LOS ANGELES, CA — It has been four years since Bruce Almighty conquered the box office, and a lot has happened at the intersection of faith and film since then.
Many Christians were leery of the film when they heard that it starred Jim Carrey as a man who is endowed with supernatural powers after he complains that God isn’t doing a good enough job of running the world. But many Christians were pleasantly surprised to discover that, despite its bawdy humour, the movie raised serious questions about love, free will, and the need to submit to God’s plan for our lives.
Bruce Almighty thus became the latest in a long line of mainstream films that have been embraced by culture-savvy Christians. And then, one year later, a little film called The Passion of the Christ came along and alerted Hollywood to the fact that lots of money could be made by specifically targeting the church market.
So it is tempting to wonder if Evan Almighty — a sort of sequel to Bruce Almighty — is a response to The Passion on some level. In the earlier film, Carrey played a single guy who uses his powers to arouse his girlfriend; but the new film stars Steve Carell as a devoted family man with three sons. And while the earlier film earned a mildly risque PG-13 rating in the United States, the new film is a family-friendly PG.
Director Tom Shadyac, speaking to several journalists on the Universal Studios back lot, insists the so-called “Passion effect” had no effect on his own creative decisions. He says any differences between the two films are rooted in the subject matter — and since Evan Almighty is a sort of modernized version of the story of Noah’s Ark, he felt obliged to make sure the movie was “safe” for all audiences.“If it’s an ark story, with animals and a flood and a big boat, I thought it would be insane to not invite a two-year-old and a grandparent and everyone in between,” he says. “The ark story speaks to everyone, and I thought this movie ought to.”
Was it easier to persuade the studio to make a film with religious themes now than it was four years ago? Not necessarily, says Shadyac. He had worked with Carrey before, on Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Liar Liar, and he says it was “very easy” to get the studio to greenlight their third big-screen collaboration.
The new film, however, was more of a gamble. With so many animals and effects, it is rumoured to be the most expensive comedy ever made; and Carell, the new leading man, is not quite the proven commodity that Carrey was — though his star has risen in the past few years, thanks to The Office and The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
The film also brings back Morgan Freeman as the warm and humourous God who gives Evan his mission. (When God pops up in Evan’s car, causing Evan to scream in fear, an amused God says, “Let it out, son. It’s the beginning of wisdom.”)
Shadyac, who attends a Catholic church in Los Angeles and is a self-professed “Jesus freak,” says the God that appears in his movies is “very personal to me. I’m very exacting with it — how he delivers [his dialogue], the way he says it.”
And what would God warn us about now, if we could speak to him? “I think he would say, ‘I’ve already warned you.’ I always had a dream about Jesus, looking me dead in the eye, when I was very young, and he said, ‘I never knew you.’ Right into the gut and the soul. It’s already out there, it’s been said. I don’t think he needs to say much more. We need to listen to what’s been said, we need to incorporate and act on what’s been shown us through the lives of others and the written word.”
— A version of this story was first published in BC Christian News.