God’s Not Dead is yet another weak Christian drama, and a simplistic narrative and a repetitive nature is partly to blame. It follows university freshman Josh Wheaton (a half-decent Shane Harper) who enters a philosophy course taught by a devout atheist named Jeffrey Raddison (a good Kevin Sorbo). The teacher insists God is dead. Wheaton is the only student to fight back and say that God exists. The premise is where this largely falls apart, as its perspective is so basic, and the platform it uses to portray its ideas (a classroom setting) is uninteresting. All of this film’s boring lectures makes this feel like a high school debate. I do learn that the American university system has made attempts to silence student’s beliefs in the past, so this is how it depicts that. This teacher is allowed to force his students to disavow the existence of God or face a failing grade. It’s obvious that this teacher has a reputation, so it’s baffling that he’s still teaching. A parent in the film says that if your teacher says something agree with it because he’s a power of authority. It’s all annoyingly bureaucratic. Philosophy is an opinionated subject where the students make up their own minds about the subject matter; much similar to the film, which allows its viewer to decide what they believe in.
Yet, this feels like it’s strongly trying to get non-believers to believe in God. It makes good arguments for the Christianity side, and a good retort when the atheists come up with a decent argument, but it never feels reciprocal for the atheist side. This film, while it does prove its declarative title mildly well, is so one-sided. It treats atheists as the enemy, as they’re depicted as largely immoral people with little regard for others. They’ll be offended by how they’re portrayed. Even if they don’t believe in God, wouldn’t they have morals because of a role model or a parent? The film never entertains that possibility. It’s manipulative. This would have benefited from an atheist or an agnostic being on the film or research crew. If they were on the research crew, the arguments for the atheist side wouldn’t feel like they were taken right off of Wikipedia.
This is a frustrating experience that says you can practice your free and think what you want but never goes through with it. The end says: “Join the movement – text your friends and spread the word that God’s not dead.” I think it makes this largely a promotional film for a movement; a chain e-mail in cinematic form. I always felt obligated to do send those because they’d threaten with bad luck. They annoyed me. I believe in God, and He gives me hope – but I’m not going to text people that God’s not dead just because some crappy filmmakers think I should, as it might cause happiness in Heaven. I’d do it if this were a good film, but not a bad one.
The amount of the film’s characters and its melodrama makes this feel like a religious soap opera. The narrative finds coherence in how the characters piece together, but it takes awhile to do so. Josh Wheaton (are the filmmakers Joss Whedon fans?) inspires some with his willingness to stand up for his faith. One thing I think is a bit off about the main character: He only wears his cross pendant for the first scene and then abandons it. If he’s trying to prove that God exists, it seems to me that this is a situation where one might need that symbol and guidance the most. Regardless, he’s the film’s strongest character, but only because he’s the most likable.
All of the film’s unlikable characters are atheists. Two characters represent those who don’t believe in God because they don’t understand how He allows some things to happen. Both atheists, Mark (an okay Dean Cain) and Professor Raddison don’t receive strong arcs, as Raddison’s motivations are handled too predictably to be anything special. A sometimes likable character is an agnostic journalist/blogger named Amy (a strong Trisha LaFache) who is open to the concept of God, so she isn’t portrayed as a mean person. Willie and Korie Robertson appear briefly to be interviewed by her for controversy on their show TV’s Duck Dynasty. I’m curious to know if this is filmed ninety minutes away from where they live just so it could be convenient for them to be in this.
LaFache shows strength as an actress in a genuine and moving scene as a later reaction to some bad news. Another scene where a Muslim character stands up to her father’s traditional beliefs is also strong. These two scenes say that God’s Not Dead is strongest when it isn’t jamming basic messages down its audience’s throats. As you can see, there is an occasional power in the film; but it just misses way too much to get a recommendation. This whole situation could fit into 45 minutes without the added sub-plots. This feels like it’s been fleshed out from a 4 and a half minute song (a good song of the same name by a Christian rock band called the Newsboys, who show up at the end to give you a fun finale) to an exhausting 113 minutes. Simply listening to the song will save you from this film that is more propaganda than art.