Tuesday, July 3, 2007

17 Tammuz 5767: Fast of Tammuz


Relevant to today’s holiday: the Wikipedia article “Seventeenth of Tammuz”.

Worthy cause of the day: “Petition: Stop Executive Overreach”.

Today’s news and commentary:Due to the serious nature of today’s fast, in place of the usual weird thing I present below my review of Evan Almighty, which I saw this past Sunday.

Have an easy fast.


Strange acts: a review of Evan Almighty

WARNING: For the purposes of this review, the story of Noah (Noah) will be taken fairly literally. As far as the morals of the story are concerned, this is perfectly legitimate. However, the story is arguably esoteric and thus, like any esoteric text, should be interpreted in its relation to actual history only with extreme caution. Failure to exercise such caution is liable to result in heresy.

Evan Almighty, which I watched as an effort towards my Divine Misconceptions project, is not the disaster I feared it would be. This is even keeping in mind that Evan Almighty is the sequel to the theologically excellent Bruce Almighty and that regression to the mean (original sense) dictates that sequels to good movies tend to be worse than the original. It is a fun movie, even if deserves classification as a B-movie. More pertinently, it is not the complete theological disaster I feared it would be.

The title character, Evan Baxter, is a first-term congressman whom God wants to build an ark, much like Noah. Evan is reluctant, trying to dispose of the deliveries of tools and wood that mysteriously show up at his house, trying to evade the animals who haunt him, and trying to shed the stereotypical Noah-like appearance that is gradually forced upon him. He also has to deal with God’s disapproval for a bill to open up a national park for development, which senior congressman Long insists that Evan support. Despite a lot of protests and many attempts at evasion, Evan eventually accepts the role God demands he take upon himself, but there is a cost. There is a disruption of Evan’s family life, the ark becomes a public spectacle, and his congressional career is put in jeopardy. What Evan does falls well the category of “strange acts” (actions which are unusual and in some cases normally forbidden) which various prophets of the Hebrew Bible are commanded to do, actions that would naturally attract attention and thus help to spread the prophetic message. For example, one prophet is commanded to eat and drink nothing in the northern Kingdom of Yisra’el (Israel) (1 Kings 13:8-9). Eliyyahu (Elijah) brings a sacrifice in violation of the usual rules in a showdown with the priests of Ba‘al (Baal) (1 Kings 18:15-40). Another prophet prophesies for people to hit him (1 Kings 20:35-37). Hoshea‘ (Hosea) has to marry a prostitute and take her back after she cheats on him (Hosea 1:2-3:5). Yehezqe’l (Ezekiel) has to lay siege to a brick, lie on his side for months at a time, and eat bread made from a bizarre mixture of various ingredients (Ezekiel 4:1-12). Evan having to build an ark, a task which his family eventually comes to help him accomplish, is exactly the sort of thing Noah had to do, and the ridicule he is subjected to is much along the same lines as one would expect Noah to suffer as well. Furthermore, Evan’s reluctance to accept his mission recalls the story of the prophet Yonah (Jonah). Yonah’s refusal to carry out his mission results is his blatantly openly miraculously being swallowed alive by a big fish (Jonah 2:1), which convinces him to change his mind (Jonah 2:2-10). Evan’s acceptance of his mission is likewise prompted by blatant open miracles.

On the other hand, Evan Almighty gets the theology of the story of Noah flat-out wrong. It is not, as the writers of the movie allege, a story of love and family-togetherness. One can tell something has gone horribly wrong with Noah’s family from Genesis 9:18-27. Ham (Ham) seeing his drunken father naked and telling his brothers Shem and Yefeth (Japheth) about it is a rather flimsy reason for a curse, especially when the curse is expressed against Ham’s son Kena‘an (Canaan). The curse may be triggered by the drunkenness incident, but the anger expressed is probably over something Kena‘an has done previously (with or without the involvement of Ham) of which Noah strongly disapproves. Furthermore, the world is destroyed in the Flood because humanity is hopelessly corrupt (Genesis 6:11-13)—an act which, no matter how one feels about it, is extremely difficult to attribute to love. Even if Noah and company had turned out the perfect family because of the experience, it still would be hard to imagine that it is worth destroying the world for it.

Quibbles and trivia:
  1. Noah’s three sons are all married adults at the time of the Flood and their wives come with them on the Ark (Genesis 6:18, 7:7). Evan’s children are all unmarried minors. The relationship between Evan and his sons is therefore of a somewhat different nature from that between Noah and his sons, with different competing relationships and responsibilities. No attempt to lessen the difference by providing girlfriends for Evan’s sons is made. (You would think they could fit them in, given the $140,000,000-budget.) In fact, we see absolutely nothing of the boys’ life away from their parents, not even one stupid kid teasing them and then being growled at by a cougar. The different situation with regard to the children also results in a difference between Noah’s wife (no name given canonically) and Evan’s wife, Joan Baxter: Noah’s wife does not have to worry so much about her children, as they are adults who can take care of themselves (or screw up their own lives as they please), while Joan is conflicted about whether to stand with her husband or take the kids and leave for their sake.
  2. Yes, there is a “Joan of Ark” joke in there. The joke is never noted on in the movie.
  3. We have no record of how Noah dresses, how long his hair grows or what color it is, whether he shaves, or what he eats. We do know something of the shape of the boat, however. Barry has correctly pointed out to me that the word used for Noah’s Ark, tevah, is the same one used for the shape of the Ark of the Covenant—and tevah does not mean “boat”. Noah’s Ark is consequently a huge, rectangular box—and the producers got the shape wrong.
  4. The date for Evan’s flood, September 22, this year (2007) is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement on the Jewish calendar. This fact is left as an exercise for the viewer to discover.
  5. The humor leaves something to be desired. Essentially bad taste and disgust are repeatedly mistaken for funniness. This is a cliché which deserves to die, never mourned and never missed. Another cliché that appears is that the female lead, in this case the character of Joan, is statistically significantly more conventionally beautiful and more likely to show cleavage than would be expected from a random sample of the film’s characters. This is balanced with another cliché, the villain, Congressman Long being noticeably overweight. (The first two clichés also appear in Bruce Almighty.) One would think that for $140,000,000 they could afford to make a movie free of clichés which are harmful to society, not to mention free of theological errors. (The preview for Hairspray, which they showed before Evan Almighty, suggests that Hollywood may not be hopeless at least with regard to the appearance clichés, though the casting director seems to be trying to sabotage that film by putting John Travolta in drag.)
  6. The name of the film, Evan Almighty, is inappropriate, as Evan at no point becomes almighty or even merely mighty. Evan, Help Us, a line which actually appears in the film, would have been better.
  7. The name of the real estate agent who sold the Baxters their house and handled the land for the ark to be built on is Eve Adams. This might be an attempt at a joke, but if it is, it falls flat.
  8. I had to sit through about 25 minutes of previews before the actual film. Someone needs to be fired.
Overall classification: Enjoyable B-movie.

Humor rating: C.

Theological rating: B-.
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