What if everything you knew to be true about the universe was turned upside down in a matter of moments?
That is, after meeting a foul-mouthed, pop-culture-loving Alien American?
Stereotypes are thrown out the window and then absurdly tossed back in, in the new film “Paul” about an extraterrestrial on the run… or the ride… from the government.
The premise behind the dynamic screenwriting duo’s – Simon Pegg and Nick Frost – movie is fairly simple.
Two British comic book nerds, Graeme and Clive, after attending the annual Comic-Con convention and en route to see the most famous UFO landmarks in Nevada, meet Paul (voice of Seth Rogen), an alien who’s just escaped from Area 51.
Having helped the government for over 30 years with his advanced technological knowledge, Paul is found to be no longer of use. Hoping to further harness his abilities, the government makes plans to surgically remove his brain.
Realizing this, the fully assimilated alien sends an S.O.S. to his motherland and makes an escape. His new buddies must help him return to his ship and reunite with his fellow extraterrestrials.
So what about this movie just isn’t cutting it for some viewers, despite the all-star cast, Steven Spielberg cameo, and bevy of inside jokes for sci-fi fans?
The sometimes overwrought plot perhaps, but most of all, the extremist views of Bible belt Americans.
At one point in the film, the trio kidnaps Ruth Buggs (Kristen Wiig), a fundamentalist Christian who believes the world is only 4,000 years old and pretty much fulfills every negative stereotype about Christians in America.
Abandoning all of her beliefs after Paul heals her blind eye and enlightens her with his own tale of creation stories, Ruth zealously indulges in sin and eagerly begins to walk down the wide road that leads to… profanity and promiscuity.
Towards the end of the film, Ruth thanks Paul for freeing her from religious bondage after the alien apologizes for shaking up her faith.
“I’m not a religious person, and I found it over-the-top,” wrote Mike Ryan, contributing editor at Movieline, in Vanity Fair.
While Jackie Solberg of Take Five Mom at the Movies said, “The movie portrays believers in God very poorly. It’s unfair and cheap… Ruth’s father, a bible-toting man, is portrayed as a crazed weak minded bad guy.”
Dr. Marc Newman, president of MovieMinistry.com, responded in his review, “I suppose that there may be some people who find ridiculing ‘straw-men’ Christians to be amusing… [But] if the new British comic invasion is fixated on ridiculing the religion of more than two billion people worldwide, then they need to be resisted.”
Helping Christians utilize movies to reach others with the gospel, the associate professor stated that the right response to the movie would be to ask questions of those who have seen it.
Questions like, while there are most certainly some pretty wacky people in the world who claim the name of Christ, do you think this woman was a fitting representative? And what of humanity’s dogged belief in the ideas of purpose and morality?
“When films question God’s Word, we should be prepared to engage with those who watch them,” expressed Newman. “This might seem like a lot of ink to spill on such an inconsequential film as Paul, but that other Paul – the one who wrote the majority of the New Testament – admonishes followers of Christ to be ready, to have an answer to anyone that asks.”
While some are in agreement that the film takes stereotypes a little too far, a few critics are simply taking the film for what it is, a comedy, and enjoying the lightness and brevity of the alien encounters.
“Wiig is just fun to watch on screen as her character starts to develop into who she actually is… Now that she’s been freed, she wants to do a lot of things she couldn’t do before, including swearing. She is very bad at swearing,” wrote Emmaleigh R. Hall on BCS.
The screenwriters themselves intended no harm with the film. During an interview with Hollywood Chicago, Frost responded to a rather hefty religious question posed by blogger PatrickMcD regarding religion’s impact on personal and cultural relationships, by saying, “Jesus Christ, you do know it’s a comedy right?”
“Most religions at their heart promote unity, respect for life and moral correctness,” answered Pegg. “With Paul we weren’t trying to [create] any kind of statement about religion in that regard, it’s more like wouldn’t it be interesting if we had to rethink our entire belief system, because of one moment.”
Interested in the idea of altering someone’s worldview completely, the screenwriters believed that they had to have Ruth’s particular faith be at the very extreme end of Christianity, the literal interpretation of the Bible.
“It wasn’t about the relative merits of religion, more about saying silly swear words,” Pegg joked. “I would hope, as a person who has a Christian spirit if not the religion, that people watching the film will have a sense of humor about it. It’s a comedy. We’re not telling people how to think. We certainly don’t look down on anyone’s opinion.”
To which Frost added, “I think it would be more insulting not imagining Christians having a sense of humor.”
“Comedy is an arena where you can rehearse ideas that might not be comfortable to you in the real world. It’s like a roller coaster, where you can experience fear and know you’re not going to die,” Pegg said to Long Island Press.
“Christians will watch this and think ‘silly boys.’ Who will get the last laugh? They’ll be laughing in heaven and we’ll be laughing in hell for making a silly film,” said Pegg to Hollywood Chicago.
Still for Newman, this wasn’t just a silly film. When light entertainment began to engage in bad theology, it is an eternal life and death matter for both Christians and non-Christians alike.
“Why are we able to enjoy hell bound, God ignoring, Christ dishonoring, false world views because we can give it a little twist at the end that it taught us this or that about the world?” questioned Pastor John Piper in his blog.
“Much exposure to sensuality, banality, and God-absent entertainment does more to deaden our capacities for joy in Jesus than it does to make us spiritually powerful in the lives of the living dead,” Piper warned.
Holding accountable every believer in Christ, Newman like many pastors, seeks to urge others towards the truth, and not towards exaggerated, marginalized versions of the truth, however humorously wrapped they are.
Correction: Wednesday, March 23, 2011:
An article on Tuesday, March 22, 2011, about the movie "Paul" incorrectly attributed the following quote, “The movie portrays believers in God very poorly. It’s unfair and cheap… Ruth’s father, a bible-toting man, is portrayed as a crazed weak minded bad guy," to Denise Pritchard on WZZM. Pritchard confirmed with The Christian Post that the quote should be attributed to Jackie Solberg of Take Five Mom at the Movies.