Do you believe in Heaven?
Most studies show that 85-90% of Americans believe in some kind of afterlife they call Heaven. That is a high percentage of people to believe in anything. For comparison, some polls have that only 80% of Americans believe we actually landed on the moon in 1969. Heaven is doing pretty well in the court of public opinion.
The widespread belief in Heaven might be why the interwebs are all abuzz about the movie Heaven is For Real. I have been asked by several people over the past couple of days what I think about the movie. At first, I referred them to my review of the book a couple of years ago. Click here to read the review of the book. Yesterday, though, I broke down and bought my ticket to see the movie. I watched it in a theater filled with 70ish year old women. I sorta stood out.
Part One: The movie as a movie
The acting in the film was really great. Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly are great together and it feels like they’ve been married for years. It was good to see Thomas Haden Church again and Margo Martindale almost steals the show. Most people will point to the child actor, Connor Corum as cutely adorable and compelling in his portrayal of Colton Burpo, but I have high standards for kid actors and only rate him as average. In some parts of the movie he reminded me of the creepy kid from The Shining rather than the sweet boy from the book.
The movie is beautifully shot. Most of the filming takes place outside, which is nice.
The key problems with the movie was pacing, editing, and the screenwriting. Some of the dialogue, particularly that of anyone not Greg Kinnear and Kelly Reilly was either filled with clichés or weirdly over structured. I found this particularly with lines ascribed to Colton. I didn’t feel the movie came to a good conclusion either. It just sort of ended without any kind of resolution.
Watching the film I could tell there was a tension in the storytelling. I think the creative people knew that keeping as much of Colton’s experiences mystical was a positive. They didn’t want to show too much. The producers though, with their churchy agenda, needed to always explain everything and make sure there was no room for doubt as to what really was going on. What I am saying is that the movie explains too much, instead of letting things sometimes just hang there.
Overall I would give the film a C+ because it was slightly above average, enjoyable, and overall positive. It is the kind of movie you can take your whole family to and not have to worry about language, nudity, or violence. It was much better, than say, Iron Man 3 or American Hustle. Another plus for the movie is that it will spark conversation. That is always good.
Part Two: The movie as a theological/ecclesiastical vehicle
I believe in Heaven because Jesus said so in the Bible. I don’t need the movie to affirm it, however, that is major theological contribution of this film. It affirms the biblical belief in Heaven as place where Jesus is and that Heaven is possible because of Jesus. I like that part. The book does a much better job of processing Todd Burpo’s belief in the Bible with his son’s experiences. But books always do, because we don’t just have the narrative, we have the explanation. The movie misses some of that theological nuance.
If you came into the movie already believing in Heaven, you probably left with some level of warmth in your heart. If you came into the movie with doubt and skepticism, you might leave questioning those assumptions.
The movie does other theological things too. They let the dialogue of Kinnear and Reilly ezpress doubt and frustration about God and the nature of faith. Kinnear is very believable as an overly emotional bi-vocational preacher who doesn’t think about biblical exposition as much as moves from one emotional moment to the next. I’ve met a lot of pastors like that. The people in this film and the events in this film are more emotional than theological.
Church life is portrayed somewhat accurately. Although a lot of church personalities and issues are compressed into only a couple of people and covered fairly quickly. When Kinnear’s character is called before the board and his job is in jeopardy, I felt a certain pang because I know good people who have gone through great crisis only to be turned out on their ear by their church. Honestly, because I’ve seen inside the velvet rope, that part of the film had the most emotional impact for me.
I would not point to the movie as a theological exposition as much as it is an exposition of the Burpos’ life and experiences as well as an exposition of many people’s grappling with the nature of faith and the afterlife. Here it is important to keep this key thing in mind–whether it is about the movie Noah, Heaven is For Real, or any other film we must never rely on Hollywood for our theological insight. Hollywood is built to put butts in the theater. Our theology is built to change lives for eternity.
One more theological thing–because it is Hollywood, there is a very universalist bent to it. By that I mean, the assumption seems to me in the film that everybody goes to Heaven. That is not part of my belief system.
Part Three: Credibility
So much of this movie boils to whether you believe the kid or not? It is that simple. I just can’t believe that the dad intentionally made it up, but I also have hard time taking my gospel cues from a 4 year old. I am so thankful that I have the Bible as my guide and can look at a film like this objectively, knowing that ultimately our personal experiences are not what I rely on. I rely on the promises of God. It is possible that an overzealous dad took a few off handed comments from his son and lead him on, we all know that is possible.
I would like the story to be true, though. If it is true; then what is the key value for it? It is nothing more than what we used to call ‘testimony’ in the old days. Simply someone sharing, albeit with a large audience, what God has done in their life. I put it in the same category as someone who tells me that they dreamed about Jesus and he told them to do something specific. It happens all the time.
If it is not true, well, then that is not our problem. It is Todd Burpo’s.
I cheered when the Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl.
I hope that the hapless Astros might someday cobble together a 15 game win streak.
And, as always, Hook ‘Em.
I make those statements so that you know I am not a prude when it comes to sports. I enjoy a good game and I have my favorites.
This morning I heard an interesting commentary from the sometimes interesting Frank DeFord. (To listen to the podcast called Sports Reporting: The Way It Was . . . And Is, click here.) Deford’s melodic voice sometimes is cogent and sometimes is not and is always cranky-old-manish, but this morning something he said struck a nerve in me. He asked whether or not sports builds character.
It is something we’ve heard, perhaps young men more than women, over and over and over again all our lives. “Sports build character” is almost chanted as irrefutable proof that high schools and colleges are justified in spending millions of dollars on stadiums and gymnasiums. It is also what brings solace to parents standing in a February cold rain all day on a Saturday while their 6th grade son or daughter chases a soccer ball around in the mud. Or sits on the bench.
I disagree. I do not believe sports builds character at all. Sports may reveal good character, but it doesn’t build good character. Good character is built by:
- Civics classes
- The military
- Public service
- Merit Groups (Like the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts)
Character comes from a great many places–and from almost anywhere, except sports. I will grant that coaches, as leaders, can help build character. However, a coach is just as likely to not.
Paradoxically, sports tends to teach the wrong kinds of lessons, I think. Sports teaches:
- The bigger, stronger, faster are better
- Win at all costs
- Cheating is okay if you don’t get caught
- People are disposable
In fact, let me recant myself. Sports does teach character. It teaches bad character. When people got angry at Richard Sherman earlier this year for his antics after the NFC Championship game, they should have stopped and considered that his statements were the logical results of what sports teach.
I’m not against sports, really I’m not. I just think we need to stop lying to ourselves with the deception that if we make our children play sports then it is undeniably a good thing for them. It is not. It is but one option in a large range of options, and it is an option that may get them hurt, bullied, or belittled. I’m not even sure people under the age of 16 ought to be allowed to play league sports. Of course, there is no money in that.
image from espn.go.com
I am the kind of guy who admits my biases easily. I have a bias towards movies. I love them. I have a bias towards clever dialogue. I have a bias towards something I can watch with my whole family.
These are some of the reasons why I love Pixar movies.
Yesterday after a wonderful Easter worship service we came home and enjoyed our traditional meal of roasted lamb and jellybean cake and then said, “Do we want to watch a movie?”
Of course we do. I got vetoed on watching The Ten Commandments, which, though not very biblical is very, well, very charltonhestony. So we ruminated and sorted through and decided to watch one of mine and Mrs. Greenbean’s faves: Up.
In that same vain, here are my top 5 Pixar movies, in order.
1. Up–This is not just a wonderful movie, but it is great storytelling.
2. Toy Story 2–I know, I know, most of you would put Toy Story 3 here, but what made Toy Story 3 so great? That’s right, the foundation laid in Toy Story 2. This is such an odd sequence in that it defies convention–the best is the second, the next best is the third and the least is the first. The only other franchise I can think of with the same ranking in sequels is the original X-Men trilogy.
3. The Incredibles–Without a doubt the most family affirming film in the past 20 years, if not ever. Never mind the greatest one-line commentary on pop culture ever: “And when everyone’s super, no one will be.”
4. WALL-E–Sci-Fi, social commentary, and a love story, well sign me up! It is so very Isaac Asimovish–a future world where robots develop relationships and have to save human beings from themselves.
5. Ratatouille–It was close between Ratatouille and Finding Nemo, but Ratatouille wins because it is about cooking. How can I not side with cooking? Besides, Ratatouille doesn’t seem to get the love the others do, but I think it is a fantastic film.
Okay, now for the bad list. here are the top three worst Pixar films, in reverse order. Just foolin’ ya. There is only one truly bad Pixar film, and that is Cars 2. All the rest are really good. I wonder, what is your favorite? Least favorite?
Now, for you brave souls who have a Monday morning to kill, check-out one of these two links.
image from pixar.wikia.com