Until seeing this film, I had actually never even heard of the Scottsdale, AZ-based film production and distribution company, Pure Flix Entertainment. And I must say, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about them, as they have been a distributor of films, via varied media, for around 8 years and have produced 21 of those films themselves, along with associated partner organizations. Specializing in family-friendly and faith-based films, they give us their latest effort, “God’s Not Dead”.
Directed by Harold Cronk, and filmed in Baton Rouge, LA, the main focus of the story centers around college freshman Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), who finds that his initial line-up for the first semester of classes includes Philosophy, of which he is warned about by another student at student sign-in day when said student notices Josh’s cross necklace and Newsboys T-shirt, stating the professor who teaches the course, Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo), an Atheist, won’t take kindly to it. During this set up, we are also quickly introduced to several other characters whose stories will be a part of this play…Josh’s seemingly sweet, but over-controlling girlfriend, a Chinese student Martin Yip (Paul Kwo), a Muslim student Ayisha (Hadeel Sittu) whose father is strict about her wearing a traditional veil (which she shuns when he is away), a controversy-minded blog writer Amy (Tricia LaFache) and her seriously bad-attitude, ego-driven businessman boyfriend Mark (Dean Cain), and finally the fiancé of Prof. Radisson, Mina (Cory Oliver). So as the first session of the Philosophy class starts, Professor Radisson ultimately requests that, for the purposes of HIS class, the students must place the phrase “God Is Dead” on a sheet of paper, sign it, and hand it in as a unified choice that God will NOT be a part of the class discussions. Josh immediately struggles with this, and decides NOT to do this, much to the Professor’s disappointment that then turns into a challenge….if Josh refuses to state “God Is Dead”, then he must defend his position in front of the class and convince everyone that God is NOT dead. Initially hesitant, and finally consulting a local Reverend, Dave (David A.R. White), Josh takes the challenge and, to the dismay of his overbearing girlfriend (whom he originally met at a Newsboys concert incidentally), sinks his time into what information he can present to prove his point and honor his faith. So begins a series of Apologetics-based arguments he makes to the class, often to the amusement, but also anger, of Professor Radisson, whom we can tell has more hurt in him than he admits, as he lashes out to refute everything Josh speaks of, not wanting to be upstaged or made a fool of in HIS class, and being supremely confident of his own intellectual superiority. There is a divulgence about Professor Radisson’s past that also lends itself to explaining his bitterness toward faith as well.
With the backdrop of Josh’s mini-lectures about God’s existence, we see the affect it is having on the other character’s stories that we only saw initial hints of. Martin, who is also in Josh’s class, is trying to deal and question the whole concept of a Creator, which Josh’s information causes his interest to pique. Ayisha, who is always putting on the veil before her father comes to pick her up after class each day, then goes home and in the privacy of her own room shows her true faith in listening to sermons by Franklin Graham via headphones until she is “outed” by her little brother, with the unfortunate and expected consequences. Amy, who, after confronting and “interviewing” Willie and Korie Robertson (yes, the “Duck Dynasty” couple), trying to bash them for making products that lure ducks to their death and saying that the “extravagant” lifestyle they lead is contradictory to their Christian faith (both notions of which Willie dismantles quickly and solidly), gets a life-altering piece of news herself that shakes her world to the core. Her boyfriend Mark makes his life sensibilities VERY clear in the actions and words he speaks to her while on a fancy dinner date that goes VERY south. And then Mina, who is a Christian herself, starts having second thoughts about her involvement with Professor Radisson when she also starts to truly see who he is and how he sees HER. Even Reverend Dave is confronted with his own sense of not feeling like his current position is yielding the fruits he wants, but is constantly challenged in this notion by a visiting missionary friend Reverend Jude (Benjamin Ochieng) as they try to take a vacation trip so Dave can show Jude Disney World. All of their individual situations ultimately point to the fact that God is in control and as the main, inevitable conclusion comes between Josh and Professor Radisson, the gist turns to the idea of free will, CHOOSING to believe or not believe, all in the face of the facts being presented. The ripple of each character’s decisions culminate in, for some, FINDING God in their circumstances (which is EXCEPTIONALLY true for Professor Radisson), while for others it’s standing UP for their already professed faith. The story ends, appropriately, at a Newsboys concert where the title song is utilized to good effect.
So many times, sadly, Christian-themed films are often filled with solid, Biblical content that has heart and faith behind it, yet the movies as a whole can come across, frankly, cheesy. The fact that so many just simply do NOT get any true major-film budget to work with, and let’s be honest, the actors are not usually the greatest either. BUT…..the MESSAGE in the films is what is most powerful and important, and for me, that usually allows me to overlook many of the factors I might normally judge a little more stringently. That said, THIS production did surprise me in that it did NOT come across cheesy or cheap at all. Solid acting was here, thanks to some veteran talent in Sorbo and Cain, and the overall feel of the film was genuine to me. The Apologetics direction taken to explain God and His existence worked well for me here, too. And they did not even shy away from calling out one world-renowned scientific mind, Stephen Hawking, during one of Josh’s presentations. As a Christian myself, I guess I liked this film overall because it promotes opportunity to do what the story did…DISCUSS and RESEARCH the facts and see how it all points to God. I didn’t think it felt contrived or fake in any way, and I would definitely suggest taking non-Christians to see it, as again, it can promote exploration into the topic in what I feel is a very open-ended way, so as not to make anyone necessarily feel “cornered” or “forced” into belief, as I sometimes feel people do. There IS a choice to be made, and it IS a choice that affects our lives each and every day, much less looking at it in the sense of eternity. We have the blessing of living in a country that is free to express its religion, so why NOT take advantage and learn? I find myself personally hoping that more films, even if smaller like this one, can make it into mainstream cinema and provide us all the chance to keep examining our own faith in God and His truth while giving us a chance to simply be REAL with others and show the very thing this whole film was centered on….God is NOT dead.
As always, this is for YOUR consideration and comment. Until next time, thank you for reading!