A PIECE of personal testimony: it’s possible to cry along with a film like Let There Be Light (Cert.12A) yet also distrust it.
Dr Sol Harkens (played by the director, Kevin Sorbo) is billed as the world’s most famous atheist. If so, he is a lazy exponent of theologically slack arguments. The film proper begins with a staged debate between a Christian advocating “A Return to Faith” and Sol under the banner “Aborting God: the reasoned choice”. We hear only the latter’s argument, which, far from its claimed rationality, is just rude gobbets of bile. Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll never committed genocide, he says. In a meaningless universe, just party. It’s enough of a caricature for any self-respecting atheist to blush.
Inexplicably, for an even-handed debate, the audience love Harkens’s diatribe. And eventually it is clear that what fuels Sol’s anger isn’t anything intellectual at all, but the loss to cancer of his nine-year-old son, Davey. Ah, now we begin to understand. His ex-wife Katy (Sam Sorbo) and their two remaining sons are fervent believers. It doesn’t take much longer before Sol becomes one, too, after a near-death experience in which Davey tells him to go back and share the Good News.
It is at significant cost, as he has made a lucrative living out of grandstanding appearances and books. Christian bodies remain suspicious of this erstwhile scourge. His agent fires him as a client. Katy remains Sol’s steadfast rock. The scenes in which they struggle with grief are authentic and touching.
The film badly dips when it tries in an abundance of platitudes about light and love to explicate what the Good News is. It is much clearer about who are the enemies of the gospel. The bottom line is: anyone who is not a Christian. This comes as no surprise, since Let There Be Light comes from the faith-based film company that produced the God’s Not Dead series. While the new film is superior to its forerunners from the same stable, it still deals in facile equations. Thus all Muslims get lumped alongside Islamic State.
With hindsight, we should have realised what was coming from the 9/11 opening shots of the destruction of the World Trade Center. Another clue is the appearance of the real-life Sean Hannity, a conservative commentator on Fox TV and radio networks, who also helped to bankroll the project. The entire world’s darkness seems attributable to North Korea, China, and anti-Trump “fake news”. At no point in the film are the United States’ own moral shortcomings examined.
And yet . . . losing a child is one of humanity’s worst nightmares. The screenplay of this tearjerker of a movie often presses emotional buttons without being manipulative. That is left to a soundtrack that incessantly gets out the violins whenever a Significant Moment (of which there are many) occurs. Dionne Warwick has a cameo appearance, but her singing has the effect of an intrusion and contrivance. That aside, we are skilfully shown one way in which people cope with hurt. Where it fails is in not recognising that the world has other paths of illumination than that of the Christian Right.