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Year One Mashes Up Creation, Covenant and Cain and Abel

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • Updated Oct 09, 2009
<i>Year One</i> Mashes Up Creation, Covenant and Cain and Abel

DVD Release Date:  October 6, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  June 19, 2009
Rating:  PG-13 (for crude and sexual content throughout, brief strong language and comic violence)
Genre:  Comedy
Run Time:  97 min.
Director:  Harold Ramis
Actors:  Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, David Cross, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Vinnie Jones, Hank Azaria, Juno Temple, Olivia Wilde, June Diane Raphael, Paul Rudd

Despite its title, Year One, a new comedy from producer Judd Apatow and writer/director Harold Ramis, is not a retelling of the biblical Creation story and the events immediately thereafter. Yes, there's a Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and some forbidden fruit, but that's just a springboard for an episodic comedy that compresses several stories from the book of Genesis that span many, many years.

Year One is not the story of Adam and Eve but of Zed and Oh (Jack Black and Michael Cera, respectively), a primordial tale of male friendship with the requisite fart jokes and sexual boasting that characterizes modern tales in the same genre.

The two buddies offset each other's weaknesses. Zed is brash and egocentric, a hunter who's more adept at accidentally hitting human targets than he is in felling animal prey. Oh gathers fruit to feed the men, but bemoans his role. He wants something more from life, starting with Eema (Juno Temple), the tribe babe who won't give Oh the time of day. Zed also has certain male longings, and he hopes Maya (June Diane Raphael) can fulfill them.

The inept Zed, seeking a leg up over his competitors for Maya's affection, partakes of some forbidden fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil ("it tastes knowledgy," he remarks after his first bite), leading to banishment from his village. Oh joins him, and the two embark on a journey. They meet Cain (David Cross) and Abel (Paul Rudd), and watch as the brothers' squabbles escalate into attempted murder, which is then attempted again and again, until Cain finishes the job. They stay at the home of Adam (Ramis), Cain's father (in this telling of the biblical story, it's Adam and not God who accuses Cain of the killing), and Adam's other offspring, including Seth, who does not get the same respect from Ramis that he gets from the author of Genesis—to put it mildly.

The duo next encounters Abraham (Hank Azaria) just as he's about to sacrifice his son, Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) (Zed has the ram's role in this telling, staying the hand of Abraham), but they subsequently shy away from Abraham's insistence that they be circumcised.

Zed, increasingly convinced that God has chosen him for a special task, travels with Oh toward Sodom, allowing for multiple jokes about male sex. (Oh: "I think I have sand in my a--." Zed: "Maybe I'll take a look at it when we get to Sodom.")

If that's your kind of humor, Year One is for you, but its irreverence is often joined with sexual humor that will offend viewers who think certain subject matter is out of bounds. For instance, the lust-driven Zed at one point rhymes "Holy of Holies" with a graphic description of the male sex organ. Circumcision, orgies and virgin sacrifices are also part of the humor in Year One.

What isn't part of the package is any orthodox idea about God. Zed hedges his bets throughout the film, praying to "Almighty God … or gods." He's not sure how many deities there might be, or how they should be addressed, although he scoffs when Maya questions whether God might be female.

The episodic film tries to conclude with a takeaway point, but the best it come up with is Zed's declaration that although he's not specially chosen by God, "maybe we're all chosen" and can "make our own destiny." That universalistic, self-centered message is nearly as gag-inducing as the "ARK: Acts of Random Kindness" message that ends Evan Almighty, a previous big-budget, Bible-based comedy that tried hard to be family friendly but which watered down its humor and theology to the point where the film was perceived as a critical and financial failure.

Year One makes far fewer concessions to the family audience, although it could be much more explicit in depicting moral failings. Nevertheless, its failure to deliver consistent laughs only serves to highlight the film's theological content, which is rooted more in pop psychology than it is in Scripture.

Harold Ramis has made some great comedies (Groundhog Day) and some not so great comedies (Stuart Saves His Family). Year One falls somewhere on the lower end of the scale. Its take on the first book of the Bible might call to mind the description of the church at Laodicea in the last book of the Bible (Revelation 3:16):  It's neither hot nor cold. If you take it in, you might want to spit it out.

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  • Language/Profanity:  Lord's name taken in vain; some foul language, and much sexual innuendo; Isaac describes Sodom as the place where "the sinners are winners."
  • Smoking/Drinking:  Smoking; discussion of "smoking herb" and "killer hemp"; drunkenness; wine is promised as a post-circumcision treat.
  • Sex/Nudity:  A man does a fertility dance to win a woman's attention, and hits her in the head in hopes that he'll knock her unconscious and be able to drag her back to his hut before she comes to; a woman strokes men spears in a suggestive manner; men thrust sexually toward women; Zed shows Oh a piece of meat that resembles a sex organ; Adam allows Zed to lay with his daughter; Seth says he "multiplies with sheep"; a woman declares that she's attracted to other women; women are groped by men; Zed and Oh ask whether Sodom or Gomorrah has "more whores"; men are threatened from behind with spiked sticks; a woman eats a banana suggestively; a sheep's entrails include a pulverized rectum, which is said to be "not unusual" for a sheep from the region of Sodom and Gomorrah; a eunuch throws his testicle at another man; a man talks suggestively and writhes in pleasure as a young man rubs oil into his chest; an idol has a penile appendage; kissing; a man loses his virginity.
  • Violence/Crime:  A hunter is shot by another hunter's arrow; a man gets flipped onto the ground by other men; Zed eats animal waste; Cain tries to kill Abel several times before he succeeds; lightning strikes a man, who survives; Abraham nearly kills Isaac; sheep entrails are shown; a virgin is sacrificed in a fire; a prisoner is whipped repeatedly; a man is thrown from a great height; a human sacrifice brings much-desired rain.
  • Religion:  In addition to everything above, Zed eats from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; Abraham orders all men to be circumcised; someone questions whether God exists.