In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argues for the divinity of Jesus. He says: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.”
Director Perry Lang raises this liar-lunatic-Lord argument in his newest project, An Interview With God. Is the titular character, played by David Strathairn, who he says he is, is he a senile old man, is he a liar, or does he even exist at all?
An Interview With God opens with a quote from abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher: “Now comes the mystery.” It’s a telling quote, coolly informing the viewer of what they should expect from the next 97 minutes. It’s also, perhaps, the furthest the film deviates from the common storytelling rule of “show, don’t tell.” Lang seems determined to never quite give his viewers a straight answer about anything at all. The film begins with a reasonably simple premise, but as it continues, more elements become open to interpretation. Paul Asher, played by rising star Brenton Thwaites, has recently returned from Afghanistan, where his job as a journalist has left him somewhat cynical about his faith and his career. His marriage is falling apart. Much like Paul of the New Testament, he has the tools to be a successful light for God, but he is under persecution from his circumstances. He has one reason to hang on, the interview of a lifetime with “The Man.”
The interview starts off like any other, with Paul apologizing for being late, fumbling to turn on his recorder, making small talk with the man sitting across the table, before saying, “Please say your name and spell it.”
The man leans forward and drops a bombshell before straightening up and smiling, a knowing twinkle in his eye.
“I’m God. G-O-D.”
Throughout the film, Paul and God engage in three half-hour interviews, which comprise the majority of the film. While not quite in real time, (the first interview only lasts fifteen minutes), they are long enough to provide a sense of the whole picture – that the viewer is sitting in on the interview. The feeling is almost inappropriately intrusive, reminiscent of found footage. There is a sense that these scenes are not meant for public consumption. There are no distractions, no outside noises, no breaks in the scene, just a back and forth question and answer session, like a game of tennis. Or, as the film helpfully reminds us, panning to the chessboard between the two men, chess.
“What is the meaning of life?” Paul demands.
“Is Satan real?”
“What happens after you die?”
“Can an Atheist be a moral person?”
“Why do bad things happen to good people?” Both the viewers and God know that Paul isn’t just asking for journalistic purposes.
Lang asks the questions that viewers want to know. God’s answers are somewhat evasive, noncommittal, and a bit vague. This makes sense from a theological angle. Who is man to speak for God? It walks the line between being a frustrating choice and a logical path for a filmmaker to take.
Thwaites plays Paul Asher with delicate charm. He is awkward, pitiable, and anxiety-ridden. He is excellent at making the viewer nervous to watch. His body language is erratic. It is obvious that his stint in Afghanistan has all but destroyed him. He is, in short, lost, hurting and chasing God down, begging for a miracle.
It is David Strathairn’s God who is the biggest highlight of this film. He plays God like your father, your grandfather, every kind teacher and every mentor and every true friend you have ever had or ever wished for. He is clever, sarcastic, and endlessly patient with Paul’s endless list of questions. He sells the point of the character: that even if he is a liar or a lunatic, he is what we want God to be. No sense quibbling over semantics.
The most difficult part about An Interview with God is what the Lang wishes the viewer to take away from his project. Perhaps it emphasizes the importance of a relationship with God. God patiently listens to Paul’s questions and encourages their deeper exploration. He allows Paul to be honest about his anger towards his circumstances. He is not patronizing or disrespectful. Their dialogues are open and frank.
Is Straithan’s God a lunatic or a liar? It doesn’t matter. That isn’t the point. He doesn’t need to call down lightning from the sky or raise a man from the dead to prove his divinity. The film is about the bond that he forms with a hurting man, not about apologetics. An Interview with God is the model of what a relationship with God should look like – not some far away shadowy figure on a cloud we have to squint to see, but the very present image of two people, sitting across the table, chatting over a game of chess
An Interview with God plays August 20-22 at select theaters via Fathom Events.
Rachel Davis is a freelance journalist who has previously written feature articles for the Campbell University website.