A few weeks ago, Disney released the trailer to Star Wars Episode VII, and it nearly melted the internet. Over the next day, article after blog after youtube video appeared dissecting the trailer, and giving the audience the opportunity to respond with excitement and anticipation about the upcoming sure-to-be-blockbuster.
In the world of Christian-made films, we don’t have blockbusters in the traditional sense of the word, but we do have the films of the Kendricks brothers and Pureflix Studio. They are the Big Boys of Christian-made film, and they make our blockbusters, the movies that the Big Christian Audience eats up the way twelve year old boys eat up Transformers movies.
And yesterday, the internet melted for the Big Christian Audience as the trailer God’s Not Dead 2 was released. For those who many not know, this upcoming film is the sequel to 2014’s surprise megahit (over $90,000,000 made from a $2,000,000 filming budget), God’s Not Dead.
Well, the trailer only had about 9,000 views when I started writing this, so “melted” is probably not quite accurate, but “the internet blipped” just doesn’t have the same pizzazz.
Either way, this is a movie based on a successful pre-existing property, and so it’s worth noting that the first full bit of information has been released.
One thing about Christians and pop culture that you should know, we like to do things that other people do, but we do it about three years later, and we don’t do it quite as well.
And so, in that spirit, modeling the secular tradition of over-analyzing movie trailers, I give you…
Opening Scene: The movie opens with an old man in his pajamas making an important sounding statement about belief while we see a montage of Little Rock, Arkansas, the old man praying, and Martin – the Chinese student from GND (it is a sequel, isn’t it?) – reading the Bible in a church.
Pajama man says:
“In this day and age, people seem to forget that the most basic human right of all is the right to believe.”
And… I’m starting the trailer feeling confused.
Someone is trying to take away someone else’s right to believe, and someone else is forgetting it? How can you take away a right to believe? Belief isn’t an action, like voting or eating anchovies, it’s something that you have inside of you. Even in the most difficult of situations and under the most intense persecution, people can still believe, even if they have no rights of religious freedom.
But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from observing American Christian culture over the past couple of years, it’s that we hate the idea of people taking away our rights, even it’s not happening as much as we like to think it is. See, what’s really going on (in a nutshell) is that the rights of other people are being strengthened in an attempt to find a balance. But when you have been on the stronger team all of your life and you find your team not holding the power that it once held, the cry goes out of PERSECUTION!
Even though it is not persecution, by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just a loss of influence and power.
This reminds me of a particular person in history… a guy who had all the power in the universe and he purposefully gave it all up, emptied himself of all the power, and became nothing – for the sake of everyone else.
Hmm… I’ll have to think about that one.
So then, this is “the hook”, a purposefully provocative statement meant to rile up the Big Chrisitan Audience out the gate. It will certainly be clarified as we proceed through the trailer.
And so we continue.
Next Scene: We shift from pajama man to a long shot of a government building with a large crowd of demonstrators chanting something that took me a couple of viewings to comprehend: “Teach don’t preach!”
Ah, and the pieces fall a bit more into place.
The angry protestors want teachers to be teaching and not preaching, so apparently someone has been preaching in the classroom.
But, wait, don’t they want a good thing? Sure, it’s nice to have preaching in schools if everyone in the school has the same belief, ala private religious schools, but what if the school is public? What about the kids who have different beliefs? What if the preaching is something from a religion that you don’t subscribe to? As a Christian, I don’t want a Buddhist teacher preaching the importance of being a Buddhist in school.
Seems like extending that same courtesy is the Christian thing to do.
But I digress from my over-analyzation.
Next Scene: This scene is a quick bit of foreshadowing as we shift to a school and Robin Givens talking on the phone. We have scenes of school buses, Melissa Joan Hart walking down a school hallway smiling at the students, and Givens reciting an ominous list of things that apparently can’t happen in the school:
“No prayers, no moments of silence, nothing!”
Sidebar: We’re starting to see where some of that massive GND profit has gone (besides the purchase of an online Christian film streaming service) – Pureflix has hired actors we actually know. We first saw this in their GND followup, Do You Believe?, a film that also had a bevy of familiar actors. Will it help GND2 be a better film than GND, which was a critical failure, even if it was a financial success?
Only April will tell, and she’s not talking.
Next Scene: A title card, “They denied God’s existence”…
Wait. What? Who denied God’s existence? Who is this they they are talking about? I’m started to feel a little frightened… the filmmakers couldn’t be trying to frighten us, could they?
Of course not, because as Christians, we believe that God is sovereign, fear isn’t real, and anxiety is not a Fruit of the Spirit.
Next Scene: A quick two-shot montage of clean-cut students watching intently in school (it is a movie, after all), and then we find out who they are, these evil people denying God’s existence.
“Think of the other children out there, who are subjected to their repressive belief system…”
Note: you have to put a dramatic pause between “their” and “repressive”, and over-emphasize “repressive.” Like this:
“…subjected to their… REPRESSIVE belief system…”
Ah, so that’s the way it’s going to be, is it? Instead of having the evil, moustache-twisting atheist professor as we had in GND, we’re going to have an evil, moustache-twisting atheist bad guy from Robocop.
Actually, I do know that this actor played Leon Nash, one of the bad guys in Robocop, I’m just not sure who he is supposed to be playing in GND2 yet.
Next Scene: Another montage, this time with a voiceover by the face of Pureflix, David A.R. White. The montage is Martin walking, Martin standing up in church as David A.R. White enters, David A.R. White praying, and David A.R. White speechifying to a group of concerned looking individuals.
“If we sit by and do nothing, the pressure that we’re feeling today will be persecution tomorrow. We’re at war!”
And there it is. Those three words are undoubtedly the theme of this film, and the place from whence (along with potential box office receipts) every idea in this film is coming.
Forget all that stuff about the sovereignty of God. Just be afraid, because if we don’t do something, PERSECUTION will result.
Actually, the thought just occurred to me that it’s quite likely that persecution could come, and be the result of the attitude of antagonistic Christians in the “culture wars”, as well as a by-product of Christian-made movies like God’s Not Dead (1 & 2) that seem to revel in being insulting and belittling to people who believe differently than we do, or who don’t believe at all.
Wouldn’t that be ironic in a strange and sad way?
Next Scene: Another title card.
Ah, so first they denied God’s existence, and now they want to silence His message.
“They”, again, being Leon Nash from Robocop, and his evil sidekick who dared to wear a Robocop helmet.
Next Scene: Back to the school, where we find Melissa Joan Hart lecturing on non-violence with a picture of Martin Luther King Jr on the screen behind her. And we proceed through several different scenes, held together by dialogue.
MJH: “What makes non-violence so radical is it’s unwavering commitment to a non-violent approach.”
Student: “Isn’t that sort of like what Jesus meant when he said that we should love our enemies?”
MJH: “Yes. You have heard it said, love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
Quick shot to a kid pulling out his cell phone and then cut to Robin Givens walking with MJH in the hallway:
RG: “One of your students sent a text to their parents. Did this happen?”
MJH: “If you’re asking if I responded to a student’s question, then yes.”
Cut to serious man in a suit in a serious looking meeting room looking all serious.
SM: “And your answer incorporated the words of Jesus.”
Cut to woman with the first actual southern accent we’ve heard so far, in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Little Rock, Arkansas.
Southern Accent: “What were you thinkin’, Grace?”
(Ah, Melissa Joan Hart’s name is Grace. I wonder why they chose that name?)
Next Scene: Cut to Grace sitting in a living room with ruggedly handsome lawyer, Tom Endler.
Endler: “The Thawleys are asking that you be fired, Grace, plus revocation of your teaching certificate.”
The stakes have never been higher.
But hold on one second… don’t teachers have the right under federal law to discuss their religious beliefs as long as they do so in an objective manner? In the scene they showed, Grace looked to be pretty darned objective, but of course, it was only a quick clip. Maybe she does cross the line and openly preach? If so, of course she will get in trouble. If not, I don’t understand why the school throws her under the bus, because she’s well within her rights.
But again, only April will tell.
Next Scene: Cut back to serious man, having another serious conversation with other serious people.
SM: “How do we make this go away and not get blood on our hands?”
Wait a minute. That sounds familiar. Where have I heard that sort of phrasing?
Ah, that’s right.
And the answer to the serious guy’s question, given in hushed, conspiratorial tones…
“We’ll let the ACLU do it.”
Next scene: Cut to Leon Nash, who has apparently quit working for Clarence and has taken up with that bastion of evil and ne’er-do-wellingness, the ACLU.
“We’re going to prove once and for all… that God is dead.”
(Okay, read that sentence again, but then hit play on the youtube video right after reading it.)
End of over-analysis part 1.
That took a LOT longer than I thought it would take, and I’m not sure if it’s worth it to take the time to write the second half of my over-analysis. I’m not paid anything to do this, and I’m trying to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days, and so, I might just let it go.
However, if you’d like me to continue, then leave me a message here, and if enough people are actually interested, I’ll continue. Otherwise, you can just watch the trailer and imagine what I might have said about the rest of it.
A hint, the rest of the analysis would have answered questions like this:
What book is ruggedly handsome Tom Endler reading so intently?
What is the quite original song that the trailer shows the Newsboys singing?
And finally, the question on everyone’s mind…
Do the Robertsons make an appearance in GND2?