Chasing God

July 28th, 2005 Film, Film Reviews, Personalities, Xpress

Directed By Lenny De Vries, Dylan Burton

It’s been said that — because of the scientific age, mankind has finally destroyed God. Enlightenment about the nature of the universe points irrevocably to the perfectly ordered movement of particles throughout the cosmos, with no need for a mystical caretaker to oversee it all.

Science even has theories about the creation of the universe, ideas that involve similarly emotionless processes of cause and effect with no need for a lonely supreme being longing for company in the universe. Like the beliefs of the hunter-gatherer, pagan and indigenous gods of antiquity, most modern Christian doctrine can be written off as superstition and the fear of death and depending on how you look at it, we could be little more than the universe’s most bizarre evolutionary accident.

Despite this, around 4.5 billion people — three quarters of Earth’s human population — believe in a deity or spiritual figurehead similar to the one we call God (be it Allah, Jehovah, Brahman, Buddha or thousands of others).

Why? It’s the question posed by a BBCTV documentary that’s not only been sold in countries from Ireland to Portugal but is starting to make inroads in the cinema — particularly in Australia through Sydney and Melbourne’s Popcorn Taxi events series.

Narrated by English actress and comedienne Dawn French, it poses some of the oldest questions we have; who or what is God, how do we relate to Him, Her or It and why do we believe in one?

Co-director Lenny De Vries was a young girl in Holland when questions about life’s purpose started occurring to her. ‘It was the 70s and 80s in the Cold War. I was always dragged to anti nuclear demonstrations and it seemed the whole country was out marching,’ she remembers. ‘I was only eleven and I had this banner with my best friend, and we’d written on it ‘We also want a future’. So I have this childhood memory of being confronted with the futility of life. You know, it was all about how we didn’t know when the bomb was going to fall, what use is life in the face of that? It makes you realise how amazing it is the way people look for a higher power.’

While Chasing God doesn’t answer any of the questions it poses, it reminds you that they’re questions that we need to ask ourselves whether we’re believers or not. If it’s been ages since you sat staring out the window wondering what your life is going to amount to in the grand scheme of things, it’s more food for thought than you’ve probably given yourself in as long.

Some of the imagery in Chasing God is of the various brutalities the human race has visited on itself during the 20th century, which begs the one question atheists (somewhat justifiably) always ask; where is God if He loves us all so much, when He allows so much suffering. To many (from the Muslims of the Dark Ages slaughtered in the crusades to the Iraqi civilians blown up in the war George Bush claims God sanctioned him to carry out), belief in a higher power wouldn’t seem worth it when so much blood is shed in His name. Wasn’t that answer enough for de Vries?

‘Actually quite the contrary,’ she says. ‘On a personal level it gave me so much hope. To believe in God or a higher power gives people a strength they can live their lives for. A Buddhist in the film makes an interesting point — he says whether God exist or not doesn’t really matter. If people use their believe in God to live a spiritual or better life that’s the benefit.’

Running at only fifty minutes, the film feels a little on the short side, something de Vries wished she’d been able to see in to the future to address when the project started seven years ago. ‘Looking at it now and seeing how many people are coming to the cinema to see it, I’m kicking myself for not making it longer,’ she says. ‘It’s also because of the last two years and how docos have become so popular — it wasn’t like that when we started out.’

You almost hope de Vries and Burton get the chance to do a sequel. Because of the constraints of TV, there isn’t a lot of visual material to work with; apart from the interview footage, there’s some fairly pedestrian graphics and stock footage, but the ideas and discussions going on are so engaging you’ll hardly notice the visuals. In fact, it’s a project that could just as easily have been made into a book (and if the marketing boffins at BBC know their stuff, soon will be).

You might not get much out of it if you’re not at all spiritual, and anything religious has a slightly daggy air for many nowadays — God has fallen out favour over the last twenty years as we’ve become more educated about the world and cultures around us and cynical about power (both on Earth and beyond it).

But any discussion about God is essentially about what meaning our conduct in this life has and whether it affects where we go afterwards, and if you think about that often it’ll make you think for a long time afterwards. If you’re already a firm believer, it’ll galvanise your joy in your faith, but either way it might just be the most important film you see in a long time.

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