If you only see one film this year, God’s Not Dead is it!
I have to date seen Kevin Sorbo’s faith-based runaway cinematic blockbuster, “God’s Not Dead,” three times, including its premier on Friday, March 21. This captivating film absorbed my attention like few others, not simply due to Sorbo’s presence, although, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have watched it otherwise, but also because of its tight script, excellent performances, great message for believers and non-believers and intelligent discourse.
Sorbo’s portrayal of the antagonist Professor Jeffrey Radisson, an atheist philosophy college instructor at Hadleigh University, was absolutely stellar and Oscar-worthy, particularly juxtaposed against Shane Harper’s protagonist Josh Wheaton, the naïve Christian college freshman who dares to question Radisson in front of his class in a proverbial David and Goliath showdown. Wheaton versus Radisson was the perfect “lamb led to slaughter” metaphor, yet, it was so much more.
Allow me to elaborate: The confident Radisson enters his class’s first day, stating that he wishes to “bypass senseless debate altogether and jump to the conclusion that every sophomore‘s already aware of: There is no God.” He requires that his students complete the papers he allotted with “three little words, ‘God is dead.’” Wheaton refuses, maintaining that he is a Christian. Radisson challenges him to three, 20-minute classroom debates during which he must prove God’s existence based on the class’s consensus or fail 30% of his grade. Wheaton accepts the task to the dismay of his girlfriend Kara (Cassidy Gifford) and his parents, and stealthily progresses citing science, theology and philosophy thanks to great advice from the college’s Pastor Dave (David A.R. White) who says, “Don’t try to be clever – be content to tell the truth.”
While Wheaton wrestles with his dilemma, several subplots unfold like a finely-woven tapestry. We see Martin Yip (Paul Kwo), a young Chinese classmate of Wheaton’s who telephones his father in China to discuss what he witnesses and thinks about God; Amy (Trisha LaFache), a liberal blogger who tries to catch popular “Duck Dynasty” television stars Willie and Korie Robertson unawares during an impromptu interview about their program and faith and later learns that she has cancer; Ayisha (Hadeel Sittu), a Muslim student whose father disowns her after discovering her conversion to Christianity; Radisson’s Christian girlfriend Mina (Cory Oliver) who struggles with their differences as well as her mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease and materialistic, successful brother Mark (Dean Cain), who disavows them and his girlfriend Amy; and discouraged Pastor Dave and upbeat Pastor Jude (Benjamin Ochieng) trying desperately despite car malfunctions to visit Florida’s Disney World. These culminate in an excellent concert appearance by the famed Christian rock group, The Newsboys.
Confused? You won’t be after seeing this amazing film shot in Baton Rouge, LA, that has audiences buzzing and box offices booming.
“God’s Not Dead,” written by Chuck Konzelman and Cary Solomon and directed by Harold Cronk, opened in only 780 theaters nationwide and garnered a per screen average of nearly $12,000.00, ranking fourth of all movies released the weekend ending Sunday, March 23, according to its production company, Pure Flix Entertainment. This made the controversial 113-minute flick that poses the question: “How far would you go…to defend your belief in God?” an all-time high for wide-release Christian films per screen average. The incredible reception prompted Pure Flix and Freestyle Releasing, the company that oversees the “God’s Not Dead” distribution, to increase the number of theatrical showings to over 1,800 as of this writing, and begin international distribution.
Is it really that good?
Sorbo surpasses his Grace Award-winning performance as Ben Walker in Jenkins Entertainments’ faith-based movie, “What If…,” by achieving the complete antithesis of his personal Christian core. He smirks, chides, condescends, attacks and arrogantly defends his atheism. Radisson is a smug college professor poised to Chair the Philosophy Department, and Sorbo not only perfectly nails the role, but goes beyond what some perceive as “the evil atheist stereotype” by making him human.
Following Radisson’s initial classroom confrontation with Wheaton, he realizes that the devout freshman is a threat and stops him after class. He menacingly declares that, “In that classroom there is a God and I’m Him.” Then he promises to ruin Wheaton’s future if he continues with the challenge. Sorbo is so convincing that I thought to myself, “Man, I’d hate to be on the wrong end of his anger!”
Wheaton seemingly wins the first discussion via colorful multi-media presentations and rhetoric, but Radisson crushes him handily. Wheaton is dumfounded.
The challenge progresses as Wheaton’s confidence increases when he successfully counters his professor’s previous points. He matures from boy to man, and Radisson begins to flounder. Subsequent to this second debate, Wheaton privately implores, “What happened to you?” whereupon Radisson outlines his past. Sorbo doesn’t miss a beat verbally, emotionally or physically with his response, and his sensitive portrayal of a man who abandoned his faith is evident when he quotes scripture, immediately instilling pathos for his well-researched character.
The third encounter is not unexpectedly the best. Radisson, having just faced another negative life-changing moment, manifests his anger toward Wheaton, and, in a wonderful scene that I consider to be Sorbo’s acting pinnacle so far, looms behind Wheaton in the elevator on the way to class and ominously hisses like Eden’s snake that he has changed the setting, presumably in his favor. Wheaton, pale and shaken, doesn’t acquiesce. Instead, he fights back harder and finally demands of Radisson, “How can you hate someone if they don’t exist?”
I expected Sorbo’s passionate reply to be the film’s denouement, but, surprisingly, it was not… Suffice to say that I was saddened by certain outcomes, but, gladdened that there was so much more, including the subplots’ conclusions and the final, glorious message of “God’s Not Dead.”
A few points: I wish Sorbo’s character had been further developed with the focus directed more on Radisson and his past than the many subplots; I understand the blogger character with cancer because the subject is one with which people identify, especially coming to God at that time, but her relevance to the story seemed forced; Radisson’s girlfriend Mina seemed out of place and stiff, almost like she was an afterthought; some of the most heart-wrenching scenes, perhaps because I experienced this personally, were with the Alzheimer’s mother that brought me to tears within the film’s first 15 minutes.
“God’s Not Dead” is an excellent Christian movie for the whole family and all of your friends. If you only see one film this year, “God’s Not Dead” is it!
(Images courtesy of “God’s Not Dead” movie)