Typical isn’t it, you wait all year for a film about God, and then two come along at once. Later this month sees the arrival of God’s Not Dead 2, starring Melissa Joan Hart as a teacher trying to drive home that point. Hart can rest easy because, according to new French comedy The Brand New Testament, God is currently residing in Brussels.
In Jaco Van Dormael’s film He is a cantankerous and vindictive man who bullies his wife and daughter and spends his days in a room filled to the rafters with filing cards, compiling petty rules guaranteed to drive the human race to despair. God is played with gleeful relish by Benoît Poelvoorde (the sardonic hitman in the cult Belgian mockumentary Man Bites Dog), in a grubby dressing gown and with a permanent scowl. When God’s identity if revealed a mere mortal remarks, “He’s not how I expected him to look.” Here are six other on-screen incarnations of God that don’t conform to type.
In Terry Gilliam’s fantasy favourite, a group of treasure-stealing, time-travelling dwarves comes face to face with the creator of the universe, the ‘Supreme Being’ – a deity whose awesome “tiresome manifestation” precludes the appearance of a rather dapper and distinguished looking Ralph Richardson in a three piece suit, declaring, “One thing I can’t stand is mess.” You’ll hate planet Earth, Supreme Being.
Did Groucho Marx’s irreverent portrayal of God as a dope smoking mobster with a supermodel girlfriend, who lives on yacht and orders Mafia hits, cause outrage among church groups when it was released? Unfortunately not, and so this bizarre counter-cultural spoof from Otto Preminger sank without a trace.
Ryan Reynolds likes playing characters who aren’t entirely what they seem. In the upcoming Criminal he’s the titular lead with a dead CIA agent’s memories and skills implanted in him. Similarly in last year’s Self/less, he’s a healthy young body a billionaire decides to put his consciousness into. In body-swap comedy The Change-Up he’s the married high-achiever turned carefree ladies man. In Criminal, released this week, he’s the titular lead with a dead CIA agent’s memories. In The Nines, Reynolds plays an actor who might just be the supreme being. A Hollywood actor who thinks he’s God? Now that’s not hard to believe.
In Lars von Trier’s typically intense drama, devout Calvinist Bess (Emily Watson) converses with God in her local church, actually voicing His replies. When God answers one of her prayers with tragic, unforeseen consequences, Bess is plunged into a maelstrom of guilt and sexual degradation, ending in an astounding act of brutal self flagellation. More tea, vicar?
Toxie faces down his evil self, the Noxious Avenger, in this trashy Troma sequel. There are cameos from Corey Feldman, Eli Roth, Lemmy, Stan Lee and most notably ‘Hank the Angry Drunken Dwarf’ as God, who helps Toxie out of a parallel universe. Best known for appearing on Howard Stern’s radio show, Hank presides over a no expense spent set of Heaven, and portrays God as angry and, erm, drunk. Hank died a year after making the film, but no word on whether he ever found out just how accurate his performance was.
In this entertaining music biopic Steve Coogan plays the late Tony Wilson, the irrepressible boss of legendary Manchester music outfit Factory Records. After a few puffs of strong Barbadian ganga, Wilson has a rooftop encounter with God, also played by Coogan – with a full beard, robes and a strong Lancashire accent. God declares that one of the Factory artists, Shaun Ryder, is the greatest poet since Yeats, and slags off Mick Hucknall. It’s enough to make anyone a believer.
The Brand New Testament is released 15 April; God’s Not Dead 2 is out 29 April.
Published 14 Apr 2016
This saccharine religious comedy from Belgium’s Jaco Van Dormael fails to live up to its initial promise.
By Mark Asch
Robert Eggers’ film provides an evocative reminder of the anxieties, fears and early religious beliefs that shaped the New World.
By Tom Bond
Leonardo DiCaprio’s tortured turn in The Revenant reminded us of another even more astonishing showing from an A-list star.