God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness
God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness (2018) marked the third installment in a popular franchise of Evangelical Christian–themed movies by production company Pure Flix. Like its predecessor, God’s Not Dead 2, it was filmed in central Arkansas and features several prominent landmarks. The movie was released nationally on March 30, 2018.
Set in the fictional Hope Springs, Arkansas, God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness opens where the previous movie left off—with Pastor Dave Hill (played by David A. R. White, who also produces) in jail for refusing a subpoena for the text of his sermons. After he is bailed out by his co-pastor, Reverend Jude (Benjamin A. Onyango), he finds that his church, St. James, has become a focal point of controversy. The church is located on the property of the fictional Hadleigh University, once a religious institution prior to its purchase by the state, and the university board wants the church gone in order to eliminate a source of contention and to use the land for a new student center.
One night, a student named Adam (Mike C. Manning), upset that his girlfriend Keaton (Samantha Boscarino) has broken up with him over their religious disagreements, throws a brick through a basement window of the church. This breaks a gas line, and the resulting explosion kills Reverend Jude and severely damages the church. The university, seeing its opportunity, exerts eminent domain in order to claim the land, leading Pastor Dave to enlist the help of his estranged, non-believing brother Pearce (John Corbett), a lawyer specializing in social justice work in Chicago, Illinois. The two begin to bond as they engage in a variety of legal and media maneuvers to prevent the destruction of the church and build support for their case, while Adam struggles with his conscience and how he should react to having inadvertently caused a death. However, as Pastor Dave becomes more militant, he begins to alienate those around him and even ends up attacking Adam publicly once he discovers the truth of the matter. After a crisis of faith, Pastor Dave reconciles with both Adam and university president Thomas Ellsworth (Ted McGinley) and announces his intention to accept the university’s offer for the land and to build a new church, named St. Jude after his deceased friend.
God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness was filmed central Arkansas during the fall of 2017 and features several Little Rock (Pulaski County) landmarks, such as Trinity Episcopal Cathedral (which serves as St. James Church), Doe’s Eat Place, Philander Smith College (which serves as Hadleigh University), the Arkansas River Trail, and Two Rivers Park. However, some landmarks contradict the narrative of the film. For example, the Little Rock sign above the River Market pavilion can easily be seen in one nighttime shot, despite the movie being set in the fictional Hope Springs. Too, Robinson Auditorium serves as a courthouse, but the name of the building can be clearly seen in the establishing shot. For Corbett, the Little Rock location played a role in his decision to be a part of the movie: “I have a rock and country band that played all over the United States, but I happen to really like Little Rock. It’s an amazing town.”
God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness debuted on 1,693 screens, about twice as many as the first movie in the series but some 700 fewer than the second. Critics, by and large, rated the movie poorly, even as they compared it favorably to the previous two installments in the franchise. For example, Sheila O’Malley dubbed it “political propaganda” but added that “it has a slightly more complex story, and actually interrogates some of the assumptions behind the stifling Christian persecution complex.” In particular, reviewers cited the performance of Corbett as the highlight of the movie. Writing for the Guardian, Jordan Hoffman asserted that, with the interaction between Pastor Dave and Pearce, “It almost starts to resemble a real movie.” Reviewers from an evangelical background were more positive. Plugged In, the popular entertainment website of Focus on the Family, noted that the film was a welcome departure for a franchise that typically “reinforces that kind of us-vs.-them bunker mentality.”
Many reviewers linked the movie to the political climate resulting from Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president in 2016 and the unshakeable support for him among evangelical Christians. Vadim Rizov, for example, wrote: “A Light In Darkness isn’t as offensive as the first film—it lacks the requisite misogyny and Islamophobia, and does a better job of looking like it’s almost a real movie—but it’s not far behind, an emblematic film for the foul moment.” Before its wide release, the movie was screened for Vice President Mike Pence at the Museum of the Bible in Washington DC. God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness opened in the number-eleven slot at the box office, taking in $2.63 million, in contrast to its predecessor’s $7.6 million opening weekend. By the end of its six-week theatrical run, it had grossed a little more than $5.6 million. It was followed by a sequel, God’s Not Dead: We the People, which was filmed in Oklahoma and released in 2021.
For additional information:
Corbett, John. “Hollywood Makes Lots of Movies about God More Heavy-Handed than Any Faith-Based Movie.” NBC News Think, April 1, 2018. https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/hollywood-makes-lots-movies-about-god-more-heavy-handed-any-ncna861611 (accessed September 25, 2018).
“God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt6652708/ (accessed September 25, 2018).
“God’s Not Dead: A Light in the Darkness.” Plugged In. http://www.pluggedin.com/movie-reviews/gods-not-dead-light-in-the-darkness/ (accessed September 25, 2018).
Hoffman, Jordan. “God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness Review—Preposterous Threequel.” Guardian, March 29, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/mar/29/gods-not-dead-a-light-in-darkness-review (accessed September 25, 2018).
O’Malley, Sheila. “God’s Not Dead: A Light in Darkness.” RogerEbert.com. https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/gods-not-dead-a-light-in-darkness-2018 (accessed September 25, 2018).
Rizov, Vadim. “God’s Still Not Dead, and Dana Loesch is A Light in Darkness, at the End of This Hysterical Trilogy.” AV Club, March 29, 2018. https://film.avclub.com/gods-still-not-dead-and-dana-loesch-is-a-light-in-dark-1824178917 (accessed September 25, 2018).
Wilkinson, Alissa. “How the Christian Movie Series God’s Not Dead Fails to Be Christian.” Vox.com, April 3, 2018. https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/4/3/17180138/gods-not-dead-light-darkness-evangelical-christian-persecution-race (accessed September 25, 2018).
Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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