“I think it’s healthy to have movies with jokey, humorous portrayals of God,” pronounces writer-performer Wes “Scoop” Nisker, smiling his wickedest smile, his voice a deep resonant rumble. “Even if those movies are shallow and weak, even if they get really smarmy. It all just helps to break open our whole religious uptightness, to poke a few holes in the solemnity and seriousness we tend to associate with religion.”
This is NiskerÆs diplomatic way of giving Bruce Almighty its dubious due. We’ve just walked out on the end credits, after catching an afternoon matinee of Bruce, an intermittently humorous comedy in which Jim Carrey plays a self-absorbed, mean-spirited television reporter named Bruce, who accuses God of not doing His job; an accusation God is very thin-skinned about, apparently. The whiny mortal is subsequently given the chance to step into the mighty shoes of the Supreme One. In other words, he gets to “be God” for a few weeks. This, evidently, is meant to teach poor, deluded Bruce that being God is not that easy, that we should all give the Big Guy a break for not handling things as well as we imagine he ought to.
What we mainly learn, up until a tacked-on ending so corny and forced and out-of-place it hurts to think about, is that a jerk with the powers of God is basically just a powerful jerk.
“Completely, completely,” laughs Nisker, Oakland-based author of the bestsellers Crazy Wisdom, Buddh’s Nature, and the recently published The Big Bang, the Buddha, and the Baby Boom (Harper San Francisco, $24.95). “It was just what you’d expect from an American male who becomes God. He lets everybody win the lottery, he gets himself a nice car, he gives his girlfriend (Jennifer Anniston) a great big orgasm, and he makes monkeys pop out of the butts of people he doesn’t like.”
All of this makes the real God (Morgan Freeman) laugh and role his eyes. Bruce, you crazy man you.
“I thought Bruce was going to be upbraided for all that, by God,” Nisker admits, sipping a nice red wine at a bar around the corner from the theater. “But instead, when Bruce and God meet up at the end, when Bruce recognizes that he’s wasted his powers and says, ‘I want world peace and I want the hungry to be fed,’ God rebukes him for that! ‘Come on, let’s have a real prayer. What is it you really want?’ And when Bruce then prays for the woman he loves to be happy, God stands there and gets all misty-eyed. ‘Now that’s a prayer,’ he says.
“It’s so demeaning to those who compassionately wish and pray for the betterment of humanity,” Nisker grimaces, shaking his head. “It goes against every instinct of what being spiritual means.”
In The Big Bang, The Buddha, and the Baby Boom a very funny, very personal exploration of the “spiritual experiments” of the 1960s and ‘70s, Nisker suggests that the spiritual hunger of the boomer generations gave rise to a new understanding regarding religion.
“Gradually,” he says, “we began to consider that everybody’s god was equally good, is equally valid. I go to people’s houses now and they have a statue of the Buddha on their altar, and maybe a picture of Jesus or Mary Magdalene with a Native American Coyote fetish right alongside it. That’s saying, basically, that all of these gods are right, they’re all part of the great human imagination, that nobody’s got a lock on any one idea of god.
“I think we’re going to have to be moving in that direction if we’re going to survive these crazy Holy Wars that are still going on, that we’ll have to agree that everybody’s god is equally valid. My image is that someday, the Heavens will open, we’ll all hear this voice booming from the sky, and it’ll say, ‘You all got my name wrong.’ And it’ll turn out that God’s real name is Spritzenfraffen or something. We’ll all become Spritzenfraffenists, and live happily ever after. Though the prayers would be kinda difficult to say.”
So then, if the great Spritzenfraffen traded places with Scoop Nisker for a week, and he were given almighty control over the world, what ways would the writer-journalist use his newfound powers?
“First, I’d have the entire Bush administration resign,” he says. “My instinct is to go for the big problems, first. Being a journalist, being a guy who always tries to see the big societal concerns of the word and to be a commentator about them, the next thing I’d do, if I were God, is to arrange for all the city governments get to together and ban the private automobile, putting tons of money into a great transportation system – stuff like that. Then I’d shuffle all the property around so that everybody had a little something. I’d make a rule that from now on, when somebody rich dies, they have to put the deed to their properties and assets into a big communal basket, so that others could have a little bit of that. And because I’m God, I’ll do it a way so that everyone’s cool with it. It’ll just make so much sense that everybody’s going to want to redistribute their wealth. Basically, if I were God, I’d start over from scratch, and we’d all be happy with it.”
There’s another thing Nisker would do.
He’d rid the world of fundamentalists, be they Spritzenfraffenist fundamentalists or otherwise. “Fundamentalism is the scourge of the planet,” he says. “Anyone who believes they are divinely appointed to save the world, or to save their country or to save their religion, to protect the righteous and screw the rest, that’s a dangerous person. Fundamentalism is a bad, bad thing.
“And,” he laughs, “you’d think God would know that.”
In Bruce Almighty, God doesn’t really know all that much. Despite being warm and fatherly and down to Earth, with an unexplained fixation on mops and mopping, Morgan Freeman’s God is, if you think of it, kind of a wimp. The movie’s explanation for why God doesn’t answer every prayer – there are just too calls for help to sort them all out.
“Let me get this straight,” says Nisker. “God has trouble answering prayers because of all those voices in his head? He can’t understand all of us praying at once! Poor, poor god. Let’s all just give the guy a break. Now that I think of it, God probably made this movie as a propaganda tool. Was that in the credits? Concept by . . . God?
Laughs Nisker, “Maybe we shoulda stayed till the end of the credits.”
Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to the movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This is not a review; rather, it’s a freewheeling, tangential discussion of art, alternative ideas, and popular culture.
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