Monday, 10 September 2012

God Told Me To (1976)

In New York City, a sniper opens fire on a dozen innocent victims; a police officer at the St Patrick's Day Parade guns down both members of the public and his colleagues; and in an apartment, a man calmly tells officers how he murdered his wife and young children. The thing that links all of these events is that each one of the perpetrators claims, "God told me to do it". With a premise like that what could possibly go wrong? Well, unfortunately, plenty, with writer/director Larry Cohen suffering an inability to develop a great idea into a fully fleshed out story.

"God Told Me To" was released in 1976, when the book "Chariot of the Gods?" was all the rage, and author Erich von Daniken theorising that many of the religious beliefs and ancient technological advances on planet Earth may have extra-terrestrial origins. Cohen throws plenty of similar ideas into the mixture, as he tries to link UFO abductions, virgin births, mind control, biblical sacrifice, and messianic androgynous aliens, but fails to tie them up into a completely coherent whole.

Given that the murders and their investigation are initially introduced as the factor driving the plot of the film, it is baffling how they are eventually forgotten about, and the reasons behind them never adequately explained. Vague allusions are made to the Biblical story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, and a possible link to the modern day God (or in this case, what appears to be some sort of malevolent extra-terrestrial being that his followers mistake for God) testing his followers by asking them to do terrible things. However, this does not really work in the context of the film, as, according to the book of Genesis, God also intervened at the last minute to save Isaac, and Abraham did not subsequently kill himself.

A couple of the individual scenes are memorable, with the St Patrick’s Day Parade shot with lots of shaky handheld camera work, giving a chaotic feel that mirrors the panic of the crowd. By contrast the interview with the man who has gunned down his family (an act we never actually see) is all the more creepy for the low key approach taken, as he coolly describes what happened, and justifies it with a beatific look on his face and a blissful tone to his voice.
However, these scenes, along with the other elements of the story, such as the mysterious long haired man and his seemingly virgin mother, are presented as though they are pieces of a puzzle that will ultimately add up to an answer, however obtuse, bizarre or vague, something which frustratingly never happens. Instead of resolving plot strands, Cohen opts instead for adding more and more, which does mean the constant flow of off-the-wall ideas and situations just about sustains interest until the end - just do not expect to have worked out what any of it was ultimately about or may have been trying to say.