So we settled on "Evan Almighty".
In case you haven't seen it (and my cousin and I may be among the last to go), Evan Baxter (Steve Carel) has just been elected to Congress and moved his family to an upscale new development for the pretty-wealthy and getting wealthier set. His election campaign was based on the slogan "Changing the World". Pretty ambitious stuff. So the first thing that happens when Evan gets to Washington is that he is "taken under the wing" of Senator Long (John Goodman), who is trying to pass a rather shady bill - if you happen to care about the earth and the people who live on it.
At this point, Evan is visited by God (Morgan Freeman). You know the plotline of just about every movie that features God as a major player... He shows up, only to the hero, and asks the seemingly impossible. Maybe not technically impossible, but you can count on the circumstances making it incredibly difficult. The ridicule. The disbelieving family members who start wondering about your sanity. The public at large who KNOW you're a nutcase. But you perservere in your assignment because you just might be saving the world.But here's the rub. How do you know you're actually talking to God? What if you really ARE crazy? There are plenty of mental illnesses that present with "religious mania" or voices telling you what to do. What if all those crazy people really ARE talking to God? Then where does that leave the rest of us? Can you drug God out of your head?
"Evan Almighty" was a comedy. Obviously when your beard grows back seconds after you shave it off, there is something more at work than voices in your head. There were lots of bird poop jokes, hitting the thumb with the hammer jokes, and "look at the crazy person" jokes. But there's a deeper message to this movie than the surface slapstick. And it's very simple. Deceptively so.
How do you change the world?
Acts of Random Kindness.
When I got home from the movie, my cousin came in for a few minutes. My husband (wonderful Darling Man!) offered her dinner, which she turned down but appreciated. We chatted for a few minutes, she called home to check on her kids, then left. We ate dinner. My husband retired to bed where my son read him to sleep, while I put a movie in the DVD player and began watching.
This movie was "Stranger than Fiction", which I'd wanted to see when it was in theaters, but never got around to it. It didn't last long in the theater, which meant that it either made the audience think too much, or was really, really bad.
It starred Wil Farrell as Harold Crick, and Emma Thompson as the author Karen Eiffel. And apparently, Harold was the lead character in Karen's new novel, Death and Taxes.
Karen is having a horrible case of writer's block. She's been working on this book for 10 years and is having no luck wrapping it up. As she goes over and over her ideas and types them out, Harold begins hearing her narrating his life. He has no idea what to make of that voice that says what he's doing at any given moment. This rather peculiar turn of events in his ever-so-boring life freaks him out a bit. To the point where he's yelling at the sky and asking the voice what it wants of him.
Meanwhile, Karen has no idea that her character Harold is a REAL person. She's trying to figure out how to kill him and can't come up with a satisfactory ending. Harold is running around to the company psychologist who thinks he's overworked and needs a vacation, and a psychiatrist who is quite frank about his need to be on prescription drugs. Neither answer sounds right to Harold, so he seeks out a literature professor, who, while skeptical, points him in the right direction.
Harold makes contact with his author, who is horrified and shocked to discover that Harold is real. All of her books have ended with the main character getting killed, which leads to a crisis for her. How many people has she unwittingly killed???? Her story is written in such a way that the main character HAS to die. It doesn't quite work the other way.
But the only way she can live with herself is to NOT kill Harold. She has him commit an Act of Random Kindness that hurts him badly, but does not kill him. It is her own Act of Random Kindness. Harold gets to live. She gets to rewrite her book so that it makes sense with Harold staying alive.
Two different movies on the surface. Very similar themes underneath. Both are asking you to wrap your mind around some difficult concepts. The idea that we, mankind, are not the beginning and ending unto ourselves, but the instruments of a larger purpose. Whether the larger purpose is God's will or the plotline of a novel - people have always been uncomfortable with the notion that they are not in charge of their own existance. And anything that exposes that soft underbelly of self-ness is in for a bad review.
"Evan Almighty", while widely anticipated as a comedy, has gotten such mixed reviews that two weeks out, it has been relegated to the "regular" seating theaters, leaving the more successful pictures to the "stadium" seaters.
"Stranger than Fiction" wasn't what audiences expected. Wil Farrell is a funny guy, but this was a serious role and he rose to the challenge. There is danger in being typecast. No elements of "Elf" in this movie. No "Ricky Bobby" in sight. It wasn't a bad movie. But it exited the theaters in record time because it made audiences think...
I adore movies like these. They are such unexpected pleasures for twisty minds like mine. I know lots of people who think in straight lines, but my mother says mine goes around corners, thinks from above and below and sideways. It looks right-side-up and upside-down. And it loves a challenge. It is open to the possibilities of God or not-God. And it has felt on more than once occasion that it was a character in a not-very-good book from time to time.
And so the question: Who is my Author? Are the voices in my head of my own making or do they belong to something "other"?
Who writes the pages of my life? Am I a dime-store novel? Or a best-seller? Or a literary work of art?
Only time will tell.