Number two in the list of movies Christians were supposed to watch this year, “God’s Not Dead” got rave reviews from people on both ends of Christian spectrum. “Noah” lovers and haters alike praised this would-be evangelical film. What did that mean in the Presley house? We were skeptical, for sure.
I was pretty jazzed that Shane Harper was the main character in this movie because of all of the annoying, make-me-want-to-stab-a-fork-in-my-eye shows that my kids watch, “Good Luck, Charlie” is actually super cute (Okay, Charlie’s cute. I really don’t pay attention to anything but her) and that’s where Shane catapulted into the spotlight. I did not know, however that he was a believer. So the movie has two points on the scoreboard for me: Shane can act and Shane loves Jesus.
Aaaaand then the movie opens with him walking through his college campus with a grin on his face, a Newsboys T-shirt on, and gold cross around his neck. Okay, they’re trying to make a point. I get it. Unfortunately the biggest point that came across in the first thirty minutes was in fact the Newsboys. They were all over this movie, but I’ll talk more about them in a minute.
There is this extremely cheesy moment where main character, Josh Wheaton (played by Harper) and his girlfriend run happily into each others arms for a sweet embrace. This is our first introduction to the most unlovable girlfriend of the year. This is also the first of many, “that would never happen in real life” moments that are spread throughout the film and designed to make you absolutely loathe certain characters. Well done. I absolutely hated her character. Though she is a believer, she is adamantly against Josh taking a stand for God in one of his classes as he is eventually challenged to do by his atheistic philosophy professor. “Sign the paper and move on,” she says. The paper being a statement: God is dead. When Josh refuses and decides that he’s going to take up his cross and stand in front of his class trying to prove that God exists, blondie-girlfriend breaks up with him.
The redeeming parts of Josh’s storyline are in his arguments in front of his class. There were moments when I had goosebumps (I termed the phrase ‘ghost bumps’ during this movie. Get it? Holy ‘ghost bumps’? Okay, never mind. Rocky thought it was funny.) because of how powerful his words were. At one point his professor quotes Stephen Hawking, a big name scientist (who I only know from watching The Big Bang Theory) who says that science supports a universe without a supreme being. His theory talks itself in circles, and after some research, Wheaton comes back with this quote from another scientist and believer, John Lennox: “Nonsense remains nonsense, even when spoken by genius.”
Prof. Radisson: This is the height of hubris. You think you’re smarter than Hawking?
Josh: No. [But I don’t believe in his infallibility either…. ] Hawking says, “Philosophy is dead.” … If you believe in his infallibility, then there’s really no reason for this discussion.
Zing! Wheaton for the win! I think that’s one of the first moments where you feel like he’s actually going to convince his classmates that God is in fact not dead.
There were a number of different story lines going on, and all of the characters were inter-connected in some way, shape, or form. I won’t go into detail about all of them because some of them were so under-developed and mainly there to evoke emotion or prove a quick point that it really isn’t necessary to pick them apart. As many reviewers have already stated, the non-believing characters were portrayed as idiotic, abusive jerks living their lives based in fear, and it reminded me oddly of the way Christians are portrayed in mainstream films/TV shows. Pot, meet kettle. Not that that makes it right . . . Back to the movie.
One character, Amy Ryan, played by Trisha Lefache, is struggling with a diagnosis of cancer that her not-so-super boyfriend (Dean Cain) dismisses as easily as if it were a conversation about sorting laundry. She stands out because of her acting skills and the potential for redemption. She actually has two of the best scenes in the movie, one with a couple from Duck Dynasty (it’s clever and concise and clearly at least one of them is remotely used to being in front of the camera), and then another where she breaks down emotionally and begins a montage of moments of brokenness in a few of the characters lives. In turn, she also has (in my opinion) the worst scene in the whole movie, and sadly, it was the scene with the Newsboys in it, towards the end of the film. It was such a contrived moment, and it just didn’t sit well with me. I’ll admit, I was distracted by the fact that it’s supposed to be the Newsboys and only one of them sounds Australian. They’re not the Newsboys I grew up listening to. In fact, there isn’t one single original member in the band, and yes, DC Talk was my favorite band as a teenager, but I just can’t wrap my mind around Michael Tait as lead singer of that band. Aside from that, it’s clear that they’re not going to moonlight as actors anytime soon . . . yikes. Anyway, I get it, the *finger quotes* “Newsboys” are a big backer for the film because of their super catchy song titled . . . you guessed it, “God’s Not Dead”!
Now, what about the atheist professor? After some obvious soul-struggle, he does make a commitment to the Lord, right after he’s hit by a car and about to die. I’m not a fan of scare-tactic Christianity, which isn’t to say that I think death-bed conversions are invalid, I just felt like this particular storyline ended in such a typical ‘Christians telling a story” way. I do have to say that earlier in the movie the scene where he is pressed about why he doesn’t believe in God is another one of the best scenes in the movie. I had those ghost bumps and real tears of empathy for the little boy who lost his mother even though he made promises and begged God for her healing.
There are definitely some powerful moments and some extremely poignant things said throughout the film. For example:
Mark (not so super boyfriend – Dean Cain): You prayed and believed your whole life. Never done anything wrong. And here you are. You’re the nicest person I know. I am the meanest. You have dementia. My life is perfect. Explain that to me!
Mark’s Mother (who suffers from dementia and has not been lucid through the entire film): Sometimes the devil allows people to live a life free of trouble because he doesn’t want them turning to God. Their sin is like a jail cell, except it is all nice and comfy and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to leave. The door’s wide open. Till one day, time runs out, and the cell door slams shut, and suddenly it’s too late.
That one got an “oooooh!” from me, and there were more than a few other moments where I sat and honestly thought, “I wouldn’t be embarrassed to show this scene to a non-believing friend.” But then I’d get hung up on the bad acting or the literally unbelievable exchanges between people and Rocky and I would have to wisecrack our way through the cheesiness to get to the next scene.
From the reviews that I’ve read, non-believers who saw the movie are still non-believers and are even more adamant about their stance because of the film. Some of them are out right offended by the religious propaganda spewed throughout the movie. Well . . . it’s not like it was a secret that the movie was about proving God’s existence. I think it’s safe to assume that many of them walked in, expecting to be offended, and unfortunately for the Christian film industry, the truth was not presented in a relatable, realistic way. I’m not surprised that the movie wasn’t taken seriously by atheists and unbelievers. As a Christian, there were large parts of the movie that I myself couldn’t take seriously. So then, I have to ask, what was the point of the movie? To make Christians feel good about themselves? I’m sure there have been heated debates and arguments spurred from this movie, but those kinds of conversations aren’t the kind that introduce people to Jesus. I wouldn’t doubt that there have been some constructive conversations as well, but on the whole, I don’t think this movie lived up to it’s potential.
That said, up until last night, I would have said that (though I was going to preface it and say, ‘this isn’t saying much’) this was the best Christian-produced movie that I’ve ever seen. I watched “Mom’s Night Out” last night, though, and was totally blindsided by the fact that it was a “Pure Flix” film. Everything about that movie was done better than any other Christian film I’ve ever seen (Sarah Drew was absolutely awesome). Now I’m spoiled. I know that there are filmmakers out there who can make a wholesome film with a good message and actually entertain people at the same time. It wasn’t an excellent movie, but it was had the quality acting, writing and directing that has been severely lacking in the others that have gone before it. To be honest I’m always so disappointed in what believers put out into the mainstream film industry. With all the money spent on chairs and parking lots, lighting systems and guest violin players on the weekends I just wish, with all my heart, that the body of Christ could empower these kinds of films with better quality budgets. There is still too much cheese in these movies, too many unrealistic moments and not enough real life in the mix to make them relatable. “God is Not Dead” makes a valiant effort, but unfortunately, still comes up lacking in my books. We can do better. We have to do better.
Next on the list is “Heaven Is For Real.” I’m not crossing my fingers.