“Heaven Is For Real”: Not Just a ‘Faith-Based Movie’
The movie Heaven Is For Real, based on the New York Times best-selling book, tells a story about a little boy who has a near-death experience. His visit to heaven has lasting effects on his family both spiritually and emotionally and forces them to face some tough situations. This type of movie is often categorized as a “faith-based movie”, but director and co-writer Randall Wallace says that is a lazy title. “I think that outside the Christian community, people have these incredibly prejudicial and even ignorant notions of what Christians are. They think that to be a Christian is to stop having doubts, to stop asking questions and in fact it means that faith is the courage you have in the presence of doubts, we don’t stop having our struggles about that. So the thought ‘well only the church people are the only ones that ask these questions’ is also leaving out all the people who don’t go to church but who are really grappling with the issues of faith…every human being is concerned with the ultimate question of life and death. So need not to limit the notion to ‘oh these Christians are the only ones that think that way.’” It is indeed a universal question that all of us must deal with. So why is it seen as such a controversial one? As Wallace pointed out, sometimes people can get caught up in the assumption of Christian faith in a film and miss out on a key theme or universal message that it is trying to convey. Artistically, it can likewise be a challenge, tackling a predominantly evangelical topic and delivering it to a mass audience without being overly preachy. To the filmmakers, relaying the message of faith is the ultimate goal through elaborate story-telling from a family perspective. As actor Greg Kinnear, who plays Todd Burpo, points out, “Regardless of where you’re at on the faith spectrum I do think there’s a hopeful message in the movie; a positive message. And I think the movie does a really nice job of honestly giving you a front row seat to watch this family deal with these extraordinary events and how they dealt with it and how they played out as laid out in that book.” While it certainly is about faith and questioning what you truly believe, it also touches on the subject of heaven, which is almost never addressed in mainstream media. So what is it about heaven that is so appealing? Actor Thomas Haden Church weighs in, “We sort of address the concept of heaven and hell when someone dies or when there’s a tragedy. And it’s a bit ironic because if you believe heaven is a wonderful place and a spiritually righteous place, why is it you only reflect on it when somebody dies? “ Thomas, himself, was drawn to this particular project after the loss of his father, a man who was a believer and whom he admired and respected. It’s that universal humanistic experience that makes us cathartic and more open to movies that ask the big questions. As Church so eloquently put it, “There is something about the belief in heaven that helps you with the fear of death.” While Hollywood can tend to shy away from these types of movies, their ability to reach a certain vulnerability in their audience is exactly why big budget movies of faith should be more prevalent.