Friday, August 22, 2008
Flashback Friday: Oh, God! Book II
For this week's Flashback Friday, I picked a childhood favourite that when watched recently for the first time in decades, I was disappointed that it doesn't hold up as well as my memory had it. That's not to say that it's not a good film, just extremely dated. Because of that, I can't call it a "classic" (for classics have timeless appeal, such as "Sound of Music", "Forrest Gump", and "E.T." to name a few).
When I was a kid, I remember seeing the original "Oh, God!" movie starring John Denver (his music always puts me to sleep). I didn't like that one as much as my dad did. When the sequel came out in 1980 or 1981, it seemed like it was made specifically for children, as it features an intelligent girl who gets visited by God, played wonderfully grandfatherly by George Burns. Perhaps the biggest reason why I liked this film was the character Shingo, a Japanese boy who was about the same age as I was when I saw this film. It was the first time that I saw an Asian kid in a film (this was before Short-round in "Temple of Doom") and being a part-Asian kid myself, it was nice to have a positive role model in the guise of Shingo, especially when he coined the phrase "Think God" that becomes the central message of the movie and starts a phenomenon that travels around the world in an age without YouTube, cellphones and personal computers.
A few months ago, I recently found a used DVD copy of the film and watched it for the first time since the 1980s. It's one of those cases where the memory I've held of this film proved to be far greater than the film itself. If it was released today, it would be a TV movie at best. From a theological stand point, it's pretty weak (that God needs to enlist a girl to come up with an advertising campaign to get adults to believe in him again?). Some of the dialogue is cringe-inducing. And the actors who play the divorced parents haven't really gone on to bigger things so they reflect an era at the height of their modest fame (late 70s/early 80s).
What I like about the film is how they balance the perception of being crazy with someone's personal vision who claims to be inspired and directed by God. That part of the movie is timeless, but as one who prefers more sophisticated fare, I'd love to see a more in depth "Oh, God!" movie. Maybe I should write my own version, just to see if I can create the kind of film that I think needs to be done, addressing some of the issues our country has today about faith in public life.
In case you never seen this film, here's a short synopsis:
A girl (8 years old?) with divorced parents (there are constant jokes about her dad's younger, bustier new girlfriend) has Saturday dates with dad, who always takes her to a movie and Chinese food. This time, she gets a fortune cookie written by God himself, telling her to meet Him in the lobby/lounge area. When He convinces her that He's really God, He asks her to come up with a way to get his name back into the public consciousness. Since her dad works in advertising, she leans on him for advice and ideas. But adults in this film come across as dolts. Some see the girl talking to herself in restaurants and think she's gone loco. Her "Think God" signs around school gets her into trouble and an appointment with her parents and the principal. As a result of her religious message, she gets suspended and people rally to her cause.
She's frustrated because no one believes her that God actually talks with her. Isn't that always the case, though? God has the nasty habit of picking select individuals to deliver His message to all humanity and then they have to endure skeptics, harassment, hostility, and possible death threats. You'd think that God would finally realize how futile this way of getting people to believe in Him really is! As Bill Maher suggests, God should just appear in a way that no one earth can doubt that it was truly God. Deliver His message at once to all 6 billion inhabitants of planet earth.
However, that would violate the free will that He gave to each human being. There's a whole host of problems if He were to do such a thing. For the purposes of this movie, it would take away from the comedic aspect if all the adults could see God the way the girl does.
For me, the best part of the movie are the dialogues between the girl and God. You can see a real bond, like grandfather and granddaughter. This culminates in a scene set at the Union Station in Los Angeles. I had watched this movie after my Amtrak Coast Starlight journey from San Diego to Portland, so I got a small thrill out of seeing the scene at the railway station, since I had just walked through there recently. It was almost like experiencing deja vu!
All in all, it's a good movie, but not a great one. In my life, it did have an influence on me because I remember wanting to be as cool as Shingo. And it also gave me the courage to maintain my own unique relationship with God, even if others around me doubted it or made fun of it or said that my beliefs were wrong because I didn't agree with theirs. It's amazing to realize that such a flawed and dated film could have such an impact on my life, but it did.
If I were to write an updated "Oh, God!" movie, what would I write about?
Personally, what most interest me is the false idea that a lot of people have that because they believe God directed them into a certain church, they believe that church is "the one true church" that EVERYONE else must also join. And if someone shares a personal testimony themselves, which indicate that another church was the one they were meant to join, that the other person would doubt that person's testimony because it doesn't validate their own. If you believe there can only be one true church, then all these religions must really confound your belief. So, I'd love to write a story that explains how there can be so many different religions and that it's not wrong to be a member of one, even if others think they have a monopoly on truth.
We'll see. I'm not working on any writing projects until next year because my focus is on politics and volunteering on a campaign or two. I can't wait until political season is over so I can return my focus to writing.