Keywords: God, suffering, expectations, freedom, prayer, choice, selfishness
Film title: Bruce Almighty
Director: Tom Shadyac
Starring: Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cinema Release Date: June 2003
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Have you ever felt like you have bitten off more than you can chew? If you have then you'll know how Bruce Nolan, played hyperactively by Jim Carrey, feels. Bruce is a television newscaster who is frustrated with his 'mediocre' life. Despite the fact that Bruce's girlfriend, Grace (Jennifer Aniston), is positively drooling for a marriage proposal, he is unsatisfied. Bruce is jealously ambitious and wants to be the anchorman covering serious news. Bruce is hungry to be taken seriously.
Amazingly, the last person that Bruce expects to take him seriously actually does. After getting fired and beaten up by a mob in the worst day of his life, Bruce blames the Almighty. 'He could fix my life in five minutes if He wanted to,' screams Bruce, as his jealousy and frustration explode heavenwards.
So God, played by Morgan Freeman, takes a break from cleaning the floor at 'Omni-presents', and takes Bruce seriously. In fact, God gives Bruce the chance to try and do better himself by giving Bruce his power. Despite being infinitely powerful Bruce may not interfere with free will.
Tom Shadyac (Director/Producer) started his directing career with the hit Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994). This was followed by The Nutty Professor (1996) and then Liar Liar (1997). Shadyac also directed Robin Williams in the Golden Globe-nominated Patch Adams (1998).
Bruce Almighty is a particularly significant creative expression for Shadyac. In the past he has played his cards closer to his chest, but now his hand is tipped. Unlike the gentle moral lessons in Shadyac's previous pieces, Bruce Almighty wades into the deep and asks some unashamedly big questions. It is Shadyac's discussion of Bruce's power, and his restriction of not being able to interfere with free will that is the most interesting message of Bruce Almighty.
This is a refreshing break from the norm of Hollywood caricatures of Christianity which seem to paint a picture of anyone who has strong Christian convictions either as a suicidal maniac or a hypocritical do-gooder. Carrey is perhaps the perfect casting for Bruce Nolan and returns on fine form with more of the same manic fits. Carrey's special brand of defensive face twisting comedy helps to keep quite a weighty discussion moving along sweetly. Morgan Freeman is wonderfully human and warm as God.
How would you characterise Bruce Nolan, Grace and God?
What does Bruce mean when he calls his life 'mediocre?'
Do you think that it is distasteful that God would be cleaning the floor? What do you think that the director was saying by showing Bruce and God cleaning the floor together at the end?
Is it right to do whatever gives you pleasure? How do you feel about stopping others doing whatever they feel they want to?
How did you feel watching Grace arriving at the party?
When Shadyac says, 'I think one of the challenges of our church, and churchgoers in general, is to accept humanity as it is. We have people in churches acting out, because they [don't] accept the whole human being. They deny that we are sexual human beings. Or, that we can be angry' (www.hollywoodjesus.com). Do you think he is right? What does the church need to change to accomplish this?
Why do you think Bruce allows the anchorwoman to kiss him if he really does love Grace? Would he have let her kiss him if he had not been made all powerful? Do you think that Grace's reaction to Bruce's indiscretion is fair or just?
What would be the first thing you would do if you had God's powers for a day and you couldn't mess with free-will? Could you really bring about world peace and an end to famine and drought whilst respecting free will? How would you do it? Would it involve changing the human heart?
What is the most important thing to Bruce? Do you feel that this changes during the story? If so, why do his priorities change?
Why does Bruce decide to submit to God's will in the end? Do you think that you would have done the same thing at that point? Why do you think that Bruce has to submit to God's will?
Is it a contradiction to submit to God's will and for God to continue to stick to the rule of not messing with free will?
What does it mean when people say that Christianity is about who you are as opposed to what you do? Can we change who we are in our hearts by making selfless choices? Can making selfless choices all the time make you right with God? Why or why not?
How do you think Bruce's own character affects the way that he deals with his experiences? What kind of character would God need?
Do you feel that the saying, 'If you love someone, set them free, and see if they come back to you?' rings true in Bruce Almighty? Why/why not?
How can we ensure that we communicate Christianity clearly without saying that your works will get you to heaven, or devaluing the importance of getting involved and serving God with our sleeves rolled up?
What does the Bible have to say to someone who is striving hard to become right with God through their way of living/thinking? Is there anything to be said for perfectionism?
Shadyac: 'I've come to believe that prayer can be so many things. I read, write and pray in the mornings. My writing, my journaling, became a form of prayer, being honest with God. "I'm frustrated with this." "What's happening here?" And, "I feel sad about that"' (www.hollywoodjesus.com). Have you ever kept a prayer journal? Was it useful?
Shadyac: 'And we give power away all the time in our lives. We give all the power to God, when he says, "I am right there in you. The power is in you to make a difference. I put it there. I created you."' (www.hollywoodjesus.com). What is Shadyac saying about power here? What effect does the creation and subsequent fall of mankind have upon the power in us?
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Unless stated otherwise, Bible quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT) copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.