The Films of 2021: God’s Not Dead: We The People (dir by Vance Null)

Here’s the story so far:

In 2014, a film called God’s Not Dead was released.  Produced by PureFlix Entertainment, it was a big, messy, and often confusing movie about a college student who challenged the claim of an atheist professor that God never existed.  While the student was debating the professor, countless other characters were wandering around campus and having their own faith-related dramas.  The main theme of God’s Not Dead appeared to be that only bitterness could explain disbelief and that everyone on the planet secretly wants to be a Christian.  It was not a particularly good movie but it was a surprise hit at the box office.  After spending years being ridiculed in nearly every mainstream film ever released, hardcore evangelicals finally had a movie that ridiculed the other side.

In 2016, God’s Not Dead 2 came out.  God’s Not Dead 2 was so heavy-handed that it actually managed to make the original film appear balanced and fair.  As opposed to the previous film, God’s Not Dead 2 was overtly political, telling the story of a teacher who is put on trial for encouraging a student to pray.  Again, it wasn’t a very good film but it did have two things going for it: a sincere lead performance from Melissa Joan Hart and an amazingly over-the-top villainous turn from Ray Wise as the prosecutor.  Most prosecutors would be smart enough to just argue that the teacher’s actions violated the law and perhaps offer a deal so that they wouldn’t have to waste their time with a lengthy trial.  Instead, Wise’s prosecutor practically cackles that he’s going to prove to the jury that “God is dead.”  Not surprisingly, the jury responded with “That’s a little above our paygrade.”

After all of that, 2018’s God’s Not Dead: A Light In The Darkness was a surprisingly low-key affair.  Largely eschewing the overt political content of the previous installment, the third God’s Not Dead film returned the story to campus and followed the efforts of Rev. David Hill (played by David A.R. White, the franchise’s producer) to keep his church from being closed down.  Of all the films, the third God’s Not Dead probably comes the closest to being a conventional film.  It even admits that not all atheists are evil and acknowledges that there is a legitimate constitutional argument to be made for not having a church on campus.  Because it didn’t feature any villains as memorable Ray Wise, A Light In The Darkness is also probably the most boring of all the films.  It also underwhelmed at the box office, a sign that the novelty of seeing a Christian film in a theater had worn off for even the film’s target audience.

And that brings us to God’s Not Dead: We The People, which had a three-day exclusive theatrical engagement in October of 2021.  As you can probably guess from the title, the fourth God’s Not Dead returns to the political themes of the second film.  Congress is thinking about infringing on the rights of parents to homeschool their children.  Rev. Hill and a group of parents (one whom is played by Antonio Sabato, Jr.) head to Washington D.C. so that they can testify in front of a Congressional hearing that’s being chaired by a smug liberal played by legitimate actor William Forsythe.  Isaiah Washington appears as a congressman who supports homeschooling and who thinks the education system needs to be reformed.  (“He’s that Congressman from Texas!” one character exclaims.)  Judge Jeanine Pirro plays a judge who is originally against homeschooling but who changes her mind after her daughter argues with her because, in the world of God’s Not Dead, not a single atheist or skeptic has any sort of firmly held conviction that can’t be overturned by an argument that would be more appropriate for a community college Intro to Philosophy class.  The film ends with the reverend giving an impassioned speech while Forsythe glowers and Washington stares on in beatific appreciation.

As you can probably guess, God’s Not Dead: We The People is total and complete propaganda, full of strawman arguments and moralizing.  Speaking as someone who is not a fan of the government or its tendency to try to interfere in people’s lives, even I watched the film and thought, “Okay, this is just a little too heavy-handed for me.”  Director Vance Null takes a vaguely Oliver Stone-style approach to the film, editing in random shots of American flags and patriotic monuments while the film’s characters discuss how the founding fathers felt about religion.  To be honest, when it comes to how its presented, the film’s propaganda is not that different from the type of propaganda that regularly appears in more mainstream films.  The film’s flashy editing and one-sided view of the world isn’t that much different from Adam McKay’s post-Big Short filmography.  Ending the film with a passionate speech that leaves all of the main character’s opponents with nothing to say in response may be a cliché but it’s a cliché that Aaron Sorkin knows well.  All of the cameos from the characters who appeared in the previous film may feel a bit random but it’s not that much different from when Marvel used to sneak Robert Downey, Jr. into every film they made.  If nothing else, the people behind the God’s Not Dead franchise have learned the first rule of business: watch what the successful do and copy them.

All of that aside, God’s Not Dead: We The People is not a particularly interesting film.  The editing may be flashy but the pace is still slow and the final hour of the film is basically just people testifying in front of a congressional committee.  The film is less concerned with converting the skeptical and more about rallying the faithful to vote in 2022.  That’s always been my main problem with the propaganda films of both the left and the right.  It’s always less about making a case and more about vanquishing any shred of doubt from those who already largely agree with the film’s message.  Ideological purity tests do not make for enlightening or memorable entertainment.

One response to “The Films of 2021: God’s Not Dead: We The People (dir by Vance Null)

  1. Pingback: Lisa Marie’s Week In Review: 1/10/22 — 1/16/22 | Through the Shattered Lens

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