Saturday, June 23, 2007

Bible Bending Movies: More Pain, Less Laughter?

Evan Almighty, a modern day Noah story, opened in theaters Friday and the reviews have mostly lamented the wasted talents of Steve Carell. But at least one review had the good sense to spare a moment to lament the film's Bible bending.

David Plotz, the writer of Blogging the Bible fame, does not think anyone involved with the film even bothered to read the Noah story of the Bible. "I'm no great religious scholar, but it doesn't take Pope Benedict to see that the Noah story is not a charming little tale about familial love, but a terrifying lesson about our dependence on God: a warning that we are alone in the world and always at the mercy of a wrathful and demanding Lord," writes Plotz.

Plotz is especially concerned with a scene where God, played by Morgan Freeman appears to Noah's wife and tells her that most people "miss the point" of the famous flood story. Rather than a tale of God's anger, God points to out the cooperation it took to bring pairs of animals and a family together, "I think it's a love story about believing in each other."

This "pander at the Christian market," says Plotz, reveals "Hollywood's embarrassingly stupid approach to religion and faith." The simple coffee-mug morality "strips away anything Christian (or Jewish) about the story and replaces it with a message of universal hokum."

That any writer would have the acumen to recognize Bible bending is so exciting and rare I am loathe to criticize Plotz; but it can not be helped. Plotz was right to call Hollywood out for its infantile morality tales. The Bible is ripe for parody; why the need to come to a sugary resolution? But Plotz's concern is not that they are using the Bible to cater to the belief that its message is eternal, but that the movie uses the Bible wrong.

First of all, assuming that there can be such a thing as having a film be "Christian and Jewish," what could possibly be more Christian and Jewish than retelling that story over and over again using whatever cultural means available? Plotz believes that Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, with its portrayal of "suffering and sacrifice" was closer to Christianity than Evan Almighty (I am not kidding, Plotz actually said that). Cinematic tastes aside, how does a film about coffee-mug morality disqualify it as Christian? The Bible is full of coffee-mug morality ("Do unto others as you would have done to you" comes to mind).

The problem with Plotz's conclusion, is that while criticizing Evan Almighty's attempt to distill the Bible's message into a neat feel-good moment about Acts of Random Kindness (or "ark," get it?) Plotz does the same thing, minus the feel-good. "The lesson of the Bible is that faith is hard, and unrewarding, and painful," writes Plotz.

So here is my plea to movie makers and journalists and politicians: stop coming about with lessons we need to learn from the Bible. There is only so much to be squeezed out of a two thousand year-old text; stop trying to make it support every idea that pops into your head.


cats said...

i'm terribly disappointed in all the reviews i've now heard of this movie. i loved bruce almighty and found great theological content in it albeit, i had to dig it out.

Anonymous said...

I have not read David Plotz's review but I must admit that the popular, even among Christians, take on the ark is disturbing.

I have enrolled my children in church daycares where the ark and Noah were the prominent theme in their classroom. My children have been given cute little books about the Flood. When reading the story the other night with my eight year old daughter (in a "bible stories" book) she wrinkled her nose at the realization that God killed millions of people and billions of animals.

The fact that we foist Noah's Ark on our kids as if it were some sort of cute animal story - "Noah and his Floating Zoo" - when it is actually a story of God's wrath and potential for violence is disturbing. In this light, Hollywood turning it into an uplifting family values flick is not so surprising.

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