Monday, November 06, 2006

Movie Review: God On My Side

Whatever side of the political or religious walls people come from, they like to claim that God is on their side. Many of you will immediately think of Islamic extremist terrorists who blow themselves up in the name of God. But there's another group that wants to claim God is on their side and managing world affairs to God's timetable. They are represented by the Christian televangelist/broadcasters who come together once a year at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention in Texas. Andrew Denton, an Australian TV personality who conducts in-depth interviews on a weekly show (Enough Rope), travelled to Texas to find out more about this group and has produced a compelling documentary, God On My Side. Denton is very respectful as he wanders around the convention asking believers about their views. Apart from one or two moderate individuals who seem to have an intelligent head on their shoulders, these fervently faithful followers of God are, at one moment embarrassingly absurd and, at other moments, terrifyingly fanatical, and yet at other times laugh-out-loud funny. There is noone more dangerous than a person who knows they are right and knows that God is working through them. Dogmatic arrogance can lead to all sorts of evils -- some "benign" and some downright terrifying. The strongest thing that came through for me in watching Denton's superb documentary was the inpenetrable certainty of these believers who, while finding war, famine, earthquakes, and tsunamis sad, also "celebrated" these disasters and suffering as sure signs that Jesus was about to return and put everything right. The range of views of Denton's subjects ranged from the downright ridiculous to those who were more balanced and thoughtful -- from the man who tries to convince Denton that little beads of Spirit light have appeared on Denton's hands as a sign of the end to a director who was critical of some of the ways Christians represented their faith to a man who was content to stand back and, with a cynical smile, say he didn't share the rest of the convention's theology. Doug Batchelor, an American televangelist, features quite a bit in the documentary and clips from a film he has produced are included showing, in graphic detail, the fate that awaits the wicked (death, disease, drowning, rocks falling on them) as the righteous (all white and radiant) are transported up into the sky to meet the Lord. It doesn't take long to realise that, underneath all of the promotion of the latest technology (machine and psychological) to spread the gospel, there is a lot of money and a huge political agenda. George Bush is God's man for this hour in world history and the decisions he is making are the decisions that God wants. And those decisions may, if necessary, include war and, for one person, the reluctant use of nuclear weapons if it means that events work out well in the Middle East. This is scary stuff that makes us realise that there is extremism and fanaticism on both sides of the religious and political divide. God On My Side is not all serious -- there are some wonderful comedic moments (although, these are not always intended to be so by the people concerned!) and some who seem to have a genuine story to tell about how God has rescued them from a life that was on the rocks. It would be so much more believable, though, if everyone wasn't so well-dressed and seemingly well off! God On My Side is a must-see movie. It is funny, scary, disturbing, fascinating. In many ways, it is a simple observation of a slice of modern Christianity. Denton remains respectful, gently probing, asking some difficult questions. When Denton places a single verse of Scripture on a black screen at the end of the film, the point hits home -- the contrast is telling (I won't spoil it for you by telling you what it is). God On Our Side is Denton's debut documentary and it is possible to criticise him for not being ruthless enough in uncovering the darker side of the convention along with a few issues that are slipped over with little attention -- abortion, gay marriage, creationism/evolution. But Denton is calm and clearly engenders trust in his subjects -- much as he does on his television show. He never takes a cheap shot even when interviewing the most bizarre of his characters. But Denton's humour twinkles through on more than one occasion and his narration keeps the film moving along smoothly. Don't miss this movie -- and make sure you stay through the credits. Those in Australia will be fortunate to see it on television later this year (2006). But seeing it on the big screen is worth it. My Rating: **** (out of 5) AUS: PG

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