September 23, 2005

Film Review: "The God Who Wasn't There"

I finally got around to seeing The God Who Wasn't There, and I thought I'd post my impressions in case others hadn't heard of it or were trying to decide whether it was worthwhile.

In case you haven't heard of this film, here is a reasonably accurate synopsis from Netflix:

"Borrowing the lively approach of documentaries such as Fahrenheit 9/11 and Super Size Me, ex-Christian fundamentalist Brian Flemming's expose shines an unflinching spotlight on Christianity and the existence of Christ. Flemming interviews religious experts and Christians of varying backgrounds, ultimately asserting that Jesus Christ is more than likely a fictional character based on legend and that Christian doctrine is rife with contradiction."

I was really looking forward to this one even though I was surprised to discover that the film's running time was only a little over an hour. My initial impressions were not particularly positive, as the first 10-15 minutes of the film were little more than a collage of obscure movie clips relating the Jesus myth. I was reminded more of Schoolhouse Rocks than Fahrenheit 9/11. The poor production quality, awful music, and odd narration made me feel like I was watching a bad student film.

To say that things improved from this point would be an understatement. Once it got going, I was pleasantly surprised by the turnaround. The interviews with Richard Carrier, Sam Harris, and others were outstanding. It was almost as if the director thought that viewers would be bored by these interviews and felt a need to add bad music, B-movie clips, and even cartoons to entertain. This was a bad decision, as the interviews were the highlight of the film and really made it worthwhile.

Where the director deserves the most praise is his structuring of the argument presented in the second half of the film - Jesus was likely a fictional character and there are many compelling historical reasons to doubt the veracity of the Christian bible. The data presented here are not widely known and difficult to refute.

The bonus features on the DVD include extended interviews with most of the scholars interviewed in the film. The interviews with Harris and Carrier were reason enough to buy or rent the DVD. The director asks the very questions I would like to ask and received outstanding answers. I become more impressed with these guys with every interview I see.

In summary, this is a film that should be seen by all atheists and agnostics. Despite its flaws, it is likely that you will enjoy it. Of course, I think it would be great if most Christians would see this film too. More than any film I have seen in the past few years, this is one I am dying to loan out to anyone who I can get to watch it.

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