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God's Not Dead (2014)

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This is the first I've seen of this movie, which has some intriguing qualities to it, IMHO.
 
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMjo5f9eiX8&feature=share&list=UUKRU6yh8rHqmRuX2htuFDNg - Full trailer. 
 
Is Dean Cain playing... Satan? The first few bits of the trailer, with Dean Cain and the Robertsons, seem like they are from a different movie than the rest of it. Also, it seems kind of like a Christian college student's fantasy. But I guess a lot of it will depend on how the film plays out the conflict. Certainly, I have had a lot of experiences with Christian college students being challenged sharply over their faith by atheistic professors. And I do know stories (and have been part of one story) in which Christian students helped bring atheistic professors to faith. So I'm curious how this one is going to play out.

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Anders   

The challenges this film faces include avoiding setting up the professor as a kind of straw man athiest, playing into the worst kind of Evangelical persecution complexes, and not presenting the student's argument in a way that goes beyond platitudes and actually engages in philosophical arguments. Can't say the outlook is good based on the trailer.

Edited by Anders

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I agree, Anders. But I'm curious to see how it works in execution.

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Also, it seems kind of like a Christian college student's fantasy. But I guess a lot of it will depend on how the film plays out the conflict. Certainly, I have had a lot of experiences with Christian college students being challenged sharply over their faith by atheistic professors. And I do know stories (and have been part of one story) in which Christian students helped bring atheistic professors to faith. So I'm curious how this one is going to play out.

I sympathize with you. I do. Debating religion and atheism in the context of a university is a time-honored historical tradition (see, for example, the Socratic Club at Oxford). A good, fascinating and intellectually compelling story could be told about it.  I'd love for there to be one.

 

Can't say the outlook is good based on the trailer.

It is amazing how much poor quality "Christian" movies betray in their trailers. Based on that trailer: the acting is typically sub-par. The two leads both appear to be blanks. The lines of dialogue for that trailer do not appear to have been written by anyone who would last even two minutes at the Socratic Club that C.S. Lewis invited C.E.M. Joad and J.L. Austin to.

 

"So your acceptance of this challenge may be the only meaningful experience of God and Jesus that he'll ever have."

"You think you're smarter than me?  In that classroom, there is a god.  I'm him."

"You need to decide who the most important person in your life is: me or Professor Radisson."

 

Those lines were not written by someone serious about portraying a story about genuine arguments or offering anything to make a nonbeliever think.  In a film that was not pretending to be about philosophy or theology, then maybe those lines wouldn't be insulting to the viewer.

 

Given what he did with The Sunset Limited, Cormac McCarthy could probable write an intelligent script for something like this.  Tom Stoppard could have.  So could Whit Stillman or Abbas Kiarostami.  George Nolfi probably could.  In fact, I'd bet even Zoe Kazan could.

 

I have non-believing friends.  If this film is as bad as the trailer makes it look, then watching it would turn them further way from suspecting that Christians have anything thoughtful to contribute to the questions they're always seriously wrestling with.

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NBooth   

If nothing else, we get to see Hercules reciting Shakespeare.

 

Hercules, Superman, and the Newsboys. This movie is about thirteen years too late.

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If nothing else, we get to see Hercules reciting Shakespeare.

 

Hercules, Superman, and the Newsboys. This movie is about thirteen years too late.

 

And the Robertsons!  Don't forget the Robertsons!  :)

 

Good write up, Ken.  Not going to lie...this seems like the type of movie my mom would totally want to watch on Netflix...and I kind of dread having to sit through it with her.

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SDG   

Nice Twitterrant it was.  smile.png

 

Thanks. 

 

Ken, 

 

I'm interested in your further thoughts on the extent to which the filmmakers do or don't "find the humanity" in, or otherwise successfully represent, the characters they disagree with. 

 

My impression, perhaps mistaken, from your review was that the Sorbo character was a card-carrying straw man. Is it more complicated than that? 

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Ken, 

 

I'm interested in your further thoughts on the extent to which the filmmakers do or don't "find the humanity" in, or otherwise successfully represent, the characters they disagree with. 

 

My impression, perhaps mistaken, from your review was that the Sorbo character was a card-carrying straw man. Is it more complicated than that? 

 

 

For context, one of Steven's tweets was: "A Christian writer writing non-Christian characters should try to write characters that real non-Christians can accept as someone like them."

 

to which I replied, "Dad in #gimmeshelter an example of one whose views many Christians will abhor but who is not devoid of any human qualities."

 

Steven asked about Sorbo's professor in God's Not Dead and I said that was a longer reply than I could make on Twitter. So here we are.

For me "straw man" implies a level of understanding that I don't know I saw in the script. I think of the building of a straw man as a knowing, deliberate distortion designed to be worse than what the author/speaker knows it to be. So even though I don't find the character very realistic, I'm reluctant to attribute that to Christians writing non-Christian for two reasons. I'm not sure how realistic *any* of them are--the business guy who dumps his girlfriend at the dinner where she reveals she has cancer? The reporter with cancer who miraculously gets by the non-existent security at The Newsboys concert to make the singers explain the causes of suffering and evil in the world? The Chinese father who tells his son that he must not say over the phone that God is being discussed in a Philosophy class at an American University? The Muslim father (who beats his daughter and throws her out of the house when his son tells her she has listened to a Christian song on her .MP3 player? None of these characters are impossible in their extremes, but that they all exist in the same film suggests to me that they are presented as norms rather than extremes, that the writers have a flawed (or at least different from mine) perception or experience of the world, not just of the non-Christians in it.

But yeah, the prof is the antagonist so he is a special case. Your Twitter question reminds me of the scene in Jennifer Newsom's excellent documentary, Miss Representation, where Paul Haggis discusses the way women are represented in Hollywood. He says the problem is that films are predominantly (the film says around 90%) written and directed by men, and men don't know women because they are never around them. The same stereotypes get perpetuated b/c stuck in the Hollywood bubble, the male writers see only one thing, and eventually, perhaps even lose the ability to recognize this as a distortion. It's all they ever see. Plus (Haggis claims) men are a little afraid of women, or at least of what they don't understand. So misrepresenting in writing becomes a way of trying to reassert control/dominance. Nearly all of those statements have parallels in the way Christians (or Christian films) represent non-Christians. 

 

In the press release, Sorbo's participation is highlighted because of his participation in Soul Surfer. I don't know him, so I have no idea what his religious views are, but my own reading of press releases has always thought such associations--he's now been featured prominently in two "Christian" movies--was a coded way of talking to the audience about what could not be said plainly--he's one of us! There's nothing wrong, of course, with a Christian (if he is one) playing an atheist, but how would Christians feel if a high profile atheist (Kevin Bacon? Paul Giammati?) played a hypocritical believer who was roundly defeated by the (hypothetical) film's atheist champions? Heck just look at the responses to Philomena, and I actually read that film as pro-Catholic. Must all Christian roles be played by Christians and atheist roles played by atheists? No, I don't think so--insert long digression here about race, sexual orientation and/or disability--but given how hard it is to get work in films, I would think that casting would be a fair indication of whether or not the film is meant to be marketed to and watched by the general public or simply the target group. And I think the ability to get someone of the same classification/group as the character to even consider the role would be a strong indication of how good a role it is. (One could, for example, persist in thinking Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained as racist, but arguments for that judgment are surely harder given his ability to get Jamie Foxx and Samuel L. Jackson to do the film than they would be if the director put a white guy in black face.) 

 

Even with all that the ending (*****WARNING**** the word "ending" almost always connotes major spoilers) makes me think that the film's makers were trying to invest him with some sort of humanity. His ending is more that of  the thief crucified with Jesus than that of Judas . Still  at the end whatever misgivings he has appear prompted by his wife leaving him, not by any arguments Josh makes. Okay, I can buy that, since most people aren't argued into the Kingdom of Heaven, but when he stops at a traffic light and a thunderstorm begins within seconds, it has all the appearance of divine retribution. He even jokes about this. The scene implies some assumptions about God, not just atheists, that I find problematic.

While I am on the subject of the professor's wife, I would note that she seeks counsel from the film's minister who lectures her about "The Cinderella Complex" prompting her to tell the professor she is divorcing him. It's hard to know how to read this. Was this what the minister hoped she would do when he counseled her? Is the film pro-divorce? Did she misunderstand the advice? There's actually a kernel of a better film, even a better "Christian" film in all this where the classroom interaction with Josh is alluded to offscreen and the focus is on their relationship, which is complicated (whereas his relationship with Josh is not), where blame, while not evenly apportioned, is not unilateral, and where Christians aren't perfect. My guess, and this is just a guess, is that her leaving him is supposed to humanize him, or at least bring sympathy, but I'm not sure the film thinks this through at all. That explanation only works if the film knows--as it does--that her leaving will be the shock to his system that may finally pull him back rather than one more nail in the coffin that is his bitterness towards God and all Christians. Worse, the film ends without her being told of his fate. She is at a Newsboys concert celebrating her escape from an admittedly abusive relationship. Here again, I don't think the film depicts that scene (of her being informed of his fate) because it can't really conceptualize it...or because (more probably) it thinks it immaterial. Perhaps it is assumed that those who saw him in his last scene will report certain facts to her and her response is a given...in which case....I don't think we just get a straw man of the atheist, I think we get a distorted, one dimensional portrait of women, wives, Christians, etc.

That last part really brought home to me that the egalitarian in me ultimately thought all the Cinderella Complex[/highlight} stuff put the film at odds with itself. I'll probably take some heat for saying this, but the film uses Radisson's domestic domineering to underscore that he is a bad dude, but the portrait of domestic life is not that much different than what I see openly advocated in some complementarian circles. Would his behavior be [highlight=black]grounds for leaving him if he quoted scripture to buttress his demands for her obedience and his expectation that she accept a role as maid and hostess? Women come off really poorly in this film, they are all, every one of them, abused and mistreated by men (the wife from the prof, the reporter from her boyfriend, the mother from her son, the Muslim student from her father yet the film seems oblivious to any possible connections that anyone might make between patriarchy (okay, male domination really), the environments that have created and sustained it, and arguments about how it (and the rest of the world) came about. 

What does that have to do with your question about Sorbo and whether he's a straw man? Just this...the film's depiction of the world, not just the atheists in it, is so alien to the one I've experienced (academically, socially, culturally) that I can't really single out any part of it as particularly telling as to agenda. That, of course, makes me in some ways the worst possible reviewer, because it needs mean that either the film so distorts the world in toto that it is a fantasy, not a realistic, mimetic description of atheists or anyone, or I am so blind to what's going on around me that I'm stuck in Plato's cave staring at shadows and am just grouchy at the film's sincere attempts to show me the world as it really is.If the latter, or even if a writer believes it is the latter, then I don't see how he or she COULD even begin to attempt to write characters that are accepted as authentic by those who see the world so fundamentally differently. And I say that as someone who is a theist/Christian who shares, I assume certain assumptions with such a writer (real or hypothetical). 

 

Edited by kenmorefield

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Was walking to store to get some hot cocoa, thinking about this conversation and how much Steven appeared to like my alternative Frozen ending, and wondering if I missed my calling as a script doctor. So I thought about potential script fixes (hmmm, maybe that should be a thread...)

Fix #1:
Josh is actually Justina, a female Christian student who takes up the professor's challenge. She never wavers in her faith b/c of the arguments, but she is shaken by the lack of support in her Christian church. She's always felt like an equal, but when her boyfriend threatens to dump her with the "who do you think you are speech" and her parents say "That's not why we sent you to college," she waffles. The only encouragement she gets is from a female prof/academic adviser whose affirmations are meaningful to her low self-esteem, but which further alienates her from her church community. When her mini lectures actually lead one student to convert, she is overjoyed, and decides she wants to be a teacher, but her church tells her a woman can't be in authority over a man. Reluctantly, she leaves her church to pursue a professional career, but she feels closer to God than ever.

 

Fix #2:
Josh is actually an atheist who is offended by the bad example set by the professor and takes up the challenge because of his love of fair play and as a true intellectual challenge. (Also so that he can humiliate the Christians in the class who are convinced by pulling the rug out from under them at the last minute. When the professor fails him anyway, despite the class voting that he won the debate, the Christians in the class rally around him in solidarity and the Christians and atheists go to the dean together to have the teacher removed. Each side is humbled by seeing a side of the other that flies in the face of their expectations.

 

Fix #3: 

Prof is actually a secret Christian who is also an admirer of Emerson and other non-conformists. He does the exercise to prove a point to young Christians about how easily they are cowed by authority, names, titles, and badges. When a student actually takes up the challenge, he is going to call it off (seeing the peer pressure student is under) but pastor counsels him that students may listen more attentively to arguments of Josh than they would if they simply recited the answer they are supposed to give. When Josh has a breakdown in class after staying up all night praying instead of studying, this leads to a crisis in faith. Fearing that God doesn't exists, he does one of those "give me a sign" prayers or he will walk away. In walks prof who apologizes to him and the class for the deception, shares his own testimony about how his college professor making him read Eccelesiastes was was instrumental in his own spiritual journey.

Fix #4
Some combination of #2 and #3 that ends up, ironically, with the atheist making all the arguments for theism and the Christian pretending to be an atheist. When one student in the class converts, the professor is happy, but when another, on the final exam, reports losing her faith, he tries to convince her, to no avail, that it was just an academic exercise. Plagued by guilt, he seeks advice from clergy and they discuss the laws of unintended consequences. Clergy sees root problem as the assumption of responsibility for their salvation (outcome) rather than to faithfulness in witness.


 

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Andrew   

Great review, Ken.  It sounds like Sorbo's portrayal of an atheist is about as nuanced as the Mainstream Media going to Pat Robertson or Westboro Baptist for the Christian take on a political issue.  To be sure, there are strident, antagonistic non-believers (Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris, Dan Barker), but I've discovered that there are just as many mellow, non-confrontational ones (Michael Krasny, Jerry DeWitt, Frans de Waal).  As a matter of fact, I think de Waal offers a solid hypothesis in his terrific book The Bonobo and the Atheist, that the stridency of one's atheism is often linked to either spiritual trauma or an extremely dogmatic religious upbringing, i.e., trading one dogmatism for another.  (Hitchens could be Exhibit #1 for this hypothesis, considering that his mother died in a double suicide with a dodgy minister.)

 

Also, I think your comment is spot on about some Christians equating a loss of power and status with persecution.  Considering that a person can't be elected U.S. president without significant suck-uppage to 'Christian leaders' and that Congress has (I think) only one atheist within its halls, this is pretty clearly a matter only of perception, not reality.  (Though, to be fair, studies have consistently shown that upper echelon scientists both in Britain and the U.S. are by a vast majority non-religious, which I think does lead to some perception of threat by Christians.) 

 

Sorry, if I digressed...

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Relevant... The Dissolve's review of Gimme Shelter:

 

Apple’s position in Tom and Joanna’s house becomes more precarious once she learns she’s pregnant, which leads to a lecture from Tom about mutual respect and a trip with Joanna to an abortion clinic where mean nurses tell patients to hurry up and get undressed so the doctors can get on with their work. Apple flees the appointment, and from that point on, Gimme Shelter’s never-all-that-hidden faith-based agenda comes to the surface. After getting into a car accident, she awakens to find kindly priest Frank McCarthy (James Earl Jones) at her bedside. “I don’t need no priest,” Apple tells him. “God don’t care about me.” The rest of the film sets out to prove her wrong.

It’s pretty clumsy about it, though. 

...
Still, though light on drama, Apple’s scenes at the shelter are easily the best part of the film, among the few moments when Gimme Shelterdecides to show the effect of faith and charity rather than simply preach it. The film depicts shelter life as rough, but elevated by the help the young women give each other. There’s a whole film to be made about that part of Apple’s story—one driven less by hysterics and villainous mother figures, and more by examples of how charity and compassion can turn dead ends into doorways—but Gimme Shelter doesn’t seem to want to make it.

 

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mrmando   

Just found out about this film ... I checked out the endorsements page at the film's Web site. Yeah, I'd like to see a film that seriously engages philosophical questions about the existence of God ... but when the endorsements are from John Hagee, Tommy Barnett, and a bunch of pro athletes, I begin to suspect that this isn't really that kind of film. http://godsnotdeadthemovie.com/endorsements

Edited by mrmando

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Box Office: ‘God’s Not Dead’ Soaring to $8.2 Million Opening in Limited Release

Shailene Woodley’s “Divergent” might be the No. 1 film in America but faith-based audiences are once again proving to be anything but conservative at the U.S. box office.

Christian drama “God’s Not Dead,” opening in fewer than 800 theaters, is on track for an impressive $8.2 million this weekend. That’s a per-screen average of over $10,400 from 782 locations.

The movie, produced by Pure Flix Entertainment and Red Entertainment, was only thought to reach $5 million through Sunday, still an impressive figure, but much like other Biblical stories of late, “God’s Not Dead” is seeing a heavenly windfall from religious audiences. . . .

Variety, March 21

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NBooth   

A friend of mine on FB mentioned that there is apparently a Covenant College alum associated with this flick. As a CC alum myself, I'm naturally interested in finding out who it is (not that the knowledge would change my dismissive take on the trailer--it's more curiosity and ambulance-chasing than anything else). Has anyone heard anything about this in the press releases et al? Google tells me nothing.

 

EDIT: Apparently it's Kat Lindsay, who plays "College Student." Good for her. Her next movie looks better, though.

Edited by NBooth

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I would just like to note that this film in its opening weekend will have out grossed the entire domestic run of Kevin Sorbo's supposed-to-be-breakout to the big screen Conan ripoff Kull the Conqueror.

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Tyler   

In which Todd VanDerWerff compares God's Not Dead to Magnolia.

 

 

ecause God’s Not Dead appears to take much of its inspiration from Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, a half-dozen other plots that have little to nothing to do with Radisson and Josh’s battle are indifferently sprinkled throughout, the better to work in as many other e-mail-forward antagonists as possible.

...

As in Magnolia, the way these storylines come together is meant is provoke contemplation of a central thesis. But the frog shower in Magnolia provided more compelling proof of God’s existence than anything in God’s Not Dead. The movie’s deck-stacking arguments could be refuted in a matter of seconds by a pro-atheist subreddit.

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Tyler   

Way at the end of a story about how realistic God's Not Dead might be, The Blaze's Billy Hallowell says:

 

 

Fans of “God’s Not Dead” will likely have the chance to enjoy other similar films in the future, as Pure Flix is planning another feature that will likely be part of a new branded “God’s Not Dead” movie series.

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NBooth   

From the link:

 

“That’s something we ended up hearing — that atheists were saying no professor would ever do that,” he said of Radisson’s extreme behavior in the film. “So, that’s why I decided to list the cases at the end of the film.”

 

 

Because only atheists would object to the professor depicted in the movie.

 

Criminey.

 

Fans of “God’s Not Dead” will likely have the chance to enjoy other similar films in the future, as Pure Flix is planning another feature that will likely be part of a new branded “God’s Not Dead” movie series.

 

 

God's Not Dead II: God's Not DeaderGod's Still Not DeadGod's Not Dead with a VengeanceA Good Day for God not to be Dead?

 

EDIT: Am I the only person bothered by the 's in the title? I want the movie to be called God is not Dead. The move from God is to God's just rubs me the wrong way, somehow.

Edited by NBooth

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Fans of “God’s Not Dead” will likely have the chance to enjoy other similar films in the future, as Pure Flix is planning another feature that will likely be part of a new branded “God’s Not Dead” movie series.

 

 

God's Not Dead II: God's Not DeaderGod's Still Not DeadGod's Not Dead with a VengeanceA Good Day for God not to be Dead?

 

You know, I like how The Transformers sequel titles work with this...

 

God's Not Dead: Revenge of the Fallen? God's Not Dead: Dark of the Moon? God's Not Dead: Age of Extinction?

 

Or... God's Not Dead into Darkness?

 

And just because it's required, God's Not Dead 2: Electric Boogaloo?

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