Harness It, Fear It, Revere It, Deny It

Review of Act of God at SIFF Cinema by Tucker Cholvin

This coming Friday, lightning will strike at SIFF Cinema. Act of God, a Canadian documentary film directed by Jennifer Baichwal, is a masterfully done introspection into the symbolism of lightning and storms in the human condition. In interviews with people struck by this awesome force of nature, relatives of those killed by it, storm chasers, musicians, and in forays that range to France, Mexico, and beyond, Act of God quickly fills you with a sense of awe at the sheer power of lightning. Baichwal uses sweeping panoramic shots of powerful storms set to the stories of victims to stress and illuminate the raw destructive force of lightning—images of twisted trees and mangled metal drive the point home.

But Baichwal’s concern is not so much in the lightning itself, but in its metaphysical implications. Is a lightning strike a random occurrence in a purely mechanical universe? Or is it a fated, predestined strike by an omniscient God? In tearful interviews with victims and survivors, it becomes clear that there is no easy answer, but countless perspectives.

Baichwal travels through religion, science, logic, and emotion in search of answers. Some in the film say that evolution has wired humans to look for and remember patterns; that looking for significance in a random lightning strike is only an uncivilized remnant of our former primitive selves. On the other hand, a televangelist who had a near-death experience following a lightning strike disagrees—in a near-death experience, he saw heaven and his soul in what he believes was an intentional act of God to change his ways. In the end, one bereaved mother expresses the common middle ground: “I can’t accept that there is a reason that [my son] died, but I can’t accept that there is no reason.”

The pure power of lightning provokes differing reactions in people; when faced with such a force, Act of God shows how they will harness it, fear it, revere it, or deny it. And by the end of the film, you will be questioning your own worldview as well. Act of God marvelously takes something that we accept in life as commonplace, and in dissecting it allows us to question ourselves and the nature of life. An enriching and engaging film, Act of God is well worth the time—guaranteed to expand your mind and bring a new dimension to this winter’s coming storms.

- Tucker C.

Act of God
October 30th - November 5th

SIFF Cinema

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