Saturday, October 25, 2014
Thoughts on the Movie `God's Not Dead' and the Use of Subplots
In Ansen Dibell's book `Plot' he talks about the importance of patterns and echoes, how they hold a story together on a subconscious level. By allowing a subplot or character to echo your main one, you give yourself room to explore your theme from a different angle. Instead of presenting just one idea or outcome, you're allowing the audience to see your problem from several sides.
I just saw the movie God's Not Dead, and it is a great example of this kind of weaving. (If you don't want to be spoiler-ed, now would be the time to stop reading.) The main plot is that Christian law student is challenged by an atheist Philosophy professor to prove that God exists, so the story is basically a courtroom drama.
One major theme in the movie is the importance of standing up for God despite outside pressure. This theme could have been carried by the main plot but it would have been weakened by the fact that the hero's decision to stand up for God has no negative impact on his life. He doesn't flunk the class and he doesn't publicly humiliate himself. In fact, he gets publicly honored. It's a total win. This ending runs the risk of making the story seem trite.
Fortunately, the main plot is echoed by several sub-plots. We follow a girl from a very traditional Muslim family and a Chinese foreign exchange student who is also in the Philosophy class. The girl from the traditional Muslim family turns out to secretly be a Christian. When her father finds out, he throws her out of their home. The Chinese student is left with a similar situation he texts his father about all the talk of God in Philosophy class and is told to go with what the teacher says, and also that the line they are using might be insecure. He becomes a Christian in America, but will eventually be returning to a country where Freedom of Religion is not a right.
By creating a pattern the storyteller deepens the story and invites the viewer to truly think through their theme.