By Jacob Montgomery (Texas)
Before I start this review, I need you to understand where I am coming from, religiously, especially considering how saturated with spirituality the film is. I am a Christian, and I do believe in the God of the Holy Bible. However, I will try my hardest to not let that cloud my judgment of the film at all, not that it’s going to be that hard.
The film is about a college student Josh Wheaton (played by Shane Harper) who finds his Christian faith challenged on a college campus when his stubborn atheist philosophy professor (played by Kevin Sorbo) demands that in order for him to pass the class, he must either sign a paper that reads “God is Dead” or prove God’s existence.
Let me go ahead and get the positive things of the film out of the way, because there is a lot, and you’ve probably only heard the negative. For instance, I do find the scenes where Josh gets up in front of the class and defends his faith to be interesting and fascinating. He doesn’t sugarcoat some of the tough issues, like how in reality you can’t presently prove God’s existence, just like you can’t disprove it either. And he makes it clear that he’s not there to prove God exists, he’s there to show that you don’t have to be stupid to believe in God. Good stuff. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the rest of the film was reverse engineered to get to these scenes. There are also some interesting plots interweaved into the film, and while cramped, there are some very interesting and even poignant ideas touched on in this film.
I will also point out that for a Christian film, it looks remarkably great. It looks like it was an actual Hollywood production, and doesn’t look at all like a television film, like so many of the other previous Christian films have been, and I sincerely hope that this is a sign that Christian filmmakers are getting better at making films. It doesn’t hurt that they were able to get Kevin Sorbo, who does a very good job here and completely leaves everyone else in the dust, performance-wise at least.
Now, let’s take a look at what doesn’t work, and why it didn’t work for me as a Christian.
For starters, let’s take a look at the plot itself. I’m sorry but I have a really tough time swallowing the whole plot. The idea that a college professor is so brazen to tell his students that if they choose to believe in God that they will fail his class, doesn’t really make sense to me. For starters, that is blatant discrimination and that, assuming he didn’t have tenure, which is never brought up, could result in him being fired, if the dean got wind of it. I can buy Josh wanting to get up and debate the professor if he believed it was God’s will, but did the dean never find out about this? Did no other student think to tell him about this?
Also, while I’m on the topic, am I supposed to believe that Josh is the only student out of eighty who is unwilling to sign that paper? I know that the religion rate for college students is lower than average, but is it really as low as 1.25%, even for philosophy students?
There also seems to be a fine line in this film between Christianity and Atheism. The film seems to be implying that every Atheist is a former Christian who had something terrible happen to them, which made them lose their faith. They also stereotype every Atheist in the film as a moronic, jerky, scoffer, who is completely unsympathetic, and apparently have no empathy. And then the worst things in the film end up happening to them, as though they are being punished, even when they end up trying to do the right thing.
However the biggest problem I had with the film is that it is simply too crowded. Like I said, there are elements in this film that could’ve made for a compelling film. A young college student needing to defend his faith on campus. A young woman dying of cancer, who with nowhere else to turn to, tries to find God. A former Muslim girl discovers Jesus, but hides it from her family. All of these could’ve made into compelling films in their own right, but the film felt the need to shoehorn all of these into one film, and a result, the film feels like it goes nowhere with any of the stories. There are even flashes of brilliance that are spread out in a handful of scenes, including some poignant and even powerful scenes, but they are dragged down by the mediocre and rushed ones.
I feel really bad criticizing this film, because I know the filmmakers had good intentions, and was clear they felt this was a film that needed to be made. And I think that it did need to be made, but it needed to be done better. This film will only appeal to people who already believe in God. And to me, the ideal Christian film is the one that has something to say to everyone, not just the believers, and with Atheists being stereotyped in this film, I seriously doubt that they will want to listen to anything this film is trying to say. So I will leave you with this; if you’re a Christian, you will probably like this film. If you’re not, you probably won’t. Now that you’ve heard my arguments, it’s up to you to decide.