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Heaven Help Us!
In the beginning, there was light, a flash point that filmmaker Peter Rodger realized blinded many to the fact that God was in the details -- and every religion detailed Him differently yet ultimately in their own image.
"Oh My God" is an exclamatory documentary on the topic as Rodger, a prominent commercial director marking his feature debut, has sent his camera skyward, and climbed the mountain seeking answers of what sets each group's God apart from the other.
Jews, Christians, Muslims -- can't we all get along? Not when it comes to a monotheistic vision.
And that vision thing is what gives "Oh My God," now playing in the area, a pronounced perspective when it comes to the possessive "My" in the title.
Using interviews and camera work that make the majesty of his environs ethereally stunning and spiritually spinning, Rodger rotates nations and navigates faiths in trying to come up with an answer to the unanswerable, "What is God?"
Is there a GPS for God's whereabouts? Celestial tour guide Peter Rodger at your deific disposal, map to the mystical at hand.
Really? What in God's name was he thinking?
Exactly, says Rodger.
Long exasperated with the "My God is better than your God" "gotcha" argument that has escalated from schoolyards to sacrifices on global killing fields, Rodger took a frequent-flyer pass on faith, visiting world hot spots where God is in His heaven -- as long as that heaven has its hegemony of like thinkers and believers.
The filmmaker owns up to the impossibility of what he has imagined for the screen. Four questions? This film raises multitudes.
"The unanswerable," answers the filmmaker, "is what appealed to me."
He cinematically peels off layers of the prose and con artists that have made God such a hot commodity for those who worship at his altar and those who would alter his meaning to suit their needs.
How dare they, says Rodger of man-made armies armed with hatred as ammo, use God to claim he is on their side as they disarm the faiths of others?
Of catechisms and cataclysms -- is God really suited up in battle fatigues, or fatigued himself with what man has made of man ... in His name? "Has God washed his hands of us? Well, He is us -- and in a way, we have washed our hands of" ourselves, says Rodger.
Laundered monotheism? "Wars are about money, using religion as their excuse," says Rodger.
'Not About Religion'
Rodger that with an explanation; the filmmaker of Christian background is not concerned with semiotics as a seminarian: "I am not a theologian, and this film is not about religion."
But it does land a special place in the battle over territory in the Mideast.
The movie's segments of Israelis and Palestinians jockeying for position in Jerusalem in a horse race not for the hereafter, but the here and now, are illuminating.
"Both sides have a huge desire for peace," he contends, "but the conflict is of land, of power, of money, of guilt, and mainly of emotion. It is a lethal cocktail.
"All sides are to blame on a political level. Does it have anything to do with God? Absolutely not!"
What it does have to do with is "faith -- that is what it is all about."
It is all oh-so irrevocably entwined with optimism, offers the "Oh My God" director: "Hope and faith are as linked as money and war."
Is "Oh My God" especially blessed? Was it a sign that it received its world premiere this past summer at the Jerusalem Film Festival? The hand of God at curtain's strings?
"You can read anything you like into that," says Rodger, a smile in his voice. "Time and circumstances made it happen."
Happens that the film finished with a faithful following among both Palestinians and Israelis who attended the screening.
Turf war or turf peace?
"You can't make a film on such a topic without [focusing] on the Holy Land," said Rodger.
Through interviews with people of different faiths and followings, the film leads where few others have dared go. And, much like the filmmaker himself, "Oh My God" -- a text message's dream, chuckles Rodger -- has a sense of humor about itself.
Who knew that praying for good seats at High Holiday services could on some level equate nabbing good ducats at a David Copperfield concert?
He's got magic to do but monotheism, too? In one of the movie's lighter moments, the illustrious Jewish illusionist chats about how past prophets may have profited from their prestidigation, passing off their magical slight of hand as mind-blowing miracles.
Pick a karma, any karma ... As Copperfield relates, smiling, in biblical times he may have been able to pass himself off as a god, rather than a mere deity among the deck-of-cards crowd.
Vegas as misguided mecca? Religion as mirage?
Or maybe double-feature? Coming on the heels of Bill Maher's irreverent "Religulous" last year, does Rodger foresee a theatrical twin bill some day featuring his visceral vision of "God" and that of Maher's more mischievous?
Comes the time ... "I'm dying to talk to Bill about that and would love to be on his show," he says of comic Maher's "Real Time" on HBO. "Bill comes from another vantage point, dissing religion; that would be a great double bill."
For now, Rodger can anticipate lighting up marquees with future projects, including his next, "a coming-of-age story" -- not in the biblical ages, but "as far away from 'Oh My God' as can be."
But how does one cast for stars when you've already reeled in God as your lead? Can he only go downhill from here?
The fire next time? What else but "What the Hell," ripostes Rodger, giving the devil his due.