Spoiler alert: He was dead the whole time

The ironic part of evangelical filmmaking is they promote far less discussion about religion than regular movies with religious themes, of which there have been a bevy this year. Hail, Caesar!, The Witch, 10 Cloverfield Lane and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice are all mainstream movies that require intense religious introspection, and that trend looks to continue with X-Men: Apocalypse in late May. Photos courtesy Pure Flix Entertainment.

One of the primary functions of movies, and art in general, is to preserve the culture from which they developed. Human philosophy has evolved rapidly over the years, and movies provide a clear record of ideologies that have fallen out of viability with seminal films like Birth of a Nation, Terminator 2 and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1. Following this great tradition of reflection on broken ideals is Pure Flix Entertainment’s biting satire God’s Not Dead 2: Electric Boogaloo. 

In the movie, persecution becomes prosecution when high school history teacher Grace Wesley (Melissa Joan Hart), who’s name was picked at random out of a hat, is sued by the aetheist parents of Brooke Thawley (Hayley Orrantia) for quoting scripture in class in answer to Thawley’s question. Thawley’s parents are being used by aetheist lawyer Pete Kane (Ray Wise) and his hair-based satanic powers. Wesley is represented by ACLU appointed lawyer Tom Endler (Jesse Metcalfe), even though he isn’t Christian. Inept heathen that he is, Kane makes a mistake in the jury-selection process, allowing a man of God, Reverend Dave (Pure Flix co-founder David A.R. White) onto the jury.

Despite clearly having the case in hand because of this, Endler and Wesley are ravaged by Kane’s suave character assassination, and are forced to shift tactics mid-trial and call several real-world apologists to the stand to forensically prove that Jesus of Nazareth existed, despite repeated arguments that this case is actually about faith.

God’s Not Dead 2 beautifully captures American Christianity’s persecution complex, the idea that Christianity is being driven out of our culture by secularists’ malicious support of local tattoo parlors and Red Lobster. The film deftly points out how pervasive the Judeo-Christian influence still is in a society that ostensibly doesn’t have an official religion, from our Christ-based calendar to the Holy Bible over which witnesses swear to tell the truth. The film itself is part of a recent invasion of evangelical Christian movies made by people who want to get Christ back into the theater, despite Christian concepts and messianic imagery making their way into almost every meaningful film.

The most pointed of the film’s many subplots revolves around Martin Yip (Paul Wok) discovering Christianity and asking Reverend Dave for answers. This leads to most of the movie’s many direct sermon scenes and its half-hour too-long runtime.

The film’s title comes from the paraphrased quote, “God is dead and we have killed him,” coined by 19th century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, first in his 1882 collection The Gay Science, then reiterated and popularized in his four-part young adult dystopian fiction series Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Nietzsche meant by this that the morality espoused in The Bible had become meaningless in a quickly modernizing world. God’s Not Dead 2 takes this idea and runs with it by setting a fight for faith in the seedy underbelly of the U.S. justice system, where ulterior motives and dishonesty frequently rule the day and decidedly shape this film’s events.

While most lawyers are hired guns representing clients’ interests, Kane makes the first move in this lawsuit, seeing an opportunity to punish an ideology that he hates in court. Thawley’s parents bear Wesley no ill will and only sue the school district for help with their child’s college fund. Reverend Dave remains a juror on the case despite his clear conflict of interest. It’s implied several times that the arguments themselves don’t matter anywhere near as much as whether or not a Christian is on the jury because, according to the film’s internal logic, every juror has the same conflict of interest Dave has on some level. The only character who’s integrity isn’t undermined is Wesley, and that integrity almost drives her to ruin when she could have just apologized and resolved the conflict without incident.

Nietzche’s quote is often broadened to mean that a literal god, the benevolent cosmic ruler of the universe, is literally dead, and the world has plunged into heretofore unknown chaos. This misinterpretation draws battle lines between those who believe events are being guided by an intelligent power that rewards its followers and those who believe life is determined mostly by random chance — a belief in order against a belief in chaos.

God’s Not Dead 2 also pokes fun at this aspect of Christianity by showing its Christian characters heavily rely on a deity’s helping hand, then subverting their trust with a plot filled with loose ends that relies heavily on randomness. Thawley is driven to Christ by the untimely death of her younger brother in a random accident. Reverend Dave, the last person a loving God would smite, is removed from the jury because of a ruptured appendix, apparently jeopardizing the defense God would logically be pulling for with an organ no intelligent creator worth his temples would have come up with, only to be replaced by another passionately Christian juror, rendering Dave’s suffering ultimately meaningless.

God’s Not Dead 2 is a brilliant film that invalidates itself at every turn, supporting intelligent design on the surface but clearly being unintelligently designed itself, at once pandering to and lampooning neoconservative paranoia. It’s a cathartic absurdist exercise.

Leopold Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist and journalism student at the University of North Texas. Will watch movies for money. I’ve had a change of heart in regard to reader input. It is now welcomed and encouraged. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter @reelentropy, and shoot questions to reelentropy@gmail.com.

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