MrsLarijani and I watched God’s Not Dead (GND) last night. We had heard good things about it, as opposed to Noah and Son of God. Moreover, others in our church small group wanted to see it. So, we went to a theater in Lexington.
I was sorely disappointed. It may be a step up from the horrid 1970s end-times-based movie A Thief in the Night (and the sequels), but, compared to Fireproof and Facing the Giants–with which I had no small number of misgivings–it was a gigantic step backward.
The entire plot of GND was awful, and it was all downhill from there, devolving into a game of “Count the cliches”.
The late novelist Tom Clancy once summarized the difference between fiction and non-fiction: “Fiction has to make sense.” Very little of the plot of GND made sense.
The primary antagonist–philosophy Professor Radisson, who pressured students at the beginning of the semester to sign a statement saying, “God is dead”, and challenging the protagonist (Josh Wheaton) to three twenty-minute presentations to make a case for God, with the class deciding the winner–was utterly unrealistic.
While many philosophy professors–perhaps most–are in fact Atheists or Agnostics, very few of them are abrasive with students. In fact, the overwhelming majority of them, irrespective of their religious leanings, are are systematic and professional. When hot topics–such as the existence of God–come up, they welcome the input of Christians and others with various perspectives. This is because, as off the rails as they may be, they respect, as a matter of principle, people who think for themselves. They usually pride themselves on their ability to stoke productive and spirited debates. This is why I found the fictional Professor Radisson to be woefully unrealistic.
I also found myself conflicted with the portrayal of Wheaton’s “Christian girlfriend”, as she dumped him after he insisted on challenging Professor Radisson. If anything, I thought that she would have been drawn to him for standing up for himself.
(In my single days, I sparred–sometimes very heatedly–with many a hardcore atheist feminist. What’s funny about that: most of them privately said they admired me for making my case and not backing down. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this was part of the dynamics of Game. Then again, given that I found myself single for many years, perhaps Christian women are conditioned to be drawn to a different type of persona.)
The character development was similarly short of the glory. The fictional Josh Wheaton was a freshman who, upon accepting the challenge, rose to the occasion, providing well-animated presentations that would wow a corporate board, presenting with the skill of a graduate student while communicating at a common level. This is a skill that I find in very few people, and those are usually older, well-educated adults who have extensive experience thinking and presenting.
While the case that he makes for God is not a bad one–and the way he addressed the problem of evil was pretty sound–his character portrayal in the movie is inadequate and not congruent with reality. His responses to Professor Radisson’s angry expressions of personal suffering were lacking in either compassion or empathy.
Had the crew wished to present a more realistic dialogue, they could have done some homework and pulled from the C.S. Lewis-J.R.R Tolkien playbook: Professor Radisson had many of the same issues that C.S. Lewis had during his days as an Atheist. Presenting a more productive and collegial debate between Wheaton and Radisson–with perhaps including the insights of professors who were believers–yes, they are out there!–would have had great appeal. In GND, none of the academics are presented as Christians.
As for some of the other particulars:
- While I have nothing against the Robertson family, Willie’s appearance struck me as loud, out of touch, and unnecessarily contentious. It fed the “Professor=BAD/Student=GOOD” cliche.
- The gonzo blogger/journalist–Amy Ryan (played by Trisha LaFache)–was a comical vegan/uber-liberal troublemaker whose cancer diagnosis, and subsequent rejection by a Roissy-like boyfriend, sent her world crashing down. Her conversion struck me as cliche, but others may differ on that.
For some of the characters I felt were better-developed:
- Aisha, the Islamic-raised student who hid her Christian faith before finally being outed by her brother and disowned by her devout Muslim father, was fairly realistic. Had she come from a secular Muslim family, the tension would have been minimal, but, in a hardcore family, this would have been a very big deal. Honor killings are not unheard of in cases like hers, and disownment is very likely.
- The Chinese student who contended with his father about the discussions in the class–and eventually received Christ–was realistic. The lines of reasoning by his father were exactly what you expect from a secular Chinese; his initial confusion with Wheaton’s acceptance of Raddison’s challenge was also expected.
- Professor Radisson’s girlfriend (Mina, played by Cory Oliver)–who was a Christian conflicted by her relationship with an avowed Atheist who constantly belittled her in front of others. Her character is semi-realistic.
While GND has its strong points, one has to fight through the cliches and other cheesy presentations to appreciate them.
What angers me about the movie: it has dubious appeal to a skeptic. Rather than make an engaging, collegial “come, let us reason together” case for God, it was more of a rallying cry for cultural fundamentalists and a “Screw you!” to intellectuals, all wrapped up in cliche, bad plot development, and incomplete character development.
Why do Christians have to be the poster children for Movies That Suck?