God’s Not Dead (2014)
Directed by Harold Cronk
Written by Chuck Konzelman and Gary Solomon
Mild spoilers, but who cares.
There’s a scene in God’s Not Dead where a woman who has been diagnosed with cancer sits down with her boyfriend for a fancy dinner at a nice restaurant. The boyfriend smiles excitedly and says “I just made partner.” She responds with “I have cancer.” He replies, “Can’t this wait?” and then proceeds to break up with her for having cancer.
This is what Christians think atheists are like.
Also, apparently, just about everyone is an atheist.
God’s Not Dead made me think a lot about what it is to believe in something. Not in the way the movie wanted me to, but in a sort of wanting-to-understand-what-these-people’s-deal-is way. The theater was packed, almost sold out, and the crowd literally cheered as if the Death Star was exploding at about six key points in the third act. It was fun to witness, and like nothing I’ve ever seen.
In case you haven’t heard of it, God’s Not Dead is another movie in a litany that seems to have began with Kirk Cameron’s Fireproof, a small, independent Christian movie that made a ton of money and opened up the door for more Christian productions in the mainstream. For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s an easily digestible version I made of it a while back:
The problem is, these movies often reflect a delusional understanding of the world—in the case of this one, a world wherein most people are atheist (rather than less than 5% in America) and Christians are marginalized as radicals rather than accepted as normal. They forget that just about every single elected official identifies as Christian, and that God is on our money, in our courthouses, and in our pledge of allegiance. They forget that Congress has designated a national day of prayer, and that in some places, atheists can’t even perform wedding ceremonies.
The premise of the film is simple—Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo) teaches philosophy and is steely and has a chip on his shoulder. Josh Wheaton, a doll pressed out of a factory somewhere, enrolls in Sorbo’s class, despite being Christian. On the first day, Sorbo makes everyone sign their name to a paper declaring that God is dead. Josh refuses to do it, and as punishment, is forced to prove to the class that God does exist. It’s kind of like in Con Air when Nicolas Cage says “I’m gonna show you that God exists” to the black guy.
The weirdest part of the movie is all of the wedged-in subplots. First, we had a crazy muslim character that makes his daughter wear a Burka. One day, her younger brother catches her listening to the Bible on her iPod in secret—but right out in the open—and he rats her out. The dad’s reaction is to beat her and throw her out of the house—but then later she goes to a Christian rock concert and doesn’t have to wear the scarf thing anymore so I guess things are looking up for her. Where the plots attempt to connect is that she runs away from home and ends up with a doofy-looking, square-headed pastor who can’t get a car to start. That is the entirety of his arc.
Then, there’s the cancer woman, who interviews a guy from Duck Dynasty about how he shouldn’t kill ducks—ya know, because she’s a young liberal. Or, as Dean Cain’s character literally says, “You were my young, hot, liberal girlfriend.” This is while he’s dumping her for having cancer.
All of this stuff actually happens in the movie, I’m not kidding. But beyond all the overcrowded nonsense, God’s Not Dead is by far the most watchable of the Fireproof, Courageous, Christmas with a Capital C ilk. The shots are boring but elegant, and the performances are about as good as they could have been.
In a rare occurrence for me here at Smug Film, I don’t want to talk about the mechanics of moviemaking and how it affected the dramatic oomph of what was on screen. Besides, there’s really nothing to say—it looked like a movie, it felt like a movie. But, something was still amiss. And that’s what I’m interested in.
First, it was the previews. They began with some normal ones, possibly to dupe us into thinking this would be a normal experience. Madagascar 5 or Ice Age 6 or whatever—something animated about Tucans. But then there was a weird Patricia Heaton movie where a woman loses her baby in a madcap romp! But that’s not like, a real movie, right? It’s straight to video, it’s gotta be.
That was followed by a trailer for some golf coach movie. Remember movies about dedicated coaches, like Hoosiers? Well, this is a dedicated college golf coach movie that surely does not exist and stars Michael Clarke Duncan who I thought was dead.
When the actual movie started, it looked and felt like I expected—a sort of bigger budget version of a Feature Film For Families (which are Protestant-made VHS and now DVD’s—go to any thrift store to find dozens of them).
Sometimes I like to joke that bad indie movies are actually made by dogs. The idea being, this is what dogs must think we humans behave like—just making noises and emoting at each other.
God’s Not Dead was made by people, though. People that live next door to us. Which is much more bizarre a thought than dog filmmakers.
Thankfully, most people are not crazy Christians. Many recognize how silly the ideas in this movie are—and I don’t mean the Christian rhetoric, I mean the idea that a guy would dump his girlfriend, very meanly, for having cancer. It’s artistic insanity on the level of The Room, and a ridiculous attempt to demonize atheists.
Christians are certainly not marginalized victims of religious persecution, and, the truth is, God does exist. Not in a literal sense, but in America, the most religious first world country, God is thriving. God influences our policy and our laws, our relationships with one another, and even our relationships with ourselves. Believing or not believing, in this polarized country, is a big part of who each of us is.
God’s Not Dead is a pretend dialogue between Christians and their imaginary persecutors. A platform for atheists to be exposed as a bunch of God-hating bullies who are just pissed off that their mom got cancer or dementia. Ironically, and accidentally, the movie ends up exposing the actual truth—that if anyone here is marginalized, it’s the nonbelievers. Because, more than anything else, this movie is a window into the infection that is fundamentalist religious belief, and the poison that it spreads to the rest of us. This movie proves what we all already knew—that religion is off limits to critical thought and discussion. Because, when we try to have it, all Christians hear is angry noises made by pretentious wine-guzzling philosophy professors or young, left-wing, amoral hipsters—I mean, there’s actually a scene where Sorbo has a wine and cheese dinner party with his smug band of atheist cohorts who mock and belittle the lowly Christian in the room. Thankfully, most people I encounter aren’t as insane as any of the characters in God’s Not Dead—religious or not.
To finish, my favorite movie is Signs. And in a way, Signs is God’s Not Dead—Signs is about a guy who’s lost his faith, in the same exact way as the Sorbo character. But in Signs, God, or whatever it is, sets up a universe where Mel can believe again through love, togetherness, and family. It’s beautiful.
All God’s Not Dead did was make me glad I don’t have a bitch girlfriend like Josh. She dumps him in the beginning and he barely cares. Good riddance. Actually, the movie is worth seeing just for the brief moments with the girlfriend character. She’s fuckin’ nuts.
0 out of 1 stars.