If you are worried about spoilers, relax. In the first place, Paul is an utterly predictable parody of E.T. Only if you haven’t seen the latter will anything come as a surprise and in that case you’d be missing the point. In the second place, Paul is one of the most offensive movies I have ever seen. If I am spoiling it for you, you probably deserve it.
Paul stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who also wrote the screenplay. These two limey clowns were responsible for Shaun of the Dead, a brilliant parody of the zombie genre. SOTD managed to lampoon the zombie movie while preserving some of its visceral force. That was an achievement. I was hoping for something at least as genuinely funny tonight. What I got was, at its best moments, E.T. with a foul mouth, a smoking joint in one hand, and an extended middle finger in the other. I also got something much uglier.
Pegg and Frost play two comic book nerds on a dream vacation in America. They attend a Sci-Fi convention in San Diego and then set out in a rented RV for a tour of our most famous UFO sites. On the way they pick up Paul: a real live Alien escaped from Area 51 who has managed to phone home. He needs to get to a secret spot (Devils Tower) where he can be picked up by his homies. They also pick up a girl. Pegg’s Graeme Willy connects with her. They are pursued by a trio of men in black, commanded by Sigourney Weaver.
Paul is a standard issue Area 51 alien: he has a large cranium tear drop head and stands about four feet tall. He has the power to resurrect the dead. In one scene he brings a dead bird to life and then promptly eats it. That would be inventive if it weren’t stolen from Shrek. You would have to be asleep not to guess, at that moment, that Paul would use that same power to save one of the characters later. You would be sound asleep if you didn’t expect that, at the end, a flying saucer would show up to take Paul home.
All that was mildly entertaining and very funny in spots, if not quite funny enough. Unfortunately, the writers weren’t as interested in being funny as they were in expressing their utter contempt for America in general and Christians in particular.
In a café devoted to UFO culture, our heroes encounter two belligerent, homophobic rednecks. A bit down the road they encounter a sheriff who, upon learning they are English, expresses his dismay that British cops don’t carry guns. “How can they shoot people?” he asks, disdainfully. That’s what Pegg and Frost think of America. Just in case we don’t get the point, we see an image of George Bush (41) on their laptop with a derisive slogan attached.
When our heroes pick up the girl, she is managing an RV park. She is wearing a t-shirt depicting Jesus shooting Darwin. She believes the earth is 4,000 years old and cannot believe in other worlds. She is blind in one eye. Subsequent dialogue makes it clear that she and her Bible toting, gun wielding father are retrograde, evolutionarily slow creatures. The comic nerds are, of course, more advanced. E.T., foul mouthed and stoned, is where evolution is going. In short order extraterrestrial Paul cures her. Her blind eye is restored. She immediately learns how to weave profanity into everything she says and she wants to have lots of sex. At the end she declares she has been liberated. That’s progress!
Paul is a work of left wing bigotry. Young Earthers, and probably all Christians, aren’t just wrong: they are stunted people. Probably half of Americans are right wing, Bible besotted, gun clinging Neanderthals. This message is delivered throughout the movie and reemphasized at its end. If this movie had put fundamentalist Muslims in place of fundamentalist Christians, Pegg and Frost would be on trial in Europe.
I will confess that this movie offended me for personal reasons. I am a Darwinist by training and inclination. I am a professor of political science and philosophy and I teach Darwin’s theory in both contexts. I have many students who are resistant to evolutionary theory for religious reasons. I occasionally have students who believe in literal or even young Earth versions of Biblical faith.
It’s my job to respect their persons and their beliefs. In fact, that isn’t hard. I know for a fact that even the Biblical literalists are frequently both intelligent and admirable people. They have to be. The larger culture around them keeps telling them they are inferior and that they ought to get with the program. They manage to say no to power, which is something that liberals claim to admire but don’t.
I try to show my students that Biblical Religion and Darwinian theory are not mutually exclusive. I try to show them that, even if they can’t accept the evolutionary account of human origins, they can still see natural selection at work in creation and use Darwin’s theory at least in an instrumental way.
And then along comes a movie that tells them that they are idiots. Their pastors have been telling them that evolutionary theory is just another religion and along come Pegg and Frost to shout that anyone who does not believe in evolution is a retarded heretic.
I didn’t like this movie.
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