Review by Tres
I was excited back in 2013 to see the slate of 2014 “Christian/Bible” based movies that would be released. Sadly, it did not take long at all for my excitement to dwindle. (The Son of God) Being a Christian I desire to see great movies based on the Bible. I desire to see great movies with Christian ideals. Sadly, what I seem too often get are visually well done movies (financially backed) from Hollywood that are “loosely interpreted” or an “artistic interpretation” of some Bible story. My other options seem to be poorly acted and often poorly scripted movies with good Christian ideals.
On Friday, April 18th, I was able to take my beautiful wife on a much needed date to see Heaven Is for Real. I entered with high hopes; yet leery skepticism.
What does it offer?
Greg Kinnear as Todd Burpo:
I have been a long-time fan of Greg’s. It could be because he was born and raised about 45 miles from where I grew up as a child (he’s from Logansport, Indiana and I’m from Frankfort). Or maybe it is because he caught my interest as a younger actor when I first saw him in Sabrina as Harrison Ford’s younger brother.
Either way, it seems like with Kinnear people either like him or they don’t. Personally, I like him. I feel like he just has an ease and a simple way of playing his characters. I don’t feel like he strives to change voices or mannerisms. Now, it is true, he does some quirky things like “Captain Amazing” in Mystery Men or his Siamese twin with Matt Damon.
But when he plays genuine characters, I feel like he takes his roles in earnest and he strives to present them through a true character. If it be Tom Turner in Dear God (which rated poorly, but I have always really liked) or Eagle Coach, Dick Vermeil (whom many people complained about casting for, but I still was pleased with his performance), I find him to be a genuine actor who puts himself into his roles.
So, Todd Burpo: I connected to Kinnear at a greater level than I ever have before. Not only did I buy his performance, I connected to him. I empathized with him as a person and a preacher. True I have never come to a point where I thought my child was going to die, but I have been to points in my life where I have questioned, where I have been angry, and where I have doubted. I also felt my heart tug when Todd spoke about his first being pulled to God by his grandfather. That too was my life experience as a young child. My grandfather was a Godly man and my first inspiration in life. Like Todd’s Pop, my Papaw discussed God and his word with me from a very young age. So when Todd began to talk about his grandfather to his son, Colton (Connor Corum), my heart-felt that connection.
The other aspect of Todd Burpo’s character that I appreciate is his lovingness toward his wife. He’s determined to take care of her and his children. He is a hard worker for her and his children. He is tender to her. You see Todd being a husband as God has instructed a man to be; loving. We don’t often see this in Hollywood these days. Eph 5:33 “ However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself,… “. A man showing genuine affection in a loving way toward his wife is a beautiful and Godly aspect to this movie.
What else does it offer?
Connor Corum playing Colton Burpo. Little kids acting in major roles are always a struggle. Many times I catch myself thinking, “Don’t look at the camera!” I can’t remember thinking that in this film. What I kept thinking about “Colton” was, what an adorable kid. His cuteness almost steals the movie. (His cheeks alone when he smiles will distract you from some of his lines.) But the innocence of this child delivering his lines and the ease of Kinnear as Todd as his dad is amazing. This is a casting genius. They go together as if they truly were family.
Then there’s Sonja:
We can not overlook Kelly Reilly who has a strong performance as Sonja Burpo. She is a preacher’s wife. She is a devout Christian and strong in her faith. There are two things I love about her character. First would be her display of faith. When things get tough, she prays. When she feels weak, she picks up the phone and she asks others to pray. Second, and what I love most about her character, is how she stands at her husband’s side and reassures him in the toughest of times. Once again, Hollywood tends to portray wives as just the opposite: as biting and judgmental, as well as controlling partners. God’s word tells a wife to be different Ephesians 533 “…, and the wife must respect her husband.” Sonja is beautifully portrayed as this.
Now, we do see there is a slight melt down where communication stops and they have a disagreement; normal in every loving relationship. (I could try to say my wife and I don’t have any, but I am sure she would be the first to make a comment on this if I attempted such a statement.) However, when the going gets tough, just like my wife, when the tempest rages, and the storms come down, she stands next to her husband respecting and supporting him.
So let’s look at the premise of the movie.
A young boy, Colton Burpo, suffers an appendix rupture and comes close to dying. Colton sees Heaven. He hears the angels sing and laugh. Yes, laugh. After all, he does ask them to sing a rock song. He speaks to Jesus. He speaks to his grandfather. He speaks to a little girl. He even sees Jesus’ horse.
As Colton recovers and begins to tell his dad of his experiences and others hear of it, problems begin to arise. How could a preacher truly believe this happened? How could anyone believe this happened? Did Colton die and then come back? The congregation even begins to discuss firing Todd as the preacher and seeking a new preacher to replace him. Why? Because he feels the need to talk about what Colton experienced.
The argument continues today: Did Colton really see Heaven or not?
I’m not here to say he did or he didn’t. I know Jesus came from Heaven and went back. I know John saw images of Heaven (Rev 4) from the isle of Patmos. I know Stephen saw Heaven. (Acts 7:55)
I am simply NOT foolish enough to say that God can not show a little boy or anyone else heaven.
I can say that some of the experiences that this 4 year old boy had according to this movie (as well as the written account that it is based upon) are unexplainable.
What I do find interesting is the people who are becoming upset at the idea that someone is standing strong in their belief that they saw Heaven. Some people are actually getting angry at the idea.
Those who are angry at the idea that someone could actually see Heaven I ask them to stop and read Acts 7 carefully. Stephen preaches to them about Jesus being the Son of God and how they killed him and they are angry. But then the Word says this…. 55 But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, 56 and said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed upon him with one accord; 58 and they cast him out of the city, and stoned him:
Their anger didn’t get the best of them until he said that he saw Heaven. The same thing that people are getting upset about today.
Not a lot of smoke and mirrors:
The other nice thing about this movie is that it does not try to do anything too magical or too over the top. I feel like the director’s goal was to put the family’s experience on film to touch the hearts of the people who choose to see the film and have faith. He accomplished this.
When I hear complaints about this movie, it is usually just that: there wasn’t enough action or there wasn’t enough to grab me.
It is NOT that type of movie.
It is truly about a little boy’s experience and the joy he now has and wants to share.
It is about his father’s now struggle of what to do with it and the struggle in his faith that it is causing.
I know of very few Christians who have ever been able to make it through this life without questioning; doubting; or struggling with questioning God. I believe that is part of the human experience. If you read this and can say you never have; then you are a lucky person. The majority of the Christians that I know, yes including myself, have struggled with this at least one time. This is the gem of the movie.
It goes through Todd’s journey as he struggles with his son’s illness, what his son says he saw and where his son says he went. He struggles with what he logically says has to be the impossibility of it… yet that there can only be one explanation to it. It’s a true demonstration of what a struggle in faith looks like for many of us; when we have to believe with our heart and not with our mind.
Jesus, himself, tells us that we will struggle and be tested in this life. He also tells us how to conquer and stand strong. Matthew 7: 24 Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock: 25 and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon the rock.
This is the battle that Kinnear brilliantly and beautifully displays on the screen for us. I bought it. I believed it. I connected to it.
***** SPOILER *****
Three parts that got to me emotionally:
First was dealing with the idea of Pop: Todd’s grandfather. I mentioned him before. Todd shows Colton a picture of Pop and Colton says that’s not him. Then Todd digs out an older/earlier picture of Pop; when he was a young man, and Colton says, “That’s him. That’s Pop. Everyone’s young in Heaven.” That got to me because my Papaw suffered from dementia in his final years. He became frail. It got to the point that he didn’t recognize his wife of 60+ years nor any of his family. My Papaw was Superman to all of us grandkids, so thinking about my Papaw being young again touched my heart.
The second thing that got me… got to me the most. When Colton asks his mom if she realized he had a sister? She tells him that of course she did, because he has an older sister Cassie. Then he tells her, “No. My sister that died in your belly.” Air knocked out of me. Having lost a child; that was a difficult scene. It took me a moment to get the strength to look at my wife, and yes, as I knew, tears were rolling. Sonja said the words, as we have both said through the past 14 years, “We didn’t know what the baby was.”
The third thing was when Todd stands in front of his congregation and he stands humbly before them. Most importantly, he standing humbly before God. I have been there. I struggle with genetically strong knees. I’ll take the weight of the world on my shoulders and it seems like things get heavier and heavier and my burdens are almost unbearable. That’s when my knees buckle and I’m on my knees and I’m turning to God. It takes God humbling me to make me stronger in him. Luckily, as I get older, my knees begin to buckle a little earlier and a little easier from practice. (Plus I have a loving and supportive wife that is willing to come up behind me and knock them out from under me to get me to buckle, when my stubbornness gets the best of me. That’s why she’s my helpmeet.)
Some people have given this movie a bad rap.
You won’t get that from me.
I am giving this a 4 out of 5.
Why a 4?
To be honest, because I know that it made many personal connections with me that won’t be in common with others. However, it is still a solid film and the best Christian based film that I have seen in a long time.
I like the cast, the acting, the story line, and the Biblical threads and themes that run throughout it.
It may be because I connect so many of my life experiences with the character in this movie, or it may be the simple fact… Hey, this is a great movie.
A 4 it is.
Go see it!