Everyone talking about the movies released in the 2010s that made the happiest. Meanwhile, I choose to revisit the one that made me feel like the most miserable person on planet earth when I look back on cinema from the past decade.
What a wonderful world.
God’s Not Dead is an American Christian Drama directed by Howard Cronk and stars Kevin Sorbo, Shane Harper, David A. R. White, and Dean Cain. Freshman university student Josh Wheaton attends a philosophy class, where Professor Radisson requires all students to submit a signed statement staying “God is dead” and never existed. When Josh refuses (due to his own beliefs), the Professor challenges him to defend his position, leading to a series of confrontational presentations between himself and the professor, with the class as jury.
For the sake of being honest with both you and myself, yes, I am nowhere close to this film’s intended audience. Far from it, actually. That being said, my own biases on this particular matter really have no effect on whether or not I can very least appreciate a religious movie as a movie. I could gush plenty about other films like The Prince of Egypt, Silence, Hacksaw Ridge, or 2014’s Noah, for instance, for their artistic merit. So this review of this particular religious film has nothing to do with the fact I am very much nonreligious (At least for the most part).
So with that out of the way, I just way to say that I hate this film. There have been other films I’ve seen that could be argued as technically worse when purely looking at the film’s quality as a whole. Think of other examples of cinematic waste like Jack and Jill, Movie 43, The Fanatic, Gotti, and many more. They’re all terribly made films. Generally speaking, it’s because these films all suffer from a poor direction, acting, writing, and so on. But what happens when you combine all of that with an incredibly harmful message towards its target demographic (Which in this case, is Christians, particularly those who seem to learn right politically) that can be summarized as such: Anyone who thinks differently than you when it comes to the God question is not only inferior to you but also want to silence your religious freedoms as well.
Because of that, this review might as well be a 2 in 1 combo. I’m not only going to review God’s Not Dead in regards to just its artistic merit but as a piece of social commentary and how it fails spectacularly in both regards. There’s a lot to cover here, so let’s not waste any more time.
Part 1: The actual movie review
A film like God’s Not Dead can only come from the one and only film studio, Pure Flix. A Conservative Christian film production and distribution studio that operates very much akin to Netflix. They’ve had plenty of films made to simply promote Christianity since the early 2000s, and seemingly all of the movies seem to share the same general issue. They are awful films. So consider this segment not only as an analysis for God’s Not Dead but for the studio’s other works in general to understand the basic gist of what makes them so bad as movies.
First off, these movies fall into a pretty basic pattern regarding narrative content that leads to the same endpoint that being in which God is good, and you should follow him. Ever watch a soap opera? Well, imagine that, but made for Christians. There’s a lot of mopping from the cast with a tedious amount of soapy Christian music playing in the background. The most dramatic the film will ever get is when two people get furious at each other and scream a lot, but it doesn’t really feel as potent as it should. In the case of this film, you also get the added fluff of how anyone who, not a Christian is also a total scumbag and should not be trusted.
Speaking of fluff, oh my goodness, this movie has plenty of that. Remember the basic summary of the main plot? Well, it sure not the only one the film wants to focus on. While the debates between Josh and Radisson rage on, there is plenty of other content the film wants to divert your attention to. And they are all worthless. No movie, I do not care about the Newsboys. No, I don’t care about how two priests can’t get their car working. Why should I pay attention to this annoying reporter lady? The only storyline I could see working are two that focus on a Chinese student and a Muslim turned Christian girl. Still, they barely explore beyond that “CHRISTIAN GOOD! NON-CHRISTIAN BAD!” mantra I keep bringing up, so they are really worthless about serving the major plot.
The only real exception is Radisson’s girlfriend, who is also a Christian. She’s not what I would call a good character, but she serves some function regarding Radisson development. So at least she serves some useful function to the story. Too bad that the main story is completely terrible in its own right.
There are aspects that I will expand upon later, but the way this entire story starts is completely contrived. For a film that is set in modern-day America, it’s pretty absurd that at no point Josh considers talking to the administration about Radisson’s inappropriate behavior. Still, apparently, the country is so anti-Christian that it’s never even brought up as an option. Or he could just be an idiot. That very much works too. But even if he wasn’t as a character, Josh is simply intolerable. From acting just as egotistical and hypocritical as his professor when it comes to his augmentation in these debates and how he carries himself. Sure Radisson serves as the big bad atheist character (And I have plenty of issues with how this film portrays atheists along with other groups of people), but at least the audience knows that we don’t have to like him.
Josh, on the other hand? He treats his girlfriend coldly. She breaks up the possibility that they may have to break up. Granted, she isn’t a perfect angel herself, but at least she treats Josh as an equal to an extent as she states outright that she chose her third school of choice just to be with him. Not to mention that until the climax, she was right on the ball on how Radisson would destroy his future. Which wouldn’t be surprising since his actual augments are pretty terrible when you get down to it. I’ll leave a link to an article that goes much more in-depth about why for both his and Radisson. But simply put, Josh makes a lot of claims that boil down to “This crazy thing happened, so, therefore, God did it.” Even if his augments were bad, I could at least accept it due to the nature of the film. His condescending attitude towards the professor and really anyone who’s not a Christian, however? A much, much tougher pill to swallow.
Not helping this film in the least is the direction. That soap opera feel really comes to bite God’s Not Dead hard when it tries to make you feel for the characters. However, someone should have told Howard Cronk that simply dropping sad music really loudly over the characters while they’re sad isn’t effective drama. Instead, it becomes really monotonous very quickly. For example, the Muslim dad’s scene kicks his daughter out of the house because she became a Christian has this preachy Christian music playing it in the background. I’m sure the movie wanted to make me feel sad for the daughter. Still, in reality, I ended up dying of laughter because of how over-dramatic the scene is trying to be (Which is pretty ironic considering the subject matter). This plagues the movie throughout and saps out whatever sort of real drama could be present.
And that’s the biggest issue with God’s Not Dead in a nutshell. Nothing about how the film develops its story or characters feels organic. It’s just one caricature yelling at another caricature for nearly 2 hours. Everything that happens in this film isn’t to tell a story that just happens to have a message; it’s a film where the message ends up dictating the film itself. And those of the types of movies that get extremely preachy in expressing their message to appease the film’s target audience. Speaking of that message, it’s about time we go over how this film views the Christian V. Atheist debate in the United States of America.
Part 2: The social commentary
If it wasn’t obvious at this point, this film’s main perspective takes on its subject matter is very much from what one would expect for a Conservative Christian in the most extreme way possible. So clearly, the film will tackle its narrative content in the most nuanced and least biased way possible, right? There are a few groups of people this film has to say about, so I’m going to separate them for the purpose of cohesion. It should be noted that I’m going to view all of this regarding the social climate of the United States, as does God’s Not Dead. So what could be said for one group in that country could be very much different for another.
Conservative Christians: If you are this, consider you a moral person just because. Everything you do is for the benefit of others so that everyone can discover your truth. It doesn’t matter if you carry yourself as a complete narcissist because everything you say and do it right, how can anyone else disagree with your worldview? Clearly, they must be inferior to you.
At the same time, however, those same people you look down on will do everything in their power to squash you out of the picture because they are so scared of you and your truths. So don’t view them as just another person like you. They are clearly your enemy, and you must treat them in kind. Because in the United States of America, it’s you Christians that are the most oppressed group in the country.
Sarcasm aside, how this film portrays the state of Christians in the United States is very deceitful. Aside from the fact that being religious is no indicator of whether or not a person can say they have morals, there is no justifying that Christians are somehow an oppressed minority in the United States of America. Christianity is the majority faith in the US and fundamentalist. Christians have often been accused of forcing their religion on others, with atheists being the minority. Added to this is the fact that most Christian universities won’t even accept a student or teacher into the school without them declaring that they believe in Jesus or God (the same thing the film has an atheist does, though there are no known cases of that) and several states legally bar atheists from holding public office (these laws have been ruled unconstitutional by the US Supreme court, but nonetheless, nonbeliever politicians have faced legal challenges under them, and in any case are unelectable in most areas).
The only reason for God’s Not Dead to portray Christians as victims so the people who made it can profit from said audience victim complex. Because there are people who exist with different means, they want to stomp all over you. And I mean all of them. It sure turned out for Pure Flix’s benefit, though, as the film made $62 million on a $2 million budget. Which is rather ironic. If Christians are such an oppressed minority by atheists, how come a feature film created by Christians that pulls no punches in portraying every atheist character in the most negative light possible turns out to be that successful?
Atheist: This is definitely the one the film most paints in the harshest light. This is funny because it’s apparent that the film doesn’t even understand what an atheist is. For the sake of this section, the only characteristic one needs to actually be an atheist is to lack a belief in gods. That’s it. It is not a direct statement to say there is no god, nor are they any other questions one has to answer to be an atheist. One could become an atheist for various reasons, and lack of belief in gods says literally about that person other than that. So does this movie understand that at least?
Well, by God’s Not Dead logic, it seems that the whole reason as to why an atheist doesn’t believe in religion is because of tragedy, and they hate God because of it. Professor Radisson’s only reason for his atheism is because he hates God. After all, his mother died of cancer. The blogger’s boyfriend is hinted to turn atheist because his mother was a good person that worshiped him and now is essentially a mindless vegetable most of the time.
If you are also an atheist, it clearly means that you treat anyone who’s not an atheist like they’re total garbage and clearly inferior to you. I won’t lie in saying that those people could exist (As with any other group); it would be dishonest to bush said the group in that bush in the same way you could do to anyone religious. I’m sure they could exist a film with this religious-atheism conversation and at least has the main characters involved to at least have some degree of nuance to create a compelling story. Good luck getting that out of this film, though.
Muslims: Islam is just Diet Coke Christianity. Also, you are far less moral than Christians. Because they have never been in a situation in which a Christian parent ever kicked their kid out of their house for having a different worldview. Nope, never happens.
Liberals: You’re just plain snobbish and stupid. Yeah, that it. Also, it likely means you are also an atheist, so therefore you have no morals too.
So I’ve said a lot about how God’s Not Dead fails horribly at giving all of these groups the level of nuance and understanding needed to make the film actually work (Well, work in actually making a good movie), but why is this such a huge problem for me personally? The fact is that this film is trying to reinforce a worldview that states that the whole world is out to get you because you happen to believe in Christianity. Anyone who disagrees with you is at the same time trying to stomp out your freedoms to believe in that religion. That stance is one that quite a few Christians try to push onto people because they want to create an echo chamber.
Don’t try to find common ground with people who think differently than you if they don’t believe in your god. No, they think you are inferior to you, and you should do the same to them in turn. This type of rhetoric doesn’t actually solve anything or make the world a better place for everyone. It only serves to widen the divide between groups of people that already exist. If you sincerely want to make that happy world for all, then don’t buy into messages from movies like these that tell you the exact opposite.
And to the people who make this garbage, if you’re going to pump out such a film that has this awful of a message, can you at least try to make it semi-watchable? That would be much appreciated.
Link to the article about why both Josh and Radisson deserve an F