“God’s Not Dead” is honestly one of the worst films to have Christian elements I have ever seen, failing so hard as to not even be a part of the Christian cinema genre I talked about last week. Instead of presenting a parable to the viewer, it slathers itself in Christian imagery in an attempt to inspire churchgoers to throw money at the screen. Pure Flix could not be bothered to take the time needed to craft characters that are human: instead, they opted to create characters who are the cinematic equivalent of cardboard cutouts one can find next to a New Releases DVD bin at FYE. While this leaves Christian characters being presented as paragons of perfection, it ends up leaving non-Christian characters being depicted horribly. As Neil Carter, an Atheist film critic put eloquently:
In the end the central injustice of this movie is its failure to fairly represent a class of people whom Christians purport to love. BUT IT’S NOT LOVING PEOPLE WELL TO MISREPRESENT THEM THIS BADLY. This movie caricatures, dehumanizes, and depersonalizes people like me, portraying us in the worst possible light. How could I not find this movie disgustingly offensive? [...] THIS is how you love someone like me? You made atheists the bad guys! And not even complex bad guys. You made us two-dimensional cartoon villains who rub our hands together menacingly, tweaking our pencil-thin MUSTACHES above our sinister grins. [...] This is not love.
The filmmakers had so little artistic integrity that they could not even take the time needed to make a film that could be considered “technically good.” For instance, during a crucial scene towards the end of the film a very obvious continuity error stands out while Professor Radisson reads the letter his mother wrote him before her death. The letter, quite visible in the hi-def footage on the screen, has text that jarringly does not line up with the lines spoken by the actor’s voice off-camera. Which is a problem, as the voice is suppose to be the voice of the mother speaking her last words to her son. While that may not seem like such an issue to a viewer who went into the film looking for affirmation of their beliefs, it is the cinematic equivalent of a presidential candidate hiring people to make papier-mâché feet for them to shove in their mouth whenever answering a question about taxation during a presidential debate - literally spending money and effort to look like a blathering fool.
When Christian media is created with the intent to communicate Christ’s message to others, it can be tempting to simply throw scripture, money, and good intention at the screen and hope that somehow you’ll reach and impact the lives of those already saved and those who aren’t a part of the Church. But when you make a film, stating that one of your purposes is to start a dialogue between the Church and outsiders, and completely misrepresent and alienate one of the groups you targeted you have failed in your mission. Instead of showing love as Christ calls us to do, instead of helping someone find that lost piece of silver, you’re yelling at them and slapping them for having dared to lose that coin in the first place. I hope that Christian film studios realize the dangerous harm they can cause to the mission of the Church, because if we don’t stop isolating ourselves from our community it will lead to the Church’s death.
If we are to use film and other media to communicate the teachings of Christ, we have to be able to fluently speak the language of that media. We have to be able to speak fluent Film.
...and there is one film which came out the same year as “God’s Not Dead” that shows how the genre can be done right while still seeing box office success. I will tell you all about it next time, but for now feel free to throw your guesses down in the comments section.