“ Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark,
and cover it inside and out with pitch.” Genesis 6:14
“The best preaching is without words,” director Tom Shadyac told Christian journalists at the press junket for his upcoming comedy Evan Almighty. “Just like St. Francis used to say…”
On June 22 Shadyac’s seventh comedy will come forth into theaters like a mighty flood inviting audiences of all ages to smile and share the inside joke about a modern day reluctant Noah obeying the invitation of a benevolent and persistent God to build an ark. Evan Almighty takes its lead from Bruce Almighty, but is an entirely different film. As the director and actors attest, this next installment of the Almighty franchise is for everyone.
The film employs many pairs of real animals (and some CGI’s) and a really large wooden boat that was recycled afterwards into lumber for Habitat for Humanity homes. Though it looks like only Evan and his family is doing all the work, if you stay through the credits, you’ll see the behind-the-scenes labor and the actors interacting with the animals. There is a certain amount of bodily elimination going on by the birds in the film - and it is always well-timed, like punctuation points on the many messages the film has for the audience.
But Evan Almighty is more than what may first seem like a bag of gags and well-intentioned themes. There is a certain quality, a love for life and the divine that permeates the film and this will appeal to many viewers. See if you can catch the reference to one of St. Teresa of Avila’s famous sayings when Evan mutters, looking heavenward, “Is this how you treat your friends? No wonder you don’t have that many…”
Family, marriage, creation and the environment, honesty, the nature and image of God, mutuality, the community of the human family, and acts of random kindness, top the list of this cinematic sermon, reinforced by Shadyac’s unique and fun way of fusing image, song, special effects, kids, animals, and words into divine comedy.
Evan Baxter (Steve Carell; The Office,The Forty-Year Old Virgin), the Buffalo weatherman (whom we first met in Bruce Almighty) bids his viewing audience goodbye as he leaves with his family for Washington, DC. He has just been elected to Congress and as his political slogan attests, he intends to “change the world.”
Baxter, his wife Joan (Lauren Graham; The Gilmore Girls), and sons Dylan (Johnny Simmons), Jordan (Graham Phillips), and Ryan (Jimmy Bennett), travel in their new gas-guzzling Hummer to their gargantuan new home in nearby Virginia. Eve Adams (Molly Shannon; Saturday Night Live), the real estate agent, welcomes them to the new housing development, Prestige Crest, nestled in what used to be a pristine valley.
Evan promises the boys that they will take a hike on the weekend, that they will spend more time together as a family. Little can he guess of what is in store for him when he is rudely awakened by the alarm clock the next morning at 6:14am instead of 7:00am. He makes his way to the office and is surprised to find that even as the junior congressman from his district he has been given a beautiful office. His staff, Rita (Wanda Sykes, Monster-in-Law, The New Adventures of Old Christine), Marty (John Michael Higgens), and Eugene (Jonah Hill), greet him with the news that Congressman Long (John Goodman) wants him to co-sign a new bill that will allow the land surrounding national parks to be sold off for development. Evan heads home with a stack of documents to read and cancels the family hike to his sons’ great disappointment.
Strange things begin to happen. Evan discovers that the clock’s Gen(eral Electric) 6:14 is from the Bible: “ Make yourself an ark of gopher wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch.” An ancient tool chest and loads of wood are delivered to his home. Birds and animals begin to follow him – two by two. When God (Morgan Freeman; Bruce Almighty) appears to Evan, he doesn’t want to hear what God has to say. Evan starts to grow a beard that won’t stop. God wants Evan, who is looking more and more like our image of Noah of the Bible, to build an ark.
Evan’s wife and kids think he is crazy, as do his staff and Congressman Long. But there’s about to be a deluge of information and insight as Evan’s boat begins to float, nefarious business dealings come to light, and while saving all kinds of animals and his jeering neighbors, too, Evan, with his family – and God – save the day.
Questions for Reflection and Conversation
- Family – Evan talks a good line about family, but does he walk the talk? Father’s Day was last Sunday; do you think Evan tries to be a good Dad? What does Evan promise his family – especially his sons - when they arrive at their new home? Why does Evan think it is okay to put work before his family? What changes when Evan’s sons and his wife begin to help him? How did you feel when Dylan, Jordan, and Ryan joined their dad to build the ark?
- Marriage – Joan, Evan’s wife, tries very hard to understand what her husband is going through, between the beard, the extra lots of land, and building the ark. How many ways does she try to find out what is going on with him before she decides to take the children and leave? What does the waiter at the restaurant say to Joan that helps her see her husband and the ark differently? (Who is the waiter?) What does the image of God’s creatures walking two-by-two say to parents about the vocation to marriage?
- Community – How does the film present the idea of “community” in nature and among people? What does the “common good” really mean? What does the film say about the “American Dream”?
- Virtue and Vice – What vices characterize Congressman Long and the political “wolves” that run in his pack? What human and Gospel virtues does God, through Evan, teach the politicians and their neighbors?
- Theology – Our relationship with God is characterized by spirituality and informed by theology, that is, by how we experience and understand God. When Evan asks God about his reasons for the first flood, how does God explain it? What does God say about people who want to understand him as an angry God? Do you think God is angry? Why or why not? Who is God for you? How do you understand God to be?
6. Spirituality - What does God say about love in the film? How many kinds of love do you notice in the movie? Do you believe that everything God does for us is because God loves us? Why or why not? When God takes Evan to the ridge so he can see what the valley used to look like, this is what is known as a “liminal” or “ah ha!” moment. Evan has an epiphany, or an awakening. What does he finally understand about God, creation, and human existence? Have you ever had a liminal experience when you became aware of a truth or reality that changed you? Director Tom Shadyac told journalists: “That God voice is very personal to me; I am very exacting with it. God is about healing the anger that humans like to have about God and life. We like to blame God.” Do you think this is true? Why or why not? “Humor is all about healing,” director Tom Shadyac told Christian journalists at the June 9 th junket for his upcoming comedy Evan Almighty. How do humor, healing, and spirituality go together for you?
7. The Problem of Evil – Although the film does not speak of evil or sin explicitly, the plot of the story is about Congressman Long who works some shady deals so he can sell public lands to be developed for a profit. Then, who was responsible for the damn breaking? Was it only Congressman Long? Someone once defined evil as “the absence of empathy”. Do you agree with this? If Congressman Long had been thinking about others more than himself, what kinds of good things could he have been doing for people and the environment? Make a list and send it to someone in public service.
8. Acts of Random Kindness, that is, A.R.K. – The film’s theme of love is expressed in Acts of Random Kindness (a take on “Random Acts of Kindness”.) God told Noah to build an ark; today God invites us to show love in the world. How did Evan show kindness in the film? How will you practice Acts of Random Kindness in your family, at school, work, church, on the playground or at the mall? What does “Acts of Random Kindness” even mean? Evan wanted to change the world and make a difference. How do you want to change the world to make it a better place? Make a list and write A.R.K at the top. Put it in your Bible or in a special place. Check it each night before you go to bed to see if you practiced A.R.K. today and think about the good things you can do for others tomorrow.
9. Evan Almighty and the Scriptures – What is the one Scripture citation you remember from the film? Look in your Bible, the Gospels especially, for stories about God’s love such as the parable of the prodigal son, or when God the Father sent Jesus into the world to save us from our sins, or when Jesus forgave the thief on the cross, or healed someone. Find the parts in the Gospels when Jesus speaks of sending the Holy Spirit into the world. How can the Holy Spirit help us to change the world and help others?
10. Ecology – The filmmakers decided to make Evan Almighty a “green” or eco-friendly production from the beginning. The actors used two-sided scripts, and the crew used bicycles during filming to cut down on care usage. Do some research on the website www.getpmboardnow.org that was launched in partnership with The Conservation Fund. Choose and talk about an activity you can do with your family to care for the earth. Visit http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/projects/socialteaching/excerpt.htm and research Catholic social teaching especially care for the environment and solidarity. Ryan likes the animals a lot and knows a lot about nature. Do you like animals? How does kindness to animals enhance our human dignity?
11. The Film – What did you like most about the film? If you had been the director, what would you have done differently and why? Did you find yourself in the film? What did the film mean for you?