Movie review header

Sweet November

Movie Review

by Earl Gosnell
Poet Laureate,
Longfellow, Colorado
Sweet November dialogue

Our Lord used evil earthly fathers to illustrate—and how—the generous giving of a kind heavenly Father, and a judge that "feared not God and regarded not man" to illustrate the attentiveness of a divine Judge. The Sweet November movie (which came out early 2001) is on one level not made to Christian standards. It is rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. However, it is sublime in illustrating the operation of the Ten Commandments.

The plot concerns an ad executive Nelson who is being made over by Sara during the month of November. Nelson is himself characterized by his representation of his ad's target audience: "man as he really is: savage, pagans." This is, after all, what the Ten Commandments have to work with.

We are given an intimation of this scheme when they play blindfold hide-and-seek and Nelson must first count to ten. Then on the trolley, Nelson asks her why they have to take the mini-train, and Sara replies, "Because I make the rules, Nelson, rules you must obey utterly and completely." How could that not remind us of the Decalogue?

Anyway, the first commandment introduced is, surprisingly:

(Exodus 20:17) Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
At the DMV where Nelson and Sara are taking the written exam, Nelson covets Sara's answer to number nine, which results in all kinds of mischief. It seems that a lot of trouble can be avoided simply by not coveting what is one's neighbor's. This is clear from the movie.

Then we get to:

            Thou shalt not bear false witness against
            thy neighbour.          Ex. 20:16

When Nelson's doorman rings him about a "certain lady saying very strange and personal things about you," he discovers the hurt of gossip.

Next there is:

                Thou shalt not steal.
                Ex. 20:15

As Nelson is driving the getaway car, Sara asks him, "Don't you feel like Bonnie and Clyde? Wasn't that great?"



"They got shot."

In uur society many violations of the ten commandments are not enforced, at least not strongly. Curse God, curse your parents and work on Sunday. Who cares? Kill somebody and you might go to jail, but probably not be executed. But steal something? That is a different story. There the law is really on your case.

Next is:

     Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
     Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work:
     But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD
     thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou,
     nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant,
     nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy
     stranger that is within thy gates: For in six
     days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea,
     and all that in them is, and rested the seventh
     day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day,
     and hallowed it.     Ex. 20:8-11

Nelson's ex-girlfriend Angelica had reminded him: "There are actually people who don't work 24 hours a day. They stop, have lives." Nelson himself admits he does nothing but work and doesn't like it. Sara calls him a "workaholic at an advanced stage." It is like pulling teeth to get him to agree to take one day off.

Then there is the issue:

     Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any
     likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that
     is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under
     the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor
     serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God,
     visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children
     unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
     And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me,
     and keep my commandments.   Ex. 20:4-6

Here Nelson keeps himself glued to the TV set the way the pagans were under the power of statues of their gods. A whole wall of his apartment is taken up by TV screens that all come on with the remote, first thing in the morning. When he and Sara are being entertained by the neighbors, where does he go? Into the living room to watch TV. But in Sara's apartment when he complains that her TV doesn't work, she tells him why. "It's a planter." Her TV set is just an object, to hold plants, not a device to seduce one's soul.

Whole generations get entranced by television instead of doing wholesome genuine family activities.

Let us not forget the very introduction to the Ten Commandments:

     I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out
     of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
     Ex. 20:2

He is God and brought them out of the house of bondage. Sara takes Nelson for a day at the beach and then asks him, "When was the last time you spent a whole day outside?" It was when he was nine. If we are trapped indoors all the time, how are we going to remember and appreciate the Creator of the universe?

Let us get to:

                Thou shalt not kill.
                Ex. 20:13

The incident with the killer sub showed Nelson: "But it's not gonna help him. He still has to deal with obstacles." Murder, more likely than not, doesn't actually solve the problem.

Then there is:

                           Thou shalt not commit adultery.
                           Ex. 20:14

Poor little Abner was looking for a father figure. As he puts it, "When you don't know your dad, you're not picky." One of the lamentable outcomes of adultery—in its various forms—is there will be kids who don't know who their dads are.

Next comes:

     Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain;
     for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his
     name in vain.   Ex. 20:7

Nelson's friend Vince upon entering a restaurant and finding Nelson with Sara and little Abner, remarks, "Oh my God! A domestic scene." Abner felt uncomfortable with him and left. Vince did too wondering, "What did I say?",/span> Using God's name in such a way makes people ill at ease.

Now we get to:

     Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be
     long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
                                                 Ex. 20:12

Nelson's parents were dead, but Sara got him to visit his childhood home and remember some strong points about his dad.

Then there is:

               Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
                                              Ex. 20:3

Vince set up an interview for Nelson and himself with Edgar Price—"God"—who had come out of retirement. After Nelson turns down Price's most generous offer, Vince chides him: "You shit in God's face." Nelson replied, "If that's your God, you're in big trouble."

That covers all ten of the commandments, done quite nicely in a movie, but there are some rather deep theological statements once we understand the framework. Sara's neighbor, who is or was Nelson's business competitor, tells Nelson, "She's completely powerless. These rules, they give her the illusion of dignity and control." But that sounds like a New Testament explanation of the inability of the Law to bring about righteousness. That is because of the weakness of the flesh, its inability to live up to the law.

But in the movie Sara herself is weak through an illness which turns out to be a major factor in the plot. When the dispensation of November comes to an end and December starts—the month we use to represent Christ's birth—there is a most touching scene on the bridge which answers as well as anyone can the question of what becomes of the Law with the arrival of Christ.

I recommend this movie if you want to understand or teach the ten commandments from a non-churchy framework, or as a quiz to test the understanding of students of the ten commandments.


Earl Gosnell
1950 Franklin Bv., Box 15
Eugene, OR 97403


Copyright © 2001, 2004, Earl S. Gosnell III Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.

Permission is hereby granted to use this review of the Sweet November movie—with credit given, of course—in intellectually honest non-profit educational material.

Any particular questions or requests for permissions may be addressed to me, the author.

If you are interested, you might enjoy my reviews on the movies "Catch and Release" and "Evening." More of my movie reviews are available at under the pseudonym "topreviewerman," and in my subdirectory on movies.

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Review of Sweet November movie.