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Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an Australian community, in a worldwide religious congregation.

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Jesus loved with a human heart: with him we proclaim his love to the world.

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AN INTERVIEW WITH GOD

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This is a film on release now, a faith-based film which asks questions of God (and asking questions of us). A Statement/Review by SIGNIS (The World Catholic Association for Communication), Peter Malone MSC

US, 2018, 97 minutes, David Strathairn, Brenton Thwaites, Directed by Perry Lang.

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The tone of the title indicates that this will be an earnest film. And it is.

Clearly, the themes will be religious. But there are many philosophical issues, especially about evil and free will. The screenplay touches on some biblical themes; the film has been produced by a Christian company, emphasising that the path to God is very much focused on the Judeo-tradition and its culmination in the person of Jesus Christ.

Audiences who have an aversion to explicitly religious films will find their aversion reinforced. Audiences who are sympathetic to explicitly religious films will find a lot to interest them, to provoke them, although they might find the tone the time is rather didactic, at times preachy.

This said, there is a lot of questioning (on the part of the interviewer, of course, but also God being able to reverse the interview, making demands on the interviewer), which demands answers from the audience for their own integrity, authenticity of belief or non-belief.

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A large part of the film consists of the interview, although there are storylines which come to the surface. And, which get the attention of God.

It should be said that God is played by the veteran actor, David Strathairn, a man of serious demeanour, intelligent and articulate, a credible incarnation for God in the contemporary world. The interviewer is played by the Australian actor, Brenton Thwaites, eager to score an interview with God, an exclusive for his publication, ready to front up and asked the questions, but frequently thrown off balance when God returns the questions.

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Thwaites plays journalist, Paul, who has been on an interview mission in Afghanistan and is seen initially returning on the plane with coffins of military draped in the American flag. He has experienced some of the trauma on the frontline, making him sympathetic to post-traumatic stress disorder, reaching out to help some of the soldiers who have returned home.

He is married, but immediately there is tension in the apartment. Interesting for the audience, the screenplay has been written in such a way that would lead the audience to lay the blame for potential breakup with Paul rather than his wife. It does not quite work out that way. The marriage situation surfaces throughout the film, Paul trying to contact his wife, she busy and not answering her phone, an intervention by his sister-in-law – and some challenging interventions by God.

But, the core of the screenplay consists of the three interview sessions. Paul, earnest, riding his bike around New York City, meets God first of all in a park, their sitting on park benches. Later, they will meet on the stage in an empty theatre. And, finally, in an office in a high-rise building.

The questions raised are those which are expected, which the audience themselves might raise were they to have an interview with God. Actually, God is more skilled at asking questions of Paul than Paul is of God. And, despite his concern about Paul and his life, God is able to keep his cool.

One of the features of the film is the range of clever lines, arresting religious quips, thoughtful aphorisms. Some audiences may find the interview sessions heavy and demanding. They might work better as an audiobook where attention is on the words and expressions rather than focusing on the characters and their reactions during the interviews. To that extent, many audiences might find there is too much talk for them to deal with.

Some examples: faith is not a goal, it’s a process; concerning the question why bad things happen to good people, Paul notes that God could be considered a “Cosmic Killjoy”; life is not an audition for the afterlife; most people only notice bad things when they happen to them; some people go through life feeling that they are judged every day by God.

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There is an interesting discussion about the Ten Commandments, God noting that in the Gospels, Jesus quotes only six, those focusing on our dealings with our neighbours, not reiterating the commandments about God (and God adds there aren’t many polytheists around these days). Ultimately, the challenge to Paul is not so much the theological nor the philosophical but to look at his own life, to look at the command of love, to see whether humans can overcome the bad things, planting of crops for food, psychological assistance for war veterans, marriages being saved. A final theme is forgiveness.

Ultimately, the film could make its audience ask about the questions they would prepare for an interview with God – and, ask where God actually does intervenes in their lives; and through whom?

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