When my friend Jack and I went to see this movie at the (completely empty) theater, they kept the lights on through the start of the movie. Given that we couldn’t see anything on screen, we had to go out and get the manager to come over and turn them off manually. While many would consider this a nuisance, I actually found it quite moving: this film literally brought light into my life. So without further ado…
Part III boys we really out here.
Now obviously all three of these masterpieces work well as standalone films, but I think to truly appreciate GND3, it helps to know the deep lore from the first two.
God’s Not Dead: Josh Wheaton starts Hadleigh college with his High School girlfriend. His first (and only) course is an intro philosophy class taught by Professor Radisson. Radisson, an edgy atheist who slightly over commits to his Nietzsche cosplay, mandates that every student in his class sign an contract affirming their own belief that “God is Dead” (spoiler alert: he not tho). Josh, unable to compromise his beliefs, refuses to sign, granting him the privilege of engaging in three debates with Radisson over the topic of God’s existence. His girlfriend, a huge GPA whore, chastises him for choosing his faith over his future (yeah, that Phil 1 grade’s really gonna kill the transcript), and breaks up with him. While all this is happening, a bunch of B-plots pop up. There’s this annoying vegan reporter lady who gets cancer? And like a muslim girl who tries to convert to Christianity but then her father violently beats her. There’s also Radisson’s wife (a former student of his) who gets mad about him constantly belittling her so she tries to divorce him. And there’s Pastor Dave. Pastor Dave is kind of just there. Anyway, the debates go about like you’d expect— no one makes any good points and they just talk in circles. During the last one, it comes out that Radisson is an atheist not because he doesn’t, y’know, believe in God, but because he actually hates God for killing his mother when he was a young child. Radisson realizes the “error” of his ways and rushes over to the big Newsboys concert to try and win his wife back. On his way, he gets hit by a car and lays in the street, dying. Pastor Dave comes over, but instead of calling for medical attention, tries to get him to repent before God. Radisson dies, and the movie ends on the Newsboys concert, followed by a text-screen that tells everyone in the audience to text their friends that “God’s Not Dead.”
God’s Not Dead 2: At a high school in California, teacher Grace Wesley gives an incoherent lecture connecting the work of various civil rights activists throughout history (them kids are fucked on the AP). One of her students asks her if she believes the teachings of Jesus are similar to the ideology of Martin Luther King, to which she basically replies “yeah.” Another student surreptitiously records the exchange, later showing it to his parents. Before long, news of the “incident” reaches the biggest, meanest, most god-hatingest organization in the country: the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU, outraged that anyone would mention anything relating to the bible within 69 feet of a school, decide to send in Leland from Twin Peaks to put Grace (and, by extension, God) on trial. Leland dukes it out with Grace’s lawyer, Tom, in court, before the last day of the trial, when Tom calls a historian to the stand. Said historian testifies that, through his painstaking, thorough research, he proved that Jesus was, in fact, a real person. The jury gives Grace a standing ovation, while the Judge immediately dismisses the case and hands her $100. She goes outside and is greeted by hundreds of people who all came out in support of her “cause.” The film ends with a list of SCOTUS cases, all of which relate to schools, and pretty much none of which relate to religion in anyway. So I’m glad the filmmakers did their research.
God’s Not Dead 3: A thiccer pastor Dave gets arrested for refusing to publicize transcripts of his sermons. After spending 20 minutes in prison, he gets bailed out by his African co-pastor, Jude. Now a controversial figure (and hardened criminal), Dave becomes the center of online discussion about religious freedom, as well as some spicy YouTube drama. One night, while at his church with Jude, one of the windows gets broken. Jude goes down into the basement to investigate, whereupon flipping a light switch he creates a spark, igniting a gas leak. In the ensuing explosion, Jude sustains a serious head injury and a fire starts up. Dave manages to drag him out of the church, which burns down behind them. Jude dies on the way to the hospital. RIP Jude.
Meanwhile, Hadleigh student Keaton has a crisis of faith after trying to drown herself in a pool. She talks to her boyfriend, Adam, a former Christian who had left the Church some years ago. Adam repeatedly tries to convince her to abandon her faith entirely, but Keaton remains steadfast. When hanging out with their friends, the group discusses the Mandela effect, positing the existence of alternate universes in which people remember various pop culture phenomena in slightly altered ways. Keaton contends that the idea is silly, but Adam counters by saying that it’s no more ridiculous than the idea of a “hippie who can walk on water and conjure up fish” (roasted). Keaton scolds Adam for “hating God,” and storms off angrily. That evening, after drinking and acting mopey, Adam passes the Church. Conveniently finding a can of spray paint on the ground, he defaces a sign that stands outfront, before picking up a rock and throwing it through the Church window, leading into the preceding scene. This creates two alternate timelines, one in which the Church remains intact and Jude lives, and the one already seen, confirming the existence of both the Mandela effect and God himself. The following is the remaining narrative of the latter timeline:
Following Jude’s death, Hadleigh’s administrative board sends the president (Tom) to talk pastor Dave into moving the church off-campus. Dave rejects his offer and storms off. In an attempt to recruit his brother, conveniently a lawyer specializing in eminent domain cases, the pastor drives to Chicago. Upon seeing Dave, his brother (Pearce) immediately abandons the clients he’s with, before abandoning his entire firm and driving down to Hadleigh with him. Pearce begins working on a legal case against the school.
One day, when visiting the now-condemned church, the two see a team of construction workers preparing to knock the building down. Pearce rushes out to find a judge to sign a cease and desist, while Dave filibusters the bulldozing process by reading the bible out loud. The case garners widespread media attention.
Unable to compromise, the brothers fight off the school board. Public opinion turns against Tom, culminating in a brick being thrown through the window of his house (this movie’s big on stuff getting thrown through windows). Tom angrily confronts Dave, and the two get into a physical altercation. Dave receives a text informing him that is was Adam who broke the church window (Keaton you rat!) and Adam gets arrested. Pearce goes back to Chicago.
During a protest at the Church, Dave and Tom arrive together. Pastor Dave announces to the crowd that he realized the church is not in fact his church, but rather that the people in the church are the real church… or something. He reveals that he and Tom have reached an agreement, and the church will be moving off campus, with the old church being replaced by a new student Union. Adam reveals that it was him who sent the text (sorry Keaton), and the charges against him are dropped. Meanwhile, in the other universe…
Pastor Dave- Dave is kind of a mess in this movie, and it’s not really clear why. He doesn’t do anything all that crazy, but people around him act like he’s completely unhinged. There’s one point where he’s talking to Pearce, and he says something along the lines of “you finally get to see your brother totally lose it,” except… he didn’t, really? There are all these weird scenes where Dave’s just running, be it over a bridge, or in a forest. They’re kind of unprompted, and they don’t really go anywhere. Usually he just stops and then it cuts to the next scene. It sort of felt like the actor left his American Ninja Warrior audition tapes in the final cut, and no one bothered to check it. I mean I guess some of the stuff he does is emotionally charged? Like he is upset over Jude’s death, which is pretty reasonable. But nothing Dave does really implies the “man on edge” mentality that this movie seems to want him to have.
Pearce- Pearce might actually be the most well written character in any of the God’s Not Dead films. This is for two reasons. For one, he’s a professional who actually seems competent at his job, which is probably a first for the franchise. On top of that, his backstory is actually interesting, and not some dumb, cartoony bullshit. Pearce’s reason for disliking the church stems mainly from the fact that, after he went off to College and began questioning certain elements of religion, his family got mad at him and pushed him away. None of his questions were ever really addressed, and once he got tired of being ignored, decided to forego his spirituality entirely. Despite this, he still decides to help his brother in his own struggle for the church, as Pearce firmly believes in religious freedom. This is a big step up from, say, Radisson, a uncompromising atheist who hated God because he took his mommy away. Pearce’s story is also interesting because it serves as legitimate criticism of the church. He didn’t turn away from God because he’s a horrible person; it was the fault of other christians for refusing to even communicate with him. My only real problem with Pearce is that at one point he took darts and began throwing them at one of Dave’s paintings. What the fuck, Pearce?
Josh Wheaton- There’s no real reason that JW had to be in this movie to begin with. He doesn’t really do anything? Like I guess he talks to Keaton a few times, but other than that you could easily take him out and the movie would be no different. My bigger problem with Josh is that the actor, Shane Harper, is a. Really attractive, and b. Can actually act, which puts him far and above the rest of the characters. He’s just too good to be in a God’s Not Dead movie. He kind of makes everyone else look bad by comparison.
Adam- Adam is sort of the anti-Josh: he’s essential to the story, but the guy can’t really act. Adam, like Pearce, also has an interesting history with religion– his mother was shunned from the church after initiating a divorce with his abusive father. In that sense, his disliking the church is actually super reasonable. Unfortunately, the actor had the same dumb expression for the entire movie, which made it really hard to take him seriously.
Keaton- Keaton’s kind of the second main character, but she does almost nothing. She’s supposed to be having some kind of crisis of faith? The movie pushes this really hard at the beginning. It’s never really explained why she’s having doubts. Also she never actually leaves the church. Like, even when she’s having “serious doubts” she still hits up Christian Karaoke night. It kind of felt like she was only there to do the fake-out with the Adam text. Whatever.
A lot of dialogue in this movie is very… diametric, which seems typical of a Pure Flix movie. People talk about “loving God” or “hating God.” This movie is more nuanced than the previous two, but there’s still that element of extremism present. People in this film rarely compromise on anything, and when they do, it has more to do with how to practice religion than religion itself. Everyone ends the movie basically agreeing that Christianity is the way (more on this later).
There are a few, uh, interesting lines. At one point Dave says, “truth is a person… and his name is Jesus Christ.” No idea what the fuck that means, but you do you Dave. There’s another scene where Dave, Pearce, and Josh are all sitting around eating cold pizza, and Pearce just goes, “yeeeeeeeaaaaah….” out of the blue. I’m just gonna assume that was ad-libbed.
This movie also does that thing where it starts and ends on the same monologue. It’s even more annoying in this film, because the opening/closing narration has Keaton talking about a “spark,” like 10 minutes before Jude dies in an actual fire. I don’t think the writers were really swinging for subtlety.
The most frustrating part is probably when Dave and his brother are fighting. Pearce laments that the family turned their back on him for asking the “tough questions.” Dave responds to this by saying something like:
“Tough questions? Yeah, like what? Why does God let bad things happen in this world? Why doesn’t he answer people’s prayers? Give me a break.”
The thing is… those aren’t like unreasonable questions? Like they seem pretty standard for someone’s who’s having a crisis of faith. The fact that Dave refuses to even address them is slightly concerning, because it kinda implies that he doesn’t really have an answer? Oh well, he’s the expert, I guess. You could say Pearce got… pastorized.
The two previous God Not Dead movies shared two defining elements that people seemed to find problematic: antagonism towards non-Christians, and a “victim complex,” that presented Christians as being the subject of persecution. This movie retains the latter, with the entire plot being about a College that actively wants to close down a church. They did, however, manage to lighten up a lot on the first. Many characters in the movie (Pearce, Adam, Keaton… I guess?) are people who have issues with religion, who aren’t vilified or portrayed as evil. They’re given actual, realistic reasons for disliking Christianity, and the movie sort of tries to address them, rather than killing them off. And, while the movie’s resounding consensus still seems to be that Christianity is the one true religion and everyone should follow it, it’s less forceful in pushing the institutional aspects. At the end, Dave even concedes that the Church is not defined by one structure, but rather by the people involved. Given that this is a Christian movie, I feel like this is about as “progressive” as you can realistically get.
The previous two God’s Not Dead movies were shot in tv studio lighting, with a lot of scenes being way overexposed. This film opted to use significantly dimmer shots, where the lighting was a lot more balanced. Interestingly, there were many times where the scene would be mostly dark, with all the light appearing to emanate from a single source. I have no idea if this was an intentional reference to the title, or if they just finally hired a competent DP, but good shit either way.
The camera work wasn’t super “dynamic,” but the static shots mostly looked good. There were multiple scenes of Dave standing in his burnt down church which were pretty artsy (and they got hella mileage out of that set). There was also one point where Adam was standing at the intersection of two sidewalks, and the way the camera was positioned kind of made them into the shape of a cross. This easily could’ve been a coincidence, but if it wasn’t then I see ya Brian.
The mixing in this movie was mostly fine. There were a few scenes with the college kids that took place at a party, and there wasn’t really any background noise there, so that was weird. Other than that, not too bad.
The movie also dropped a lot of the shitty stock music that the previous two used and opted for the occasional background instrumental instead. Unfortunately, there was no NewsBoys concert in this one, so that was tragic. The credits, of course, ended with the titular “hit” single, albeit a gospel remix. Pretty good though.
My God’s not dead
He’s surely alive
He’s living on the inside
Roaring like a lion
God’s not dead
He’s surely alive
He’s living on the inside
Roaring like a lion
Roaring, He’s roaring, He’s roaring like a lion
He’s roaring, He’s roaring, He’s roaring like a lion (Roaring like a lion)
Good for: My salvation
Bad for: The meek (can’t inherit the earth if the owner’s still alive), Pastor Dave’s cholesterol levels
Bod R8s: ✝/8