movie review: God’s not dead

God's Not Dead Movie Poster

After he refuses to disavow his faith, a devout Christian student (Shane Harper) must prove the existence of God or else his college philosophy professor (Kevin Sorbo) will fail him.

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Christian movies tend to get a bad rap in many circles, sometimes even among Christians themselves, and in some ways, I totally get that.  A lot of indie films put out by Christians tend to be low-budget, full of bad acting, and poorly made.  While I think that’s true of any genre of indie film (and even Hollywood productions aren’t always top-notch), the faith-filled ones usually get focused on the most, because there’s always controversy surrounding religious topics.  Still, sometimes it’s possible to find good, solid Christian films, and there are a few I love: Courageous, Mom’s Night Out, Fireproof, and, most recently, God’s Not Dead.  For the longest time, Courageous was my favorite Christian film, but after re-watching God’s Not Dead a few nights ago, it’s no longer on top.  God’s Not Dead blew me away, and while I still love Courageous, I’ve found a new favorite.

The first time I watched God’s Not Dead, I wasn’t too keen about it, because I thought it was a little boring, and I didn’t understand all the characters, and it just didn’t measure up to Courageous in my mind. But, as is so often the case, the re-watch gave me a much greater appreciation, and I think it was because of something I realized as I sat there, watching Josh go up against Professor Radisson: Courageous is for dads. Mom’s Night Out is for moms. And God’s Not Dead is for teens.  My generation.  Which I think is awesome.  Yes, I recognize the issues that Christians and critics (and Christian critics) have with it, but…man, I love this movie.

Want to know one of the main reasons? Characters galore! As long as they’re portrayed well, the characters are always my favorite part of a book or movie or TV show. God’s Not Dead has gotten some flak for its abundance of characters, many of whom don’t have a whole lot to do with the main plot (the debate/antagonism between Josh and Jeffrey Radisson), but I love the different perspectives and issues that are presented through each of the people involved in the film’s plot. Seeing how they all connect to the story and everyone in it is great. Except for Mark and Kara, there wasn’t a character that I didn’t like. Let me list my favorites really quick, with a thought or two for each:

~Josh. As the movie’s main character, he’s pretty much got to be likeable, and Shane Harper did a great job portraying Josh’s uncertainty, moral dilemma(s), and growing confidence in himself and his God.
~Jeffrey Radisson. I’m going to need a minute, ‘kay? Because I still haven’t gotten over THE STUPID ENDING. (Using ‘stupid’ in the sense of awful and feelsy, not literally dumb.) I’m getting choked up just thinking about it. Characters who start out mean and antagonistic and then change through the course of the book or movie or TV show always mean a lot to me and, yeah, I’m still not ready to talk about how much my heart hurt for Radisson through the entire thing.
~Amy. A liberal blogger who makes a career out of writing scathing indictments of anyone and anything related to Christianity. She has a rich boyfriend, her blog is doing well, everything’s going her way…and then she gets cancer. Her breakdown was raw and real and hard to watch. Kudos to Trisha LaFache, the actress who played her.
~Martin. He’s great. I wish there’d had been more scenes between him and Josh to show their developing friendship, but Shane Harper and Paul Kwo did a good job with what they were given.  Plus, it’s neat to see how Martin’s viewpoint gradually changes over time.

~Mina. Radisson’s girlfriend, his Christian girlfriend, I might add. Their relationship was lopsided and poisonous and it just wasn’t working out. When she finally left him, I felt like cheering, because it was exactly what she needed to do.
~Pastor Dave.  I think Pastor Dave (it feels weird to call him just ‘Dave’) interacts with nearly everyone in this film – he’s kind of the touchstone in many of the characters’ lives.  Mina, Josh, Ayisha, Radisson…  And I LOVED how he was right there at the end, when Radisson needed him (and God) the most.  Annnnnd now I’m getting emotional all over again.

God’s Not Dead is inspiring, as I know all films like this are supposed to be (but several fall short of the mark), and though I know that it was meant to be really inspiring and thought-provoking, I don’t really mind that the message is presented so unavoidably.  If a movie is well-put-together, and I can become emotionally invested in it, then I can forgive what critics call ‘heavy-handed, Bible-thumping tactics’.  God’s Not Dead does have some flaws, the biggest one being that a challenge such as Radisson gives Josh would never be permitted by any university.  There are some other, smaller issues, but it seems every critic has discussed those at length, so you can go read those reviews.  Personally, I love this movie, and that’s what I want to talk about.

There are several scenes I love.  The debates, of course, particularly the last one, where Josh nails Radisson with that one question and then lets everyone decide whether or not God is dead.  I’m getting chills just thinking about it, actually.  Martin and Josh’s scenes are great, too.  Oh, and all of Pastor Dave’s futile attempts to get his car started so he can go to Disneyland, of all places, were lots of fun.  (“God is good, all the time.  And all the time, God is good.”)  I also like the opening scene, where you see all the different characters and wonder how on earth each one is going to fit into the plot.  They do, though, and it’s wonderful.

And then, the ending.  It’s definitely not as sad as, say, Les Miserables, because this is supposed to be a feel-good film, but I was still crying pretty hard when Things happened (I don’t want to enter Spoilerville here, if some of my readers haven’t watched this yet).  Everyone else is having fun and getting their lives back together at the Newsboys concert, and Radisson…  ARGH.  I’m going to start crying again.  Not everyone likes him, of course, but I do (not all the time, though), so the ending was pretty draining, emotion-wise.  But it’s still hopeful and, yes, what happened was a cause for celebration.  Just.  It’s still heartbreaking, ESPECIALLY THAT TEXT FROM MINA.

Anyway.  God’s Not Dead is an excellent Christian film, better than most (I’m not going to say it’s the best, ’cause Courageous was also excellent – it’s just my favorite), and well worth your time.  Good acting all around, good production values, and an ending that will alternately make you cry and put a smile on your face.  It’s awesome.

Have you seen God’s Not Dead yet?  I know people either love it or loathe it, so what are your thoughts?

Eva

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3 thoughts on “movie review: God’s not dead

  1. I’ve actually never seen this, although I’ve heard about it from a good friend of mine . . . actually, since I go to a public, secular university, I think it would be really easy to relate to 🙂 Like, professors won’t actually FAIL you for not being able to prove your case about your religion, but I’ve been in plenty of situations where I’ve gotten involved in debates with a teacher about my faith and I just KNOW that “I have to win this one.” It can be scary. But it’s also exhilarating–and I think it’s helping me grow as a Christian in the end 🙂

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  2. Oh yes, I’ve seen this! My family and I were kind of iffy about it at first, because you know how Christian-produced movies typically are, but I have to say I REALLY enjoyed this one. Apologetics is something I get very fired up about, and I’m so glad someone made a (well-done) movie about this because it’s so relevant, especially to our generation. A huge part of the reason that so many young adults are leaving the church right now is because they’re not taught that ours is a reasonable faith; they don’t know how to defend it, and so they falter under attack. I’ve been in public school nearly my whole life, but my faith hasn’t really come under attack in a classroom setting until this past spring… my AP English teacher, raised in church but now anti-religion altogether, made our class read ‘Letters From the Earth’ by Mark Twain (which will make you as a believer SO FRUSTRATED, with his convoluted arguments against Christianity)–which, okay, I could’ve kept my cool, written an essay on it and moved on. But no, she wanted us to hold a two-day class debate on the subject– and for me, one who’s great with the written word but isn’t gifted in articulating witty retorts under pressure, it was very stressful indeed. And very one-sided, I must say– the majority of my class, including the teacher, were basically arguing against me and a couple of my friends who were able to speak up too. Not fun. But in hindsight, it was a good experience; it taught me which defenses I need to sharpen, and taught me how to stand for my beliefs even when (especially when) I’m in the minority. With the way our world’s headed, this is only going to get more and more in-our-faces, and if we don’t stand for Christ, well, who will?

    So yes… all that to say that this movie is definitely my favorite Christian film so far. Our generation NEEDS stories like this to wake us up. 🙂
    –Emily

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  3. I still haven’t seen this, but I find it so interesting that Kevin Sorbo plays the professor, because he’s actually a Christian himself. So I can see how he’d be interested in making a film like this.

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