Packs three years' worth of globe-trotting interviews into an often visually vibrant but rhetorically muddled package
A documentary that attempts to probe the mysteries of God and faith would seem the very definition of a film that leaves more questions than answers. Even still, only die-hard relativists are likely to derive much satisfaction from filmmaker Peter Rodger’s “Oh My God,” which compacts nearly three years’ worth of globe-trotting interviews into an often visually vibrant but rhetorically muddled package. So intent on giving (almost) every perspective a fair shake that it winds up saying little of consequence, this anti-“Religulous” will likely find its most receptive audience in tube and DVD play.
Commercials helmer/photographer Rodger set out in 2006 with a small crew and two HD cameras, determined to capture as wide a range of answers as possible to the question, “What is God?” According to the pic’s press notes, Rodger was fed up with what he calls “the ‘my God is greater than your God’ syndrome” — a point of view he dispenses with early on, when he interviews a Texas gun-store owner who claims to believe only in Jesus Christ.
As if to offer a broader-minded corrective to this rather easy target, Rodger travels onward and outward. He meets with Hindu priests in Bali, Zen masters in Japan, Buddhists in the Himalayas, Catholic clergy in Rome, and many others, including a handful of agnostics and atheists who are no less opinionated on the subject (Irish musician-activist Bob Geldof firmly but not too stridently rejects the idea of a higher power).
Australian celebrities Hugh Jackman and Baz Luhrmann add more star wattage than substance to the dialogue, while Ringo Starr, though not the last person to appear, gets perhaps the last word with his simple pronouncement that “God is love.” So many differing perspectives are assembled over the course of the film’s 97 minutes — all gods are equal, people are a reflection of God, God is infinite energy, etc. — that the desired effect seems to be to make your head spin, even as you nod in fuzzy-minded agreement with the generally positive, edifying things being said.
Admirably democratic as all this is, anyone square enough to have an interest in meaningful answers, as opposed to an avalanche of feel-good platitudes, is better off meditating for 97 minutes than watching “Oh My God.” No one expects Rodger to solve mysteries that have perplexed and divided human civilization for millennia, but apart from restating the obvious — everyone’s got an opinion — it’s not clear what purpose his film ultimately serves.
Once Rodger arrives in the Middle East, he spends considerable time seeking out voices on the tricky topic of Islam. One editorial juxtaposition — contrasting one Muslim’s extremist rant, drawn from a passage in the Koran, with another’s cooler-headed interpretation of the same passage — reps a rare moment when Rodger actually expresses a point of view, though he does address the camera throughout. Yet his final, grand summation — that it’s a person’s faith that counts, regardless of where that faith is placed — comes across as a mouthful of well-intentioned banality.
The nonstop barrage of talking heads is often dynamically edited (by John Hoyt) and scored (by Alexander van Bubenheim), resulting in what could be described as an extended public-service musicvideo. Interstitial sequences detailing the rituals of the African Maasai tribe and the Australian Aborigines (among other far-flung peoples) offer upbeat visual and musical elements, but only add to the nagging suspicion that the film’s true subject isn’t God; it’s multiculturalism.