Directed by David Silverman
20th Century Fox
Commentary by Jon M. Sweeney
At the beginning of this hilarious new movie, the Simpson
family is walking briskly to church, running late. Just as
they approach the front door, Homer says in a loud voice,
not realizing that the windows are all open and that everyone
inside will overhear, “These pious morons are too busy
talking to their phony-baloney God!”
the service, Grandpa Simpson has a “genuine religious
experience,” according to Marge, who is the only one
to take it seriously. Grandpa throws himself on the floor
and begins to prophesy in gibberish.
There’s everything but snake-handling to make everyday
Protestant religion look odd in The Simpsons Movie—but
that’s exactly why spiritual people find it so funny!
in the film, at a particular moment of crisis, a bird’s
eye view of the church shows that it sits right next door
to Moe’s Bar. As the people in both buildings simultaneously
discover what the crisis is all about (the Environmental Protection
Agency is about to enclose the entire town in a large glass
dome), they scream, and switch buildings.
magazine has called
The Simpsons, “the best television show of the twentieth
century.” The show has won a whopping
23 Emmy Awards. Simply put, in their first movie Bart and
Homer and the rest of the gang are as funny as ever.
was actually one of the many Christians who were turned-off
by the Simpsons on television in the early years, simply because
of Bart’s rebelliousness. I’ve never thought that
adolescent rebellion is the stuff of great comedy. I didn’t
laugh at The Simpsons for the same reason I’ve never
found those “Funniest Home Video” television shows
to be real entertainment; they seem simply to show people
hurting themselves or enjoying the pain and misfortune of
others as humor.
The Simpsons Movie, Bart has moments when he drinks
whisky in a motel room, streaks naked across town on his skateboard,
and deliberately threatens his father’s life in a variety
of ways. These things weren’t what made the film most
entertaining for me, but still, maybe I’ve changed a
bit, and certainly, The Simpsons has evolved over time.
Simpson family spends a lot of time in church, and they certainly
poke fun at religious excess more than any other show on television.
The characters of Ned Flanders (the Christian fundamentalist)
and Lisa Simpson (the progressive/activist Christian) offer
frequent opportunities for faith discussion. In The Simpsons
Movie, Flanders is portrayed in a mostly good light,
as the father that Bart has never really had in Homer. Ned
cares for his children, loves them, hugs them, all of which
is observed by Bart from the house next door.
at the same time, the excesses of Flanders’s fundamentalism
come shining through. He carries extra boys’ pants with
him at all times because, as he says, his boys are always
“praying through the knees.” At a moment that
feels like the end of the world, Flanders quietly instructs
his children, “Now when you see Jesus, be sure to call
him, ‘Mr. Christ.’” And the billboard outside
the church reads, “We Told You So.”
Simpson, meanwhile, canvasses the neighborhood, when she leaves
church, in support of legislation to clean up the pollution
in the local lake. She admires Bono, and falls in love with
a new kid in town with a similar, Irish, accent. And then
later, she lectures on lake pollution before a crowd of her
neighbors at the local town hall. “Pushy Kid Nags Town,”
reads the headline in the newspaper the next day.
of religious hypocrisy, cults, and belief in hell make frequent
appearances in the writing of this hugely popular show.
Homer Simpson once described his faith as “the one with
all the well-meaning rules that don't work in real life.”
His long-suffering wife, Marge, on the other hand, is a Christian
that makes good sense to me. She is usually the voice of moderation
then there are the religious characters from other traditions.
In The Simpsons Movie we meet a medicine woman in
Alaska (the family flees there after being run out of Springfield).
The woman saves Homer’s life just as he is about to
be eaten by a polar bear. She then encourages him to chant
until he has an “epiphany…a sudden realization
of great truth.”
who has watched the television show more than once knows that
Homer is probably incapable of any epiphany whatsoever—that’s
what makes him so funny. Nevertheless, Homer indeed comes
to one, which translates roughly as, “Without other
people, I’m nothing.” And he is suddenly convinced
that he must return to Springfield where he is needed to help
save the town.
lesson of The Simpsons seems to be that we usually create
our own problems, our own crises, and then, with a little
help from each other and—yes, from God—we can
find the way out of our messes. At a crisis
moment in the film, Homer is riffling through a copy of the
Bible while in a church pew, his family all around him, and
he exclaims, “This book doesn’t have any answers!”
is, of course, all of us. That’s why his bumbling, his
outbursts, his desire for simple answers, and his selfishness
are so amusing—because we can imagine ourselves doing
the same. At the film’s end, Homer indeed saves the
day; Grandpa yells to him, “What are you doing?”
And Homer replies, “Risking my life to save people whom
I hate for reasons I don’t understand!” Sounds
like the honest reflection of someone in church on Sunday
morning, don’t you think?
@ 2007 Jon M. Sweeney.