Oh, God! is a movie starring John Denver and based on the book by Avery Corman, about an agnostic named Jerry who meets God in the flesh (portrayed by George Burns, looking "older than God" but otherwise remarkably chipper).
The opening credits show Jerry as helpful and kind, but not easily taken in. When a lady shoplifts a steak (hiding it in her purse), he simply follows her to the register and rings it up.
A divine invitation
The first scene introduces Jerry Landers and his lovely wife (Teri Garr), who prepare to 'stop thinking' and watch TV while going through their mail. With the bills comes a letter saying, "God grants you an interveiw" (yes, it's misspelled). Jerry initially thinks it's from his old buddy Artie, although he figures an English teacher wouldn't misspell interview. Anyway, he thinks "Nobody's there" (see atheism) so he decides to skip the meeting.
This movie was made so long ago, that Jerry's TV shows snow and plays a steady tone when he wakes up in the middle of the night. Under his pillow is the rolled up letter he thought he threw away.
The next morning, on his way to meet the district manager he interrupts two amorous employees with the mild admonishment, "Wash your hands, Norman." The invitation which he ripped up reappears inside a head of romaine lettuce. He cuts short his meeting and heads for 1600 North Hope Street, where (providentially) there's a parking space right in front of the building.
Meeting in an empty room
Arriving on the 27th floor, Jerry enters a suite with nothing but a chair and an intercom on a little pedestal over which he hears God's voice. He still thinks it's Artie, not "God, Big G, God Almighty". Disbelieving, Jerry heads for the door when God challenges him, "Where do you think you are? There's no Room 2700 in this building." Down in the lobby, he's told the building only has 17 floors. He goes back to the elevator, presses 17, 5, and Lobby - the doors keep opening on 27.
The interview begins with God telling Jerry not to smoke: "Tobacco was a mistake. So were ostriches (silly looking things)." Jerry gives in (to Artie, as he thinks): "You win, best gag ever."
God says it's not a gag and uses the spelling error to segue to a light theological discussion. While avocados may have been a mistake (He made the pit too big), He got a some things right. "I put summer before winter, didn't I?"
Jerry says picking him was a mistake, since he's not a believer, which allows God finally to get to the point: "That's why I called you: too many non-believers. You're going to change all that."
Going out the door of the suite, Jerry finds himself miraculously on the first floor.
The drive back to work
Dismayed at hearing Him on the radio, Jerry blurts out, "Oh, God," only to be told, "I'm more than an expression. I want you to spread the word. I'm tired of hearing that I never was, or am dead, or am just particles of gas. I found that very insulting."
God says he only works through one "Savior" at a time, and that it's up to us to "make it work". He's not going to do it for us.
His wife's reaction
Jerry is met with disbelief at home, and he gets a stereotypically Jewish reaction from his wife: she offers him a bowl of chicken soup. He gets mad: "I don't need some child psychiatrist to tell me I didn't talk to God, because I did!"
The next morning
Wife: "You didn't actually see, all you did was hear."
Husband: "What about Joan of Arc? She only heard, like me."
God calls to Jerry in the shower, and he responds with that expression again, "Oh, God". The retort is, "That's right." Jerry demurs, saying he's naked, but God jokes that shame was "another goof of mine". Appearing in the guise of an old man with a zippered jacket and a golf cap, He advises, "When you don't feel normal, doing a normal thing makes you feel normal."
God tells Jerry to shave, and invites his questions. Their conversation has the flavor of an Old Testament dialogue. "Why me?" "Why not you? You're better than some, not as good as others. You crossed the bridge at the right time."
First big theology discussion
Some serious theology ensues: "People pray. Do you listen?" "I can't help hearing, I don't always listen." "Then you don't care?" "Of course I care, but what can I do?"
"You don't control our lives?" "I gave you a world, and everything in it. It's all up to you."
"But we need help." "I don't do miracles. They upset the natural balance."
"If you're really involved, how can you permit all the suffering that goes on?" "I don't permit the suffering. You do. All the choices are yours." (see Theodicy & Free will) For example, the impending destruction of the environment through pollution. "Try making a mackerel. When the last one's gone, that's it; over and out."
"If you care, then do something about it." "I did, I got you to carry the ball. Tell people how I feel, what I said. You got a hold-the-presses scoop here." God suggests Jerry can convince people by showing them His card.
Meet the Press
Jerry shows God's card to Kenneth Briggs, religious editor at the Los Angeles Times. With childlike candor, he simply says God gave him His card in his bathroom. Briggs dismisses the card as something you could get at a novelty shop. He pointedly disbelieves Jerry's account and refuses to print God's message, that He's given us everything we need and that it's up to us to make it work.
Back at the supermarket, Jerry tells Norman not to put a bag of potatoes on a customer's white bread. Then he's called by God and meets Him in an aisle. When he tries to introduce God to two customers, God says it's too crowded. They go for a drive, and God offers to do a miracle to help Jerry believe. He asks for rain, a small shower. God makes it rain - inside Jerry's car! A cop stops him, because his car is leaking water, and he believes Jerry's dumb excuse: "I must have gone through a car wash with my window open?" God says, "There's an aura of goodness around you."
Drenched with water that God made (holy water), Jerry visits Briggs again and insists that as a religious editor he print God's message, "Or by God you will hear from me again!"
Though the article dubs him a freak, it reports that "God is alive and well and wants us to know that it all can work. It's up to us." Jerry is disappointed: "One lousy line."
ABC puts him on the local news, and he's called by the Tarzana News. He gets God a front page story, and the Dinah Shore Show has him on in front of millions of people. But she has him on last, after a comedian who does a Dorian Gray impression. Then a police artist does a quick sketch of the way God looked to Jerry. God "could be happier. He made me look like a second-story man."
God drives him home in a big yellow cab, telling him, "You have the strength that comes from knowing." Dozens of people are in front of his house, including a sign-toting evangelist, a man who wants a moment of his time, and two women: one wants him to bless her unborn baby and the other wants his "golden staff". Jerry's wife is distraught about the religious nuts outside.
Encounter with academia
A telegram comes from the university, inviting Jerry to meet with a theology panel. Rabbi Silverstone convenes the assemblage, which includes a Catholic and a Greek Orthodox bishop and an overbearing TV evangelist (Paul Servino) who manages to insult two of his colleagues while giving Jerry a dressing down.
Finding no evidence to support his claim, they give him 50 questions to ask God. "You want me to get God to take a quiz?" "You could, of course, decline, but that would form the basis of our report." Jerry must go alone to a hotel room, with no outside communication. Even the waiter who brings his dinner can't speak English.
God appears dressed not as a cab driver but as a bell boy. He keeps it light, joking about the ketchup and the price of a steak. "With me, cows were an afterthought, to give new mothers a break."
The questions are written in Aramaic, to make sure Jerry can't answer. The first one God addresses is about the Fall of man. He says Adam was 17, Eve was 15 or 16, and that "Young people can't fall from my grace. They're my best things." His next answer: "The heart is the temple in wherein all truth resides." Then: "Jesus was my son, Buddha, Muhammad, etc."
Finally: "Everything around you, what you can feel and see and smell, you should delight in all this. What is here are some of my very best ideas. I want everyone to make sure it doesn't all go down the drain."
God tells Jerry not to deliver the answers to the panel but to Rev. Williams, "the one who looks like a football player ... every time I turn around he's spreading the word - my word - only my words he ran out of years ago. Take these to Rev. Big Mouth and say that God says he's a phony. If he wants to get rich, tell him to sell Earth shoes. But personally tell him I'd like him to shut up."
Confronting the preacher
Jerry comes to the auditorium, where Williams is talking about the kind of love that involves a sacrifice. "You can show God how you love Him by digging down deep so that this ministry will reach all the people of the earth." He's talking about "the depth of a pocket" (his men take up a collection) and he asks the crowd to "put in my hands what you would put in God's hands".
Jerry comes up and says, "God sent me to you. I just left him. He wanted me to give you the answers to all these questions. He also asked me to tell you that he's very unhappy that you're getting rich this way and that he'd like you to stop pretending that you're spreading His word. In fact, he suggested that you sell shoes. Well, that's what he said. You're a fake!"
Williams sues Jerry for slander. Jerry calls only one witness, "The Lord God" (who does not appear). The basis of Jerry's defense is the idea that God's existence is a reasonable possibility, and that if He chooses he can materialize and sit in the witness chair. He pleads for the judge to give him the benefit of the doubt that his story is true.
The judge threatens to charge Jerry with contempt for "what you apparently thought was a clever stunt." Suddenly, without opening the doors, God appears and asks to be sworn in. "If it please the court, and even if it doesn't please the court, I'm God, your honor."
God provides some miracles, to help the people believe, then He issues a parting shot: "It can work. Don't hurt each other. If it's hard to have faith in me, maybe it will help to know that I have faith in you."
CreditsProduced by Jerry Weintraub, script by Larry Gelbart, directed by Carl Reiner.
- Pet 3:8 "But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.