The God Committee is essentially a dramatization of one of the most popular ethical thought experiments in history, second only to the infamous trolley problem. It all boils down to the same thing: how can we determine who should live and who should die? What factors do we weigh more heavily as making someone worthy of life, and how do we grapple with the moral implications when we know that saving one person means condemning another to death? It is a subject ripe for dramatic interpretation, so it’s a shame that The God Committee misses the mark so completely. At every turn, it makes perplexing narrative choices that lessen the emotional resonance it’s clearly hoping to have.
Jordan Taylor (Julia Stiles) is a promising young cardiac surgeon, inexplicably having a workplace affair with an arrogant, much older star in her field, Dr. Andre Boxer (Kelsey Grammar.) One day, she learns that she’s being allowed to serve on the committee that determines which patients waiting on the heart transplant list will be next in line when a new heart becomes available. On her very first day on the committee, a heart presents itself, and they have an hour to decide between three patients: a family man who is committed to the program but is obese; an older woman who has excellent medical insurance but no support system and isn’t particularly receptive to the idea of a heart transplant in the first place; and a young man who is an abusive drug addict, but whose extraordinarily wealthy father has promised the hospital a $25 million donation/bribe. Who gets the heart?
If this was the entire story, and the film took place in one room where they hashed out their decision in real-time a la 12 Angry Men, The God Committee would probably be a lot better. But it undercuts the tension at every turn by taking us away from this all-important committee meeting so that we can explore the relationship between Taylor and Boxer, and fast forward in time to see one of Dr. Boxer’s experiments with interspecies organ transplants as he desperately (and ironically) awaits a new heart of his own.
None of this is anywhere near as interesting as the scenes within the committee room, and it’s utterly deflating every time they cut away. Just as they’re getting into a real, substantive debate about the patients, the head of the committee, Dr. Gilroy (Janeane Garofalo), announces that they’re taking a five-minute break. (They take a lot of five-minute breaks considering that they keep saying they only have an hour before the heart is functionally useless.) The hard truth is, none of these characters are that interesting on their own: they only work within the context of this committee, where their different personalities and points of view ricochet off one another. Honestly, The God Committee probably could have jettisoned the entire part of the plot set in the future, and no one would really miss it.
But even within the committee meeting, there’s an overly formulaic aspect to how their decision-making evolves when new information is presented that saps the film of any energy. It goes like clockwork: they argue for a few minutes, they come to an agreement, and then suddenly, out of nowhere, new information presents itself that serves as a complicating factor. Over and over again, these little nuggets of intel force their way into the story, sometimes organically, sometimes laughably contrived. When you watch the film, you can see the screenwriter toiling away to include every single “this changes everything” moment they can think of.
It feels like work, and every plot development is so laboriously intentional that there’s no life to it at all. None of the main actors seem like they’re trying particularly hard to give their characters anything approaching personality, and no amount of twists and turns can make us emotionally invested in the narrative. Every time we think we might be on the verge of being interested, they make the baffling choice to transition to the future subplot. There’s no point in beating around the bush: The God Committee is in serious need of resuscitation, and it may not be worth saving.