Paul Movie (the alien, not the saint)

Paul MovieSimon Pegg and Nick Frost have been responsible for some entertaining stuff. Their breakthrough series, Spaced, was excellent and their movies have been pretty good too. The video store box of Paul promised that this was not only a must-see, but also a must-own. So I took a shot.

My expectations were pretty low, and Frost and Pegg just about managed to live up to them. There were a fair number of laughs (‘No, Boomer, it is forbidden’ was a high point) and it was watchable enough from start to finish. They had also secured a very respectable supporting cast. However the film obviously developed out of a gist of an idea (“What if some sci-fi nerds actually run in to the original Roswell alien and have to help him get home?”) rather than a fully formed story, and so translating it into 90 minutes of film unfortunately led them to cut-and-paste their handful of good ideas into a cliched and predictable format. The humour relies far too often on people saying naughty words or trundling through standard situational set-pieces. If you’ve seen more than one movie in your life, you know how it’s going to end.

What irked the most, however, was the polemic against Christianity. I don’t mind atheist anti-religious commentary per se, and in a film about two good-natured Brits adrift in the American Mid-West (I think?), I suppose religious themes were an obvious choice. It’s just that the way it was done was an insult to intelligence.

The three characters on the poster arrive in a caravan park that happens to be owned by a fanatical right-wing Christian—complete with rifle, pictures of Jesus in his house, and repeated calls to Bible study—and his beautiful-but-one-eyed daughter. Through circumstance, she has to come along with them. Somehow evolution comes up, leading to the daughter babbling about the world being 4,000 years old, etc. etc (I think even the most young-earthiest Christians argue for 50% longer than that). At this point, Paul the alien comes out of hiding, downloads all of his knowledge about the universe into her head, and frees her from her religious ignorance. She discovers with relief that she can now curse (hence the reliance on swearing humour), fornicate and so on. They generously claim that Paul’s existence doesn’t disprove all notions of god, just the Judeo-Christian ideas. Paul also uses his special alien powers to take her eye deformity upon himself and conquer it, healing her and thereby showing that she has received full ‘sight’ (and probably that you, like Paul, can be good without God. Or something).

I appreciate the attempt at padding deepening the storyline with social commentary. But what’s so especially irritating about all of this is that they construct the straw-manniest of Christian opponents and then proceed to knock it over and ridicule it and draw moral conclusions from it on the basis of science-fiction. ‘My alien says your religion is stupid’.



There are so many interesting and funny and true things that could be said about religion in the West, or in favour of atheism, or even just in exploration of the consequences of having found aliens. Instead they went lazy and cheap, as they did with rest of the story, and it utterly ruins whatever good ideas provoked them to start writing in the first place.

You made me wish I’d rented Captain America or Harry Potter 8, Pegg and Frost. You should be ashamed of yourselves.


3 thoughts on “Paul Movie (the alien, not the saint)

  1. Jeff says:

    That’s disappointing. I had thought I might want to see that. Makes me think of “The Invention of Lying.” I actually had to turn that one off in the middle, and I hardly EVER do that. When I realized what Gervais was doing, I was pretty upset.

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      Yes, they felt similar to me too, and I would say that they are comparable, although Gervais was at least intentionally setting out to make a preachy atheist movie that he hoped would be thought-provoking. By contrast, Paul has the atheism as a tack-on, and the approach to religion (refutation by alien) makes it absolutely impossible to engage thoughtfully. So I’d say Paul is maybe better for giving less screentime to their ideological axe-grinding, but far, far worse on originality and on treatment of the subject when they get to it.


  2. Hephaestion says:

    Straw man?

    According to a 2007 Gallup Poll, of those who do not believe in evolution, 19% cite their belief in Jesus, 16% their belief in God, 14% the Bible, and 16% cite religion generally. Only 14% cite lack of evidence, and that can partly be explained through ignorance and misunderstanding.

    Furthermore, 81% of Americans believe in Heaven, 75% believe in angels, 70% believe in Satan, 69% believe in Hell, 78% believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and 82% believe in the afterlife.

    66% of Americans believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old (though, curiously, in a separate question, 53% think that humans evolved over millions of years).

    In short, the gun-toting, Bible-waving, right-wing, ignoramus creationist as portrayed in Paul is nothing unusual in America. These people really do exist and they do so in large numbers.

    (And, by the way, arguing for a 50% older earth than 4,000 years does you no favours. The magnitude of the error is still the same. It is an error so stupendously wrong that it cannot possibly be blamed on ignorance – it must be learned.)

    With regards to the scene you found so jarring, scientific knowledge does seem to be highly correlated with non-belief (in gods). In America, the overwhelming majority of people (over 90%) believe in some kind of god. Among scientists in the elite universities that figure drops to about 36%. Among the elite scientists (those elected to the National Academy of Sciences) the figure drops to 7%. Though there may be elite scientists who are religious, they are the exception.

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