Oh My God is a film that sets itself up for disappointment, because it attempts to tackle a subject too big for anyone – or any one film – to solve, answer or define absolutely. That reality boils the outcome of the film down to one of three choices: God doesn’t exist in any form; God does exist in the exact form as the one true religion states; or God exists in some watered down form that everyone can agree on just to keep from killing each other. Once audiences come to that realization, the rest of the film is spent waiting to see in which angle filmmaker Peter Rodger decides to frame his presentation. That’s not a criticism, just an observation that audiences should be aware of.
The premise of Oh My God concerns one of the worthiest conversations people around the world should be having: What is God? With that question in mind, Peter Rodger traveled the world to have it answered, taking him from the U.S. to Africa, Asia and the Middle East. By altering the question from “who” to “what” Rodger hoped to elicit objective answers, free from preconceptions. Furthermore, the goal was to get the thoughts of “regular” people rather than “professional God people” such as the Pope or the Dalai Lama, who Rodger believes are steeped in politics and theology. As a result, a wide range of individuals, hailing from faraway places offer their personal beliefs for the scrutiny of the world.
Oh My God is beautiful to watch. Rodger effortlessly shrinks the world into one tight package and delivers it to the audience making them feel well-traveled in just a few hours. Even when he spends a long segment interviewing Americans, viewers always feel like they’re in a new place and that everyone around the world is talking about the same thing. The locales are also breathtaking to behold and are just as varied as the people interviewed. Rodger treks up to the frigid heights of Himalayan mountains and also ventures into sprawling Japanese metropolises and each location is wonderfully captured.
The interviewees are a mixed bag. It’s very interesting to see how the people of the world celebrate and worship God as they understand the concept. Native Americans don feathered ritual costumes and perform a dance while African Maasai tribes people slaughter an animal and consume its blood. The actual interviews with laypeople, celebrities, political figures and religious leaders, however, aren’t as interesting, mainly because their views fall in one of three predictable categories. A Texan gun shop owner believes that Jesus Christ is her savior while a Muslim zealot claims the Koran condemns all Christians and Jews to Hell. A few celebrities declare that they’re atheists and offer no explanation as to what God is while others characterize God in nebulous terms, like infinite energy. While it’s pleasant to see familiar faces like Hugh Jackman offering their thoughts on the issue, the conversation doesn’t seem to be progressed beyond the fact that everyone has different views of God.
Overall, the pace of Oh My God feels natural and the interview snippets are juxtaposed well. There are a few questionable choices, however, like the cacophonous introduction that lasts a little too long and an Australian sequence that turns into a techno music video. Another jarring moment is when the tone of the film suddenly turns deadly serious and focuses on children fighting cancer. This segment was very poignant in that it highlighted how people used God in their lives. “When I’m weak, he makes me stronger,” says one patient. The world will never absolutely agree on what God is or if it exists, but we can all admit that belief and disbelief in God affects us and it’s a shame the documentary didn’t focus on this angle more.
Belief has nothing to do with God’s existence. God exists for everyone first and foremost as a concept, which is precisely why God is a tricky subject. The concept can mean so many different things to so many different people. Even asking those who practice the same faith can be like asking 10 witnesses to the same car accident what they saw. You will more than likely hear similar, but different stories. This reality is because God is all about personal relationships. Oh My God does well in showcasing that point. It just needs to go one step further and really delve into how God – or the lack thereof – affects the individual. Regrettably, there are no definitive answers to be had here, but in the great scope of the necessary conversation about God, Oh My God is an excellent preamble.