The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their refuge in the time of trouble.
The Lord helps them and rescues them;
he rescues them from the wicked, and saves them, because they take refuge in him.
Psalm 3 7:39-40
And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth. Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.
This modern day setting of the Noah and the Ark story will be compared by older viewers to Bill Cosby’s “Noah” skits of over forty years ago, and by virtually everyone younger, with director Tom Shadyac’s 2003 film Bruce Almighty, in which the main character in the new film was a rival TV reporter to Bruce. Although Evan Almighty does not quite reach the level of either of these films, it is nonetheless a fun film for the family, containing a theological insight or two (not much more), and offers a nice, and equally naive, variation on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Evan Baker (Steve Carell), you might recall, was a prima Donna newscaster in Buffalo, NY. In a quick succession of shots we see that he has run a successful campaign for a seat in the U.S. Congress and has bought a large house just outside of Washington, DC. Although his wife Joan (Lauren Graham) is accepting of their leaving Buffalo, his three sons Dylan (Johnny Simmons), Jordan (Graham Phillips), and Ryan (Jimmy Bennett) are resentful at having to leave all of their friends behind. However, when they see the spaciousness of their new house, set in the midst of a large development still being constructed, they soon become mollified.
In D.C. Evan is surprised to see his spacious office, knowing that freshman Representatives are usually assigned to closet-like rooms in the basement. His chief aides Marty (John Michael Higgins) and Rita (Wanda Sykes) are also pleased, telling him that this is due to the influence of the powerful Congressman Long (John Goodman), who just happens to want Evan to become a junior co-sponsor of his new bill that would permit the development of fringe lands of a national park. Strangely, no one smells a rat here.
The big bump in Evan’s road to political success soon appears in the person of God (Morgan Freeman), telling him that he has been chosen to build an ark. Of course, Evan is skeptical of this, though he had been receiving signs to prepare him, with “Gen 6:14” showing up so often: his Gen(eral) electric clock keeps registering 6:14 when it awakens him in the morning, even though he had set the alarm for 7:00; and his new license plates arrive, embossed with GEN 614.
Just as in Oh, God! John Denver’s assistant produce manager needed a lot of convincing by the reappearance of the notes inviting him to meet God, so Evan needs a lot of nudging, this time from a long series of animals and birds that follow him around—in pairs. During the first reading of Congressman Long’s bill Evan is driven from the room when hundreds of birds create bedlam by flying through the open window and gathering around the new Noah. Another nudge toward a career of ark building is the miraculous growth of a beard that no amount of shaving can keep cut. Oh, and did I mention the truckloads of lumber that arrive, following the delivery of a large crate of woodworking tools addressed to Evan?
How Evan finally gives in, surreptitiously buying several adjoining lots for a building site, and then enlisting his boys as assistant carpenters, is funny to watch (even if their eventual completion of the ark before the September 22 deadline is hard to swallow). Wife Joan, of course, is perplexed by all her husband’s strange behavior, especially when he dons the rustic brown robe that God sends him. Evan apparently believes it best not to tell her about his conversations with God, so he merely tells her to trust him. The neighbors are far more skeptical, even scornful, as Evan, suspended from Congress for his erratic behavior, nears completion of the massive ark. The city has ordered him to stop, and as the deadline arrives, sends a fleet of police cars and a crane with a wrecking ball to dismantle the ark.
Morgan Freeman again makes a very dignified but compassionate God figure. I was hoping that he would again be glad in the janitor’s uniform of the original film, but his white tunic and leisure pants are still better than the TV preacher-like white suit and tie that replaced the janitor’s outfit in the earlier film. After the frustrated Joan takes their sons and leaves Evan, God does appear in a servant role ( a waiter/bus boy) in the scene in which he appears to Joan in the fast food restaurant, not revealing a lot, but nevertheless convincing her to return and support her husband.
Thus far, Evan Almighty is one of the best of the summer releases, well worth your time. It is funny, with both sight gags and one liners, most of the latter delivered by the feisty Rita—Wanda Sykes steals every scene in which she appears. Yes, there are the usual bird poop shots of hapless Even, but most of the humor contributes to the meaning of the story, even as it does in the Scriptures. Even tough the film will not stand up to a great deal of rational scrutiny, church leaders should climb aboard and take advantage of an-other opportunity to discuss such themes of faith and the Scriptures as the call from God, faith, and minis-try. Faithfulness to God is too important a matter not to be accompanied with humor and laughter.
What kind of a person does Evan Baxter seem to be at the beginning of the story? How does he change as the film develops? Compare Evan’s position in society with that of such characters as Jerry in Oh, God! Compare God’s call to Evan with those in such films as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Field of Dreams, Oh God or Star Wars. With such Bible characters as Moses or Jonah. How are the calls similar in that there is hesitation, even refusal, at first before acceptance of the call? Have you had an experience in which you thought God was calling you to take up a task? Were you eager, or reluctant to follow through? If you did, what convinced you to do so? In many of the films in which a person is called there is the theme of madness, or perceived madness, Close Encounters…being the most extreme. What do you think people would believe about you if you did what Evan did? Note what some, even his own family, thought about Jesus in Mark 3:19b-23, 31-35. Have you ever done something which you knew to be important but seemed irrational to others? What was the result? How is the scene in which God comes to Joan in the restaurant an act of grace? How does God, with-out argument or explanation, convince her to return to Evan? How is her decision as much an act of faith as Evan’s? How could the actual building of the ark have been handled better by the script writers? Did you notice that there is no depiction of the church in the film? If they had included the church, how could this have made the completion of the ark more believable? For instance, wouldn’t it have been interesting to have something like Habitat for Humanity, fairly well known for the carpentry skills of its members, sending out appeals to the churches, with the result of hundreds of believers joining together to finish the massive boat? And thus contributed the important message of cooperation and working together? Were you wondering how the flood would be depicted in the film? What did you think of the filmmakers’ dealing with it? How does the film’s last message of “acts of random kindness,” ARK, compare with the message of the film Pay It Forward? Or the Sermon on the Mount? Are you bothered by the depiction of God as a human being? How has the Christian artist throughout
history tried to deal with the church’s caution about physically depicting God? (For example, Michelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine Chapel) Those who have seen Oh, God! might recall that this film offered an explanation to Jerry.