hits screens should be interesting.

1 comment:

Garry J. Moes said...

Jesus Almighty - There's Something About That Name

By Dr. Ted Baehr, Publisher of MOVIEGUIDE® (Originally distributed by Assist News Service)

HOLLYWOOD, CA (ANS) -- People of faith and values are concerned about the collapse of culture. Recent polls from Cornell University and Barna Research found that only one out of 10 children keep the faith and values of their parents. Further studies have shown that this is because parents are not engaged in teaching their children cultural wisdom.

The mass media, however, is advertently or inadvertently teaching children their values, and even when these values are not inflaming lust, greed, violence, ambivalence, and envy, they are all too often undermining the sure salvation that is available only through Jesus Christ. And, all too often, caught up in the publicity machine of the Entertainment Industry, the church and its associates such as Christian magazines, radio and television are promoting the movies and entertainment that undermine its future and true faith and values.

Much has been said about post-Christian culture. Europe is a sad example. There are more Muslims in Europe than there are Protestant Christians. Why does this matter? Because eternal life in the Kingdom of God is only available through Jesus Christ, and if we truly love our neighbor, then we do not want him or her lost forever. According to surveys, fewer and fewer children understand this.

Although we don't want to be hard on the compelling movie characters Bruce and Evan, who should be commended for helping the audience understand a lot about humility, faith and obedience to God, it is clear that the view of salvation and the view of God presented in the movies featuring Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty do not adhere to the Truth. For example, although Evan Almighty contains a reference to "alpha and omega," the Book of Revelation's designation of Jesus Christ's divine nature, the movie scrupulously avoids any other identification of its God character with Jesus Christ.

The Truth is, however, that salvation is found in none other than Jesus Christ. When God became flesh as one of us, it is only as Jesus Christ. When God appears to Moses or anyone else, it is as Jesus Christ. He is the Truth, the Way and the Life. In that sense, it is important to note that the Hebrew word for Truth means, "to reveal." Jesus Christ alone reveals completely and totally who the almighty triune God is.

These winsome movies and many others scrupulously avoid the Truth that Jesus Christ is God and that God has a name - Jesus Christ. They present God as a clown of a thousand faces or as just one of us in a manner that is reminiscent of Henotheism at best and Buddhism and Hinduism at worst. In fact, the watered-down view they present of God contains more pre-Christian, unattainable, works-oriented religious views than the clear representation of the very good news that salvation is available to all mankind though the free gift of Grace paid for by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

That said, people who know the Truth will not be hurt by this, but children of all ages may buy the lie that God is just a sweet old man. Witnessing to them may not get at the root confusion, and therefore too many of them will fall into the 90 percent of children who drift away from the only Truth that can save their eternal souls.

It is interesting that movies don't mind using the words "God," "Buddha," "Mohammed," or the names of the saints, but they carefully and politically correctly avoid the positive mention of Jesus, unless, of course, they are taking his name in vain, even though they would never take the name of Buddha, Mohammed, or others in vain. What significance does this have? It shows the almighty power of the name of Jesus because it is only in the name of Jesus, through his death and resurrection, that anyone and everyone can be saved.

Therefore, while we appreciate and applaud allegory, incarnational theology, Jesus types and Christ types, as found in family movies such as Evan Almighty, the true story that the church should shout from the housetops and proclaim in every media is "Jesus Almighty."

After all, there is no other God and no other name through which we can be saved.

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . .

"No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known."

-- John 1:14,18
© Baehr, 2007