I’ve been getting requests to review this movie since Day 1 of Catholic Girl Bloggin’. When I started this Christian Movie Marathon, I knew I couldn’t bypass this one.
Without further ado, this is my review of God’s Not Dead.
God’s Not Dead tells the story of Josh Wheaton, a college student who must defend his Christian faith to his philosophy class after refusing to sign a paper with the words “God is Dead.” He must go up against Professor Jeffrey Radisson, an avowed atheist who forces all the students on the first day of class to sign the “God is Dead” declaration.
I am pleased to announce that this movie is leagues better than Christian Mingle The Movie and Last Ounce of Courage. However here is my current ranking of Best Christian Movies so far: #1. Grace Unplugged; #2. Soul Surfer; #3. God’s Not Dead. I will highlight the hits and the misses:
I love the rivalry that emerges between Josh and Professor Radisson, and that’s probably because I like rivalry stories. The scene where Radisson confronts Josh in the hallway and basically tells him that he will ruin him if he continues his arguments is actually kind of terrifying thanks to Kevin Sorbo’s committed performance as Radisson. My favorite scene between the two characters is the final debate in the classroom. Josh begins making more personal jabs at Radisson, which keep his character from being completely virtuous. In turn, we sees Radisson’s composure begin to crack until he finally succumbs to Josh’s emboldened stance.
I found Radisson to be the most compelling character, if not one of my favorite villains. In fact, I kind of wish the story was told from his point of view. This is a guy whose disbelief comes from a place of pain. His atheism is a cover to mask his hatred for God. He hides behind his intellect to keep his vulnerabilities from coming to light. Something that my Mother pointed out is that Radisson keeps his relationships superficial; he chooses a circle of shallow intellectuals over deep, personal connections. The one meaningful romance in his life (his relations with a Christian student named Mina) is one that he puts limits on. Yes, I will admit that he did come off as the militant atheist stereotype, but I still saw a fully-realized character who undergoes a personal journey that comes full circle in the end.
Alongside the main storyline, there are two subplots: A Muslim girl named Ayisha who is secretly practicing Christianity, and an atheist blogger named Amy whose life comes crashing down after she learns that she is dying from cancer. Their stories were well-written and could have been their own movies. The movie never takes any jabs at Islam; in fact there’s one scene where Ayisha’s father tells her, “I know it’s hard to be set apart, but no one here worships God the way He should be worshipped. You know I love you, Ayisha…” I thought that was a very respectful, human moment. The scene where her Christianity is discovered and her father kicks her out is a powerful scene. I appreciate that the father hesitates before kicking her out because it shows that he is torn between his love for his child and his commitment to his own faith. Meanwhile Amy’s story is a little shaky at first, because she starts off as more of a “militant atheist” caricature than Radisson, but right after the cancer diagnosis, her character begins to develop. I like when she says, “I don’t have time for cancer” because it tells us that time is the antagonist of her narrative. I got choked up when the doctor asks, “Is there anyone you would like with you when I tell you this?” “No…there’s no one.” Minutes later the doctor leaves and she’s left sitting in the room, completely alone. The movie lets the silence of the moment tell us of her pain, and that is more powerful than ten lines of dialogue.
What did I say in my review of Christian Mingle The Movie? (Goes back to the archives) “Yes, I believe that inner peace comes from faith in Jesus, but Christians are allowed to express more than one emotion” (Christian Movie Reviews: Christian Mingle The Movie). The African preacher Pastor Jude annoyed me. He was way too happy. I have nothing against joyful Christians, but even the most joyful and content people can get stressed when the third car from the dealership won’t start. His friend Pastor Dave is more believable in the situations they find themselves in. I get that Pastor Jude has an unshakable trust in God, but joy and blind optimism are two different things.
You know how I had so much to say about the peaks and valleys of Professor Radisson’s character? I wish I could say the same about the main protagonist Josh Wheaton. Having a character start out as a blank slate and then having him/her progress over time is all fine and good, but when we first meet Josh, his own personal relationship with God is unknown, so his motivations for accepting Radisson’s challenge feels more like a command from the script than an organic decision made by the character. Also I would like to add that only one person was against his accepting the challenge, and that was his awful girlfriend. This problem would have been solved if his family knew and were trying to change his mind. Even better, what if the girlfriend had been Radisson’s daughter? Don’t be afraid to raise the stakes! Now to be fair, Josh’s character does evolve especially in the final debate, which is his best moment. Still I can’t overlook the weak starting points of his arc.
Let’s talk about the ending! There’s a major spoiler ahead, so if you’re planning on watching the movie, then here is your warning:
[SPOILER ALERT!!!! 5…4…3…2…1] I might be in the minority here, but I really wish that Radisson’s acceptance of God as he is dying was left ambiguous. As he is dying from internal bleeding, Pastor Dave asks him if he accepts Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Radisson converts with his last breath. Though this is how his character comes full circle, which I appreciate, but there is power in the ambiguous ending. I feel that if Radisson would have died before verbalizing his conversion, it would have given viewers the ability to debate amongst themselves what his decision was. Given the evolution of his journey, he could have gone either way (accepting or rejecting God). Ambiguity keeps the viewers coming back for more.
Overall I am happy to say that this movie proves one thing: God and good filmmaking are not dead. They are very much alive.