Saturday, December 8, 2007

Just Tell Her Already

So, this is my first blog ever...and I want to thank Matthew for having me aboard.

I've been working on an article about the Pearl-poet for the last few months, and by way of talking about one of the issues I am having with those poems, I wanted to talk about the movie Evan Almighty. Evan Almighty has been out for awhile, I know, but I have a two year old son and our Netflix list is a little back-logged. This movie is not great, as Rotten Tomatoes can attest. For those of you who have not seen the movie, it is a retelling of the Noah's Ark story, twisted into an environmental fable and something about loving your family, I am not totally sure. The issue I have is that there is a complete lack of communication with the family on why exactly Evan Baxter (our Noah figure) is building this ark. His wife is the most upset (there is a scene where he builds the ark with his sons, like they are building a dog house on the weekend), because she doesn't understand (he's a newly elected Congressman with a new McMansion in a newly developed plan. Oh, and they drive a new Hummer) what is going on with him--if he is stressed out, she wonders, why doesn't he tell her. Evan (and God) choose not to let her in on the whole, "God told me to build an Ark" thing. Eventually, Joan Baxter (played by the lovely Lauren Graham of Gilmore Girls and Bad Santa fame) and the kids leave because Evan is way too "Last Supper" (his hair has grown out and he is now dressed in "Biblical" garb), and are going to her mom's until Evan calms down. Yes, I know, this is a plot thing (she has to go away in order to realize how much she misses Evan), but this is the "exact" same thing that happens in the Pearl-poet. It is the most pronounced in Cleanness where both Sarah (Abraham's wife) and Lot's wife (she does not deserve a name) are never told who their guests are--in Sarah's case it is God and in Lot's case they are angels. Ad Putter in his Introduction to the Pearl-poet argues that one of the keys to the poem is that Lot's wife, in particular, is unable to understand ontological categories. For example, she does not understand why her angelic guests would not want salt in their food, so she puts salt in their food (and is later punished by being turned into a pillar of salt). Lot's wife and Sarah do not understand that their guests are different beings who need different treatment. And yet, in the poems, the husbands do not treat their guests differently than any other guest.

And, that's my problem with Evan Almighty and the Pearl-poet (though he is one of my favorite poet [or poets depending on who you listen to])--the men who are supposedly privy to understanding divine beings and how they should be treated (though for Evan it takes some convincing) never share this information with their wives--and in many cases their wives suffer (the most extreme case being Lot's wife--with the whole pillar of salt thing). Why do this to these women? Why is the exclusion of women from divine knowledge so important as a plot point? I am not sure I have an answer to why it happens, but as a reader of the Pearl-poet, it feels like a flaw that there is no model for us to understand how to treat the divine and how to treat mortals (and that ontological differentiation is what Cleanness seems to be about, but I think that theme flows into other poems, as well). Maybe I should take comfort that in Pearl itself, God punishes the Dreamer (a man) for not listening to the divine knowledge of his daughter. But, then again, he doesn't die (turned into a jewel himself--wouldn't that be poetic justice on par with Lot's wife?); he's merely woken up and he resigns himself to going to Church. In Evan Almighty, God (or Al Mighty, as it says on his name badge), appears to Joan in a restaurant and gives an interesting exegetical reading of the Noah's ark story that has nothing to do with God's wrath (this is God telling us what he really meant by the Flood...ahhh Hollywood), and everything to do with trusting your husband. So, apparently despite the threat of global warming (and maybe some subtle criticism of the government's handling of Katrina), the movie is really representing idealized 1950's husband and wife relations (be a good wife and listen to your husband). In Cleanness and in Sir Gawain, it is a similar theme: listen to your husband, don't put salt in the food, don't laugh, go and seduce the guest!!


1 comment:

Matthew Gabriele said...

Awesome! Welcome, Chris! Great post and I like the fact that you publicly slam "Evan Almighty." I actually got to see it free and still almost walked out about halfway through.

Really, Steve Carrell? Really? Sigh.