When God (Morgan Freeman) approaches Evan Baxter (Steve Carrell) about becoming Noah, it requires some lifestyle changes. Baxter, a news anchor from Bruce Almighty who has become a congressman, is compelled to grows a bushy white beard, discovers an appreciation for the brown robes favored by Charlton Heston’s Moses, and suddenly has a hankering for another of Moses’ favorites – unleavened bread. His wife obliges by offering pita, and since neither the Baxters, the director nor the audience realize that pita is leavened, everyone is happy.
Anyone looking for a retelling of Noah’s flood that obsesses over the glaring holes in that story will have to content themselves arguing with people at the newly opened creationist museum. The movie, at least, is wise enough to use poop for comedic purposes, and not to attempt an answer to the question raised by a newscaster: “With all these species, what’s become of all the feces?”
Director Tom Shadyac and writer Steve Oederkerk seem to have taken the growing “creation care” movement to heart with this movie, but with all the subtlety you might expect from a Hollywood children’s movie based on a religious theme. (Spoilers ahoy!) Evan learns that his corpulently evil congressional patron (John Goodman) has used his power to buy up federal parks and turn them into subdivisions. His corrupt corner-cutting results in shoddy construction to critical infrastructure, which fails exactly when God told Evan something would go amiss.
For better or for worse, the film doesn’t dwell on theodicy here. Yes, God knew months ahead of time that this faulty construction would cause a flood, and for whatever reason, determined that the best response was not to guide an engineer to inspect that facility, but to give Evan Baxter a beard, robe, lumber, handtools, and “Ark-building for Dummies.” In Genesis, the ark is meant as a test of Noah’s faith. Evan’s ark-building is a result of God leaving him no choice however hard he tries to resist. Evan has already completed the ark by the time he recognizing the moral risks inherent in the path to power he had chosen – signing on to bills that would sell of national parks in exchange for Congressional advancement.
True, his Hummer gets washed away by the flood, but that only means that he had not recognized the moral message being offered until it was too late. The God of Genesis turns people into salt pillars for less, and the God of Evan Almighty remembers doing it.
The kids ahead of me in the theatre enjoyed themselves immensely, and I don’t mean to get overly academic about what should be a fun summer movie. On the other hand, these old stories are worth preserving, and the film’s approach to the story of the ark is too similar to slacktivist’s description of non-literal Biblical literalism. Here is slacktivist’s description of the Noah story:
Q: Where do rainbows come from?
A: Selfishness is destructive — to you and to every living creature. Remember that every time you see a rainbow.
That lesson exists somewhere in the movie, but, like the people who survey Mt. Ararat looking for 3000 year-old planks, it obsesses too much over petty details, and misses the literal (or at least literary) point of the story. Those sorts of people, the people who build arks in their backyards or who make movies about guys making arks in their backyards, run the risk, as slacktivist points out, of “approach[ing] these stories with the same incomprehension as that of people who don’t understand jokes. ‘What kind of bar?’ they ask. You try to ignore them, to get on to the punch line, to the point, but they keep interrupting. ‘A duck? I don’t think you’d be allowed in the bar if you were carrying a duck.’ Such people are particularly infuriating when you’re trying to tell a really good joke. They’re even more infuriating when you’re trying to tell a really important story.”