Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Movie Review: Heaven is For Real

I watched a preview of this movie, courtesy of Outreach Canada last month.While I had initial reservations about the story itself, when it comes to actually portraying the book, the film does very well. My review will not be on whether it is theologically right or not, or whether I agree with all of the interpretations made in the movie. My review will be based on how inspiring the whole movie is, and in terms of how wholesome it is for family viewing. (Website resources here)

Before I proceed, let me simply summarize the story as one of a three year old boy named Colton Burpo who had a near death experience, following an emergency surgery. For that brief moment, no one except Colton himself had an afterlife experience in heaven. He saw Jesus. He saw his grandpa. He even had his sister in heaven give him a hug. All of these events were never told to him while on earth. In that brief trip to heaven, Colton was able to learn about it all, and to share the incredible details on earth. What followed was an amazing string of revelations and inspirations that not only amazed people, it threw people into a whirlwinds of faith and doubt; trust and suspicions.

Let me provide five thoughts about the whole movie.

1) Quality: A Very Well-Made Film

Gone are the days where Christian movies tend to be seen as "woody" or non-professional enough for the mainstream. The quality of Christian films has generally improved. This movie takes it a leap further. With powerful acting and well-known names in Hollywood, backed by a reputed Sony Pictures brand-name, this movie has ushered Christian movie-making into a very respectable realm. With Academy Award® nominee and Emmy® award winning actor Greg Kinnear as Todd Burpo and Kelly Reilly as Sonja Burpo, the quality of acting exceeds many Christian movies previously made.  You can read more about the cast and details here.Even the acting by little Connor Corum as Colton Burpo is superb.

2) Empathy: It Asks Many Common Questions on Behalf of the Audience

There is a sense that the producers of the movie have adopted the position of a skeptic as they film the movie. With Todd Burpo as the pastor, volunteer fireman, husband and father constantly questioning and battling his own doubts, Burpo tackles the common doubts on behalf of the audience. It is clear that the producers were trying to see the whole movie from a skeptical and questioing audience point of view. Is it really true? Can we truly believe Colton's story? What if it is all a fake? Is heaven really for real?

Having the father agonize and struggle through it all gives a sense of authenticity in the search for truth. This is something I appreciate, as the movie really puts itself in the shoes of the audience and asks many of the commonly anticipated questions on our behalf. Kudos to the producers!

3) Speed: A Good Pace

The story began gradually and did not immediately go into the heavenly experience. I noticed that the producers took pains to draw up the contexts of the whole family situation. There was the duty of a father who has preaching responsibilities at Church; an important volunteer firefighter member of the small community; a charitable man often providing service without expecting cash but whatever others could pay in kind. Once Colton had that heavenly experience, the revelation came in small steps. Each time the revelation was shown, audiences could feel how it hits home. The pace allowed doubts and questions to be lingering rather than smothered with less than satisfactory answers. This is important as the movie is not there to convince people whether there is a heaven or not. Instead, it is trying to portray as accurately as possible, the Burpos' perspectives. With such a controversial subject, it is wise to pace accordingly.

4) Inviting Not Imposing

Unlike evangelistic movies, this movie invited audiences to think and to question, rather than to impose answers. That is movie making at its best. In fact, such a approach will appeal to a larger audience, both Christians as well as non-Christians. Churches or Christians trying to reach out to their friends, ought not to oversell the message. Invitation is best. Let the movie do all the questioning and the talking. After the movie, we can do all the discussing without having to fear not having all the right answers. Let the movie raise the topic of heaven and to open up conversational moments for everyone. 

5) Inspiring

Overall, the story was an inspirational one. None of us will be able to prove beyond any doubt whether the burpos' stories are true or not. It can only be as true as their claims. If we can put aside skepticism, objections, or any forms of negative feelings toward the entire Burpo experience, and to just enjoy the movie as it is, the end result is an inspiring and meaningful one. After all, as Christians, we believe there is a heaven. If this movie can at least demonstrate that there are glimpses of heaven in everyday life, it may enable us to be more watchful for heaven while on earth. Watch the trailer here.

Rating: 5 out of 5.


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