An Interview with God

★☆☆☆☆

Corona virus self-isolation feels like the perfect time to get back into one of my favorite hobbies: watching and arguing with terrible Christian movies. To be honest, I was all settled in to watch the Kendrick brothers’ Overcomer, but found that it was no longer available to rent for 99¢ online and so, scrambling for a fallback option, I stumbled upon An Interview with God. I knew nothing about it aside from the general premise – a reporter interviews a man claiming to be God – but that alone was enough to sell me on it. I figured that it would be rampant with tired, half-baked arguments barely attempting to make any sense of the convoluted theological doctrine. I was not disappointed.

The movie centers on Paul Asher, a religion reporter for a secular newspaper, who was apparently sent to Afghanistan to write a series on “Christians in Combat” but nevertheless bitterly complains that “horoscopes get better placement” in the newspaper than the stories he writes. He leaves his New York City apartment one morning and goes to meet a man at a chessboard in Central Park. That old white man, naturally, is God. Or, rather, somebody claiming to be God. He’s never given a name. IMDb has the character listed as “The Man”. Since the movie forgot to give him a name, I guess it’s up to me to do the job. I will name him George.

This is the first of what will be three separate interviews with George, a.k.a. God. Paul is understandably skeptical at first about George’s claims. George offers to make a nearby pillar erupt in flames as a proof of his omnipotence, but Paul declines the offer. Later, though, Paul poses a difficult math question to George, who immediately answers correctly: Paul’s eyes go wide as he suddenly understands that this man, without question, must be the one and only True God. How else could he have gotten math right? No mere mortal could accomplish that superhuman task!

Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Like The Perfect Stranger or The Encounter, the bulk of the movie is a rapid-fire Q&A between Paul and George, wherein Paul asks the same slate of boring questions everybody wants to ask God (e.g. “What is the meaning of life?”) and George gives vague, evasive, incomprehensible answers. One of Paul’s first questions to George is, “Where do you come from?” George, pretending he is God, answers, “If the nature of God were obvious, well, look at the world around you and you will see that it is not.” Maybe the term answers was a little strong. Paul, dutifully, refrains from asking any follow-up questions or seeking clarification. As the movie progresses, he joins in on making statements cloaked in metaphor and undefined terms such that his own questions cease to have any meaning. But both Paul and George speak with such conviction that the viewer must assume they know what they’re talking about. (Spoiler: They don’t.)

Was there ever a time that God didn’t exist? George says the best he can offer is what was said to Moses: “I am that I am.” I mean, there’s also the option of saying yes or no, since it was quite clearly a yes-or-no question, but I guess it’s a little harder to be intentionally cryptic when you provide definite answers. Is there a Heaven? Yes, George says, but “don’t think of it as a place”. Okay… do you want to elaborate? Paul, do you want to follow-up? No? Next question: is there a Satan? Again George answers yes, but adds that Satan is “over-rated” and that humans give Him power. There are a lot of follow-up questions I can think of when a man purporting to be God claims that Satan exists, but dogged journalist Paul Asher doesn’t have a single one. Could it be that horoscopes get better placement than Paul’s pieces because he’s just very bad at his job and not because of some nefarious anti-Christian bias in the news?

Nah, couldn’t be. Between interviews, Paul tells his boss that he’s doing an “interview with God”. His boss has no more knowledge about the project than that – he has not read a word of what Paul has written (has Paul written anything? Does he actually write anything at any point in this movie? I’m not sure he does…), has no clue how long it will be, and doesn’t have a clear understanding of what Paul even means – but he nevertheless insists that it will be a front-page article! Incidentally, when he’s not insisting that Paul’s unwritten work should take up the entire front page of the newspaper, his boss is encouraging Paul to take weeks of paid leave to cope with the fact that his wife left him at the start of the movie. We won’t find this out until later, but his wife left him because she cheated on him and she is terribly guilt-stricken about this.

Anyway, so George kind of dances past all of the questions about God’s existence or nature by asking, “When you pray, do you ask for proof that God is listening? Of course not.” Therefore proof is unnecessary! Enough said! Ah, but Paul is still determined to put up a very weak fight. He notes that the Old Testament and the New Testament seem in conflict with one another. George agrees, but contends that they are both the Word of God… albeit translated and interpreted by men. And therefore the Bible is… not the Word of God? Unclear. He doesn’t come right out and say that the Bible is, in fact, fallible because it was written by men but that seems to be the message he’s conveying. Paul, do you want to say anything more here, or– no? Oooookay.

Now Paul has some questions more pertinent to you and I: what message does George have for atheists? His answer boils down to, “I get it, but not everything is as it appears.” So keep on keeping on, I guess? Paul pats George on the back: “That’s a good answer.” Is it, though? (Spoiler: It’s not.) A short while later, Paul asks a second question for the atheists in the house: can an atheist be moral? Sure, George responds, and you can also build your house on no foundation… but you better hope the earth never shakes. What? I cannot parse that metaphor. What is “the earth” in this analogy? Is… is that a threat?

Incidentally, this is one aspect of the film that started to intrigue me as it went on: the fact that George is almost certainly a serial killer. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on those with serious mental health problems; such individuals are more likely to be the victim of violence than the aggressor. But that doesn’t hold true in cinema, especially where the mentally ill person has a God complex and feels he holds the power of life and death in his hands. George eventually tells Paul that he’s almost “out of time”, a needlessly vague way of telling him that he will die in the near future. Paul becomes upset. George calmly continues: “You prayed. You asked for help. That’s why I’m here.” It sort of sends a shiver down my spine, the idea of this madman breaking Paul’s spirit and confusing him into having “faith”, all as a way to lead him to his doom. Paul returns willingly for a third session with this knockoff Hannibal Lecter because, by that point, he’s too far gone to exert any will of his own.

But again, I’m getting ahead of myself. During their second interview, George expresses surprise that Paul hasn’t asked the one question he gets more than any other: why do bad things happen to good people? I kind of feel like that could be shortened to just “why do bad things happen”, personally. Paul pointedly refuses to ask the question, claiming that it is “not a question, it’s a complaint”. George says he’ll answer it nonetheless, but Paul throws his hands over his ears and yells “LA LA LA LA LA LA LA” to prevent himself from hearing. You know, journalism.

The conversation turns to free will. George insists that free will does exist. Paul, in a surprising moment of actual thought, asks how this can be reconciled with “God’s will”. George claims that free will and God’s will “fit perfectly together” so that there is almost no discernible difference between the two. Paul surprises me again by pressing the matter: if they’re indistinguishable, then what’s the difference? George turns the question back on Paul: “Do you not trust God’s plan or yourself?” Frustratingly, Paul is stumped by this one. He lets George go without getting an answer to his initial question.

George next wants to talk about “salvation”. Paul, once again showing a little bit of backbone, asks George to define the term. But he’s immediately shot down. “What do you think I mean by that?” George asks. “We should establish what you think it is before we can discuss it.” There are also portions earlier in the film where George tells Paul that he’s only telling him “what you already know”; in conjunction with this, it makes me wonder whether the movie is getting at the fact that George is just a figment of Paul’s imagination. Paul initially struggles a bit and comes to the conclusion that salvation “means different things to different people”, which is a stupid answer. I mean, just come out and say it – quit with the games. Just say it: salvation means nothing. Just a few moments later, though, Paul states that salvation provides “redemption from sin [and] reunification with God for eternity”. But these are just additional undefined terms. What is redemption? What is sin? What is “reunification”, and in what way is there disunity now? All unimportant because by this point Paul is so wrapped up in making vague, incomprehensible statements that he’s doing the work for George. He argues that the only important thing about salvation is the “when”, i.e. when will you die? How– what makes that the only important thing? It’s not apparent, but George beams and says, “I knew you would be good at this.” Yes, Paul is a natural Christian apologist con-man.

The conversation continues on. Even though the discussion about salvation was choppy and unclear, we’re moving on anyway. How does one get saved? The Old Testament has a bunch of rules, but the New Testament says all it takes is faith alone, so why follow the rules? “Is faith all it takes?” George asks. You tell me! That’s what you’re here for, George! I think what he’s getting at is that if somebody has faith then they’ll feel inclined to follow the rules? Which I think ties back into the “free will” discussion in that a faithful person will quote-unquote “freely” choose to do as I command. But this just leaves us with the same question. It sounds like faith is not all it takes. George wants to have his cake and eat it too, to say yes and no at the same time, to say free will and God’s will at the same time. It all begs the question, which I wish Paul would have asked outright: What good are you? What do you need God for, anyway?

It gets worse. George has Paul consider why he would care about humans if he himself were God, to which Paul says that he cares about them because of his own compassion and because of their free will, to which George responds that it’s God’s will to care about humans because Paul has compassion, and therefore God will forgive Paul even if he were immoral. It’s circular and disjointed and meaningless, but they both speak with conviction in their voices. They both sound like they’re saying complete sentences. Surprisingly, for the intended audience, that’s all that really matters. Play-act authority and somebody will buy it.

This is when George tells Paul that he’s going to die. “Would you like to know when it will happen?” George asks. “There are always signs when people are in trouble. You can’t hide from me,” he says. Paul cries out in terror, why are you doing this to me? “You’ve just lost your way,” George intones. Very creepy. But Paul is still slightly argumentative. He questions why George doesn’t do anything about war, disease, and poverty. George replies, “You do something.” Paul is too distraught to recognize that it’s all a shell game. He has to supply the answers because God has none. He has to do something because God is impotent without humans to act on his behalf. Salvation means different things because it has no meaning. But Paul can’t see any of that. Instead, he witnesses a blinding light and comes out of it in a stupor. Somehow he’s been “saved”, I guess, because he walks around sedated. His bicycle is stolen, but it doesn’t affect him because it’s “only a bike”. And then his wife returns to him and begs forgiveness because Paul is her God.

You know, to the extent that anything the characters say has meaning, there are definitely things I can get behind. For example, at one point George tells Paul, “Your life is not an audition for the afterlife.” Indeed! But what George doesn’t acknowledge is that inventing this unnecessary God creature is exactly why people think in terms of an “afterlife”. George, buddy, you’re the one who invented an “afterlife” and “Satan” and “salvation” and “sin” to begin with. You can teach morality without having to make up a whole bunch of lies to “explain” it. But that’s what this movie is for. It’s not about encouraging people to act in moral ways, which might be somewhat noble. It’s all about reconciling the lies used to support an unstated, presumed call for moral action.

The actors are decent. The production is pedestrian. The dialogue is dumb. The theology, like all theology, is pointless gibberish. One star.

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