Arguably, some of the most effective movies that have impacted people or "witnessed" to them haven't been the overt, Bible-thumping stories, but rather the regular dramas and comedies that relate to all of us. Just because Shadyac is a Christian doesn't mean he's making "Christian" movies. Instead, he's creating a story people can identify with and counting on God and the Holy Spirit to "water the seed" that he hopefully plants.
"This movie is to incite discussion but first of all, to have a great time," says the director. "It's a funny, funny movie, I hope, but it also asks those very questions that I think your audience is interested in asking: Why aren't you doing this for me, God? Why aren't you helping me? Why didn't you answer that prayer? Where are you in my life?"
Shadyac continues, "That's ultimately what we're saying in this movie is that God lives in us and gave us hands and feet. We're to walk the walk and this movie deals with all those same questions that saints, sages and mystics have dealt with for centuries."
Since there are a lot of spiritual truths to this story, I wanted to know if he consulted with anyone or had help writing the script (besides the screenwriter).
"There's a lot of research that went into it -- 20 years of personal research," Shadyac says. "I talked to several of my friends who are ministers, priests, theologians. I have a very honest relationship with God. If I experience disappointment, struggle or anger, I will express it honestly -- so I used that. We were real careful because we knew we had to put words in God's mouth, and we took that real seriously."
A Change for the Better
When asked what he hopes people will take away with them after viewing "Bruce Almighty", the young director first cites entertainment and laughter. "But second of all I hope they walk away with that deeper layer. If they are struggling maybe they can see that all things are for a reason, that there's a divine plan going on here and something good is probably happening even in the seemingly bad."
I indulged in a personal compliment at the end of our interview. As a critic who sees a lot of movies, I appreciate the small details a director gives to a film -- the little touches that aren't readily noticed but enhance the story and work together to make you aware that Bruce is changing. The metamorphosis takes place in front of our eyes, complete with a party that honors Bruce for what he has achieved. It is at this party where Bruce realizes who and what he has become and sees temptation and sin destroying his life, right in front of him. (Pay close attention to that scene and you'll see Bruce standing in front of a golden calf.)
"There's a lot of little things like that that we've layered in the movie," explains Shadyac. "At the height of Bruce's power I gave him a nice little golden calf -- sort of a subtle reminder."
Aside from all of the comedy, there are numerous scenes that address serious issues about prayer, free will, ultimate love, sacrifice, repentance, forgiveness and divine providence. I enjoyed the dialogue between God and Bruce in this movie. The issues God addresses with Bruce about people having their "free will" and "choice" are precious nuggets of conversation that any of us could have (or may have already had) with God at one time or another. When Bruce tells God "I just gave everyone what they wanted," God replies with a kind but all-knowing voice (as only Morgan Freeman can do): "Since when does anyone have a clue about what they want?"
I also enjoyed the dialogue about Bruce's frustration with "making people" love him, to which God replies, "Welcome to my world son." That simple yet profound statement went right to my heart, giving me a small perspective of what God must feel like when we ignore Him and take Him for granted. (If you have any kind of relationship with the Heavenly Father, it is sure to affect you that way as well.)
Reaching the Masses
I look at Tom Shadyac as a sort of a modern day missionary in the 21st century mission field of Hollywood. Amidst the sin and depravity of other movies, his message may not be delivered as you would traditionally like it, but nevertheless, he's influencing millions of people who might not ever get it elsewhere. While "Bruce Almighty" is not a "Christian" movie (it was never intended to be), at the same time it is not a blasphemous slander against God.
"Bruce Almighty" is a movie adults and mature teenagers should go see (with their unsaved friends) and then talk about afterwards. It's a movie that will make you think about your relationship with God and what you believe (and don't believe) in. And it's a movie that will touch your heart and remind you of how precious and patient God is in His love and mercy for all of mankind.
If just one person walks out of this movie believing, searching or seeking to connect with God, then was it worth it? Tom Shadyac thinks so, and I'm grateful for him.
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