Film Review: The God Who Wasn't There

Anthony Mark Happel

the god who wasn't there

The God Who Wasn't There, directed by Brian Flemming (62 minutes)

The subtitle to this odd documentary is “A Film Beyond Belief,” which is a smart play on words and posits a dual ideation where both the filmmaker himself and members of the audience are transported to a place of consciousness beyond the idea of belief in God. Brian Flemming is a former fundamentalist Christian who has now become a skeptic, and his approach here is akin to the Michael Moore School of placing yourself in the middle of your documentary. Flemming narrates throughout, and at one point he returns to his former elementary school where he conducts a very uncomfortable interview with the head of the school that ends with the subject cutting off the interview in righteous indignation. It’s a special moment in a personal film that hits hard and feels like a rare find for a filmmaker to stumble into. It pulls you into his story just a little tighter. The film primarily centers on history and it challenges the lack of solid Jesus scholarship as it explores the gaps in the Jesus chronology. Part of it pivots on the search for the validity of Jesus, and it exposes the audience to other historical figures similar to Jesus, and poses some serious questions.
There’s also a section that deconstructs Mel Gibson’s sanguine modern masterpiece, The Passion of the Christ. Flemming takes us down the brutally bloody road of the last days of Christ as depicted by Gibson and exposes Gibson’s film as an exercise in excessive bloodlust. There is a lengthy scrolling run of text that lists every page of the screenplay wherein a bloody act is perpetrated on screen and, as dozens and dozens of pages go by, he makes the case for indulgent overkill on Gibson’s part, seen in some ways as an extension of Gibson’s religious extremism. The entire sequence is a knock-out, and, if nothing else, this film should be recognized as an important addition to the study of Gibson’s masterwork.
Film scholars should take note. This is an idiosyncratic film that weaves the arc of Flemming’s transition from a religious life to a non-religious life into the larger questions surrounding the dilemma of a “belief in God.” It’s a bold undertaking and he pulls it off. There are interviews with writers Sam Harris and Richard Carrier that are, unfortunately, too brief and choppy, but there is also 259 minutes of bonus material that features commentary by Richard Dawkins. A nice stocking stuffer for the atheist or the fundie on your X-Mas list.

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