Bible in Film

Adding to The Good Book's longstanding history on the big screen.

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Evan relives the experience of Noah, who built an ark (surrounded by his jeering neighbors, some versions of the story say) and took in two of every kind of animal to protect them from God's determination to swallow the earth whole and start afresh. In his attitude, though, Evan Baxter shares far more in common with another biblical hero: the ever-unsure Jonah. Called upon by God to visit the iniquitous city of Nineveh to inform them of the lord's impending wrath, Jonah flees from God's call, seeking relief on the high seas. Evan similarly avoids his summons, treating the visions he has of God as practical jokes or side effects of overwork. God's asking of Evan to build an ark is not only annoying and impractical; it's a bit embarrassing. Once Evan accepts that God is truly present, truly asking him to build an ark, the most difficult step in the journey to accepting God's presence is sharing his secret with others. Being God's chosen, it turns out, is not an easy thing to share with others. Contrary to the bittersweet Jewish experience, Evan finds chosenness almost immediately rewarding, both personally and morally. He may experience the lofty position God has thrust him into as a burden, echoing the traditional Jewish notion of being chosen as a mixed blessing, but Evan's God, being more New Age than Old Testament, means the burden does not have to be carried for long.

The Ten

The Ten, in comparison, uses the Bible not as moral text, but as storytelling manual. The film, directed by David Wain (Wet Hot American Summer), uses the Ten Commandments as a springboard for ten short films, each one inspired by one of the commandments. "Inspired" is about all that can be said of these comic sketches' relationship to the biblical text, which bear only the loosest of relationships to the actual Ten Commandments.

Wain, along with his co-writer Ken Marino, were creators of the MTV sketch-comedy series The State, and The Ten feels like a series of particularly uninspired bits from that much-loved show. Most will leave viewers scratching their heads in two regards: first, as to how they bear any relationship to the commandments in question; and second, what their creators could possibly have been thinking in coming up with them. The Ten has a smattering of moments of comic exuberance, including Liev Schreiber as a suburban father who buys up dozens of CAT-scan machines, engaging in a pointless battle of consumerist one-upsmanship with his next-door neighbor. But inspiration, whether of a comic or religious variety, is for the most part sorely lacking.

The Bible as Spectacle

Evan Almighty and The Ten are both examples of the Bible film rendered contemporary-- outfitted with the latest lingo and character types in an attempt to appear up-to-date. In this, they bear a resemblance to that greatest of all biblically-inspired films, The Decalogue, which, like The Ten, spins off ten tales inspired by each of the Ten Commandments. What for The Ten is a lazy plot device is essential to Kieslowski’s comic/tragic conception of the universe, and such hazy philosophical concepts as "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" are weaved directly into the fabric of his characters' lives.

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Saul Austerlitz

Saul Austerlitz is a writer and film critic in New York.