November 1, 2019

Does God Exist in Your Story's World? Here's Why it Matters...

Does God Exist in Your Screenplay
When you're writing your script you have complete control over the world and everything in it. So...does God exist in your story? 

You've probably heard that every screenplay is allowed one big coincidence. You get one shot to make the audience buy into the story. So something random can happen. 

Call it a coincidence, call it kismet, or call it an act of God. 

But don't call it Deus Ex Machina. 

Everything else that follows needs to be set up, paid off, and at times, punished. 

You, as the writer, make the decisions in your script's world. You are, effectively, the God of that world. You can make it rain, you can make people suffer, you can pick your own, personal, Jesus...

But you also are in control of whether or not God exists in your screenplay. 

And that decisions, while it might sound frivolous and subjective, really matter when it comes down to tone. 

So let's ask the big question...

Does God exist in your screenplay's world? 

Look, I went to 12 years of Catholic School so I'm always going to ask the tough questions. Most of the time it got me kicked out of class... which... I'll handle in my memoir. Here I want to talk about God in storytelling. 

I was watching this video essay on Nightmare on Elm Street and these questions came to me.

The essay discusses the fast that because Freddy is not punished for his crimes that in the world of Nightmare, God is an illusion and only hell is real. This got me thinking if God was dead in that movie, how did it affect the tone of what we were about to see? 

Dead kids are just dead. 

Freddy, hell, and demons are the ultimate winners because you can't defeat the dark if there is no eternal good. 

That really messes with the tone of the franchise. 

But it also is a unique statement on nature. Evil is the one true emotion. There is no good, only survival. 

That's fun for a horror movie...but not every horror movie. 

In The Exorcist, God is very much alive. 

We know that Satan has taken this girl and the struggle is that a mortal tries to use God to get her back. The way they win is through the same sacrifice Jesus worked out. Take me as payment for the sins of another. 

God has to exist in this movie because he's the ultimate weapon against Satan. 

This balance of good and evil is the theme of the movie. Ultimate faith receives the ultimate reward. 

This makes sense in any horror movie, but let's deviate from God in the obvious genre. 

God in movies

In films like Dogma, Bruce Almighty, and Indiana Jones, God takes top billing. These are films built around the existent of God. And they show God in several different tones. 

In Dogma, heaven and hell are givens. It's a movie about fallen angels that tracks their journey returning to heaven. There's no muss and fuss about the existence of a creator and the laws that go deeper into how that creator treats and love humans. 

The same goes for Bruce Almighty, whose entire thesis is "What if you got to be God?"

But things get wonky with Indy... 

God and Indiana Jones

God problems 

For Indiana Jones, the world is a much more complicated place. And God is a very complicated thing. 

In Raiders, Indy sees God first hand when the ark is opened. It's wild, but God 100% exists in that universe. And not just the God of Israel... because by movie three we see that Jesus is real as well and that his chalice holds healing powers. 

While both these movies are about the Nazi perversion of trying to use God to annihilate humanity, I want to talk about the even-numbered Indiana Jones movies. 

The question of whether or not God exists is one many people ask every day. I imagine that Indiana Jones wakes up knowing he should be a good person because of what he's seen. I mean, he has proof of an afterlife and of God. 

But then I realized that this might have fucked Indiana Jones up. 

Because he not only has proof of that, but he also has proof of interdimensional travel and voodoo being real as well. 

If voodoo is real and calling out to the Gods of the Indian faith works...

Does that mean every God from every religion exists too? 

Here where my reading into a movie might destroy the movie for you. And I get that. Raiders is my favorite film of all time. My friends and family know I worship at the altar of Spielberg (not here to discuss my other religious affiliations). 

But the hard thing about the world of Indiana Jones is that when all mystical things are possible, it starts getting hard to rein the story in. 

Now that God has been established as a driving force in these worlds, it's hard not to wonder why or how Indy reconciles with his daily existence. And it's even harder to write in that universe because for Indiana Jones to have more adventures, he needs to reconcile the ones he's already had. 

Still, the major choice to have God exist in Indiana Jones' world is a drastic one that allows these other magical realism elements to flourish in a movie about a guy collecting artifacts that usually have to do with the deity prescribed to them. 

But what about god in movies that have nothing to do with him (or her)?

God is everywhere (in movies)

Let's start with an easy entryway into the God question, Signs.  

Look, I'm, from Philadelphia, I stan for Shyamalan. Every year when my manager sets goals for me I add "get a general meeting with Shyamalan." So far... 0 for 6. But I intend to live long enough to make that a reality. And I pray for the outcome. 

I have FAITH...

Which happens to be the theme of Signs...

Which is an alien invasion movie. 

What I find to be so interesting about Signs is that if aliens exist, which is PROVEN in the world of the movie, then it would seem to negate the idea of God making us in his image and likeness, which is the central belief for the Pastor played by Mel Gibson in the movie. 

Still, the character struggle here is about an act of faith. 

We have no idea whether or no God exists in Signs. The movie makes no statement either way. 

But we DO KNOW that what happens in that movie strengthens the character's faith in God. Which allows him to arc. 

What about a movie that has almost NOTHING to do with religion at all, like Deja Vu

This is a crime movie where Denzel and Val Kilmer try to stop a domestic terrorist by traveling back in time. It's wild, underrated, and uses physics to explain everything. ALMOST everything. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rm-HMBEFBqA

Except when it's time to send Denzel back in time and the physics says it's impossible... he calls on his creator. 

Denzel needs a miracle...and...SPOILER ALERT...

He gets one. 

God exists in the world of Deja Vu

He (or she) exists without an actual label or proof, but as a plot device to explain how things work out when the laws of science say they should not. This is also called Deus Ex Machina.

This is all a fun exercise, but let's get back to the original question...

Well, does God exist in your story? 

I am not saying God has to exist in your story, or your story is better if God exists. 

What I want you to do is think about how the God question factors into the themes and world you're trying to satisfy. 

While you might only get one coincidence, if God exists in your script, you can always rely on divine intervention...=. Sure, it can be a story cheat, but it's something that a lot of people believe in, and something that can help your characters out of situations. 

As screenwriters, sometimes we get so caught up controlling the world we forget that we can layer in someone else pulling the strings too. 

So the next time you sit down to write, ask yourself if God exists in your character's world. 

Set the rules and see if the pages flow. 

If not, stare at the keys and yell "Goddamnit!"

Works for me every time. 

What's next? Start your feature screenplay

Screenwriting is hard. But to become a filmmaker, you need to learn scriptwriting to master storytelling. We'll give you free lessons. 

 

 

Your Comment

11 Comments

I'm sorry, but I can't write a story that contains a God, as in, a personified God. I'm a spiritual pantheist, so I find that the whole universe is "God". I see God as a digital system that evolved into a holographic experience. My beliefs are close to a theist atheist, of sorts ("if everything is God, then nothing is").

Given these beliefs, it would be disingenuous of me to write about a traditional God in my scripts -- apart from making fun of it, and its followers. But then again, that's a beaten up concept, tired and boring (look at Madonna's current work, trying to stay relevant by criticizing organized religion as she did in the 1980s -- she's not relevant anymore, the subject is already tired).

If I was to write a story that contains "God", it would be a mystical type of story. A psychedelic one. One that marries the old sci-fi with the new psychedelic sci-fi. One that is not shackled in our spacetime. Then and only then, mystical undertones make sense in a modern film.

As for hell, if I'd want to write horror, it'll have to be cosmic horror. Cheap jump scares and inexplicable monsters without explanation as to where they came from don't do it for me (since I don't believe in the concept of "hell", although I'm sure there are some unpleasant places in our universe for sure -- "Event Horizon" was great in that).

November 2, 2019 at 5:08PM, Edited November 2, 5:10PM

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Eugenia Loli
Filmmaker, illustrator, collage artist
59

I think you missed the point of the article: "As screenwriters, sometimes we get so caught up controlling the world we forget that we can layer in someone else pulling the strings too." This could work for pantheism if you're creative.

November 4, 2019 at 3:54PM

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Noah Leon
Videographer editor
372

Interesting topic!

I think the reason the Indiana Jones movies work regardless of the paradox pointed out is because, on the one hand, the first three movies rather work as stand alone movies. They don't have any connection, he even has three love interests. (The fourth movie was just a pile of forgettable crap.)

On the other hand one could argue that it's actually the same "God" that is taking action on all three movies and since he does, this could, in Indy's view been seen as: God seems to be contradictory (since Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism are at some point to each other), so the moral consequences might be as well muddled, which makes him take the position that nothing is set in stone.

November 3, 2019 at 2:38AM, Edited November 3, 2:38AM

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DingDong
1939

I love this analysis!

November 3, 2019 at 1:07PM

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Jason Hellerman
Copywriter
Writer

- Double post -

November 4, 2019 at 8:18AM, Edited November 4, 8:20AM

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DingDong
1939

Thanks man, you're welcome!

November 4, 2019 at 8:20AM

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DingDong
1939

"As screenwriters, sometimes we get so caught up controlling the world we forget that we can layer in someone else pulling the strings too." Really great article! Usually I just skim but this one held my attention till the end.

November 4, 2019 at 3:53PM, Edited November 4, 3:53PM

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Noah Leon
Videographer editor
372

Thank you!

November 4, 2019 at 10:46PM

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Jason Hellerman
Copywriter
Writer

Very insightful article. The deepest one I've read on NOFS

November 8, 2019 at 1:10PM, Edited November 8, 1:10PM

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Aaron Harper
Rental House Manager
307

Thanks for such an interesting and insightful article! Many people that I know are very aware of the spiritual world that is often overlooked by the media and have pretty much felt ignored by Hollywood in the past. Keep up the great work and keep asking questions.

November 8, 2019 at 1:43PM, Edited November 8, 1:43PM

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Jeff Rogers
Photographer
1

Yeah, actually God does exist in my feature screenplay, based on my book: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-last-witness-richard-shorrock/11254...

December 2, 2019 at 5:06PM, Edited December 2, 5:06PM

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Rick Shorrock
DP/Editor/Writer
87