Heaven is for Real —
Christian Movie Review!
Heaven is for Real is based on the true story — as told by the bestselling book of the same name — of Colton Burpo who visited Heaven while unconscious during an emergency surgery in which he almost died. So far, Heaven is for Real has 54% positive ratings among all major movie critics. That’s better than many Hollywood big budget flicks. Of the critics who didn’t like it, one complained that it was a movie “by Christians, for Christians.” That particular critic must think that most movies don’t impose any specific worldview on anyone, which is ridiculous. There is no neutral ground. Every movie is peddling a worldview, simply because movies are made by people. Every person has a worldview whether they formally acknowledge it or not. Okay, Mr. Critic, what about all the movies you praised that were overtly movies made “by humanists for humanists” or movies made “by violence-obsessed nihilists for violence-obsessed nihilists” — just to name a few examples. You’re okay with any other worldview, but when it’s an authentic Christian worldview, oh no! Heaven forbid! Many critics were fair-minded about this movie, but there are always a few who take pot shots at Christians. In this review — after I cover the parental guidance issues — I will explain why Heaven is for Real is a good movie worth watching with your family. I also request that any Christian who reads this also read my review of Hollywood screenwriter Brian Godawa’s book Hollywood Worldviews, which will help you discern the layers of worldviews that come packed in every movie that hits the theaters.
Parental Guidance Issues at a Glance…
Sexual Content/Nudity: Husband and wife kiss with passion.
Violence/Gore: A graphic shot of a man’s leg is briefly shown after he suffers a severe fracture. We see his bone coming out of the wound, besides blood. The shock value of it has a purpose though that serves the overall story. A girl punches two bullies in the face on the playground. A man dies of a heart attack, though it is only briefly seen, and you do not see the man’s face.
Alcohol/Drug/Smoking Content: None.
Frightening/Intense Content: Besides the scene with the broken leg, there are frightening, emotionally intense moments in the hospital where patients are close to death. It’s an emotionally intense film that deals with the heaviness of death and loss head-on.
(Review continues below)
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Entertainment Value and Film Craft
First of all, it’s directed and written by Randall Wallace, the screenwriter of the Academy Award-winning movie Braveheart. This movie is the real deal. It’s no slouch, in other words — no cut-rate production values or wince-inducing cheesiness. It stars some of Hollywood’s most talented and beloved actors: Greg Kinnear, Thomas Haden Church, Kelly Reilly, and Margo Martindale. It features 5-year-old acting phenom Connor Corum, who did a breathtaking job. The kid’s only five! Good grief. Where do they find these kids? The entire cast did superb acting. Greg Kinnear did perhaps the greatest performance of his storied career. Thomas Haden Church added his trademark dry humor and delivery, which audiences have loved since his breakout role in the TV show Wings. The production value was top-notch. Audiences were treated to breathtaking panorama shots of classic Midwest scenes like fields of wheat and sunflowers, and — of course — some beautiful scenes that portray Heaven. It’s not to say that the movie was perfect. I think it suffered from premature orchestral string swells in the first act of the movie. The film Winter Night had this same problem: pulling out the heart-wrenching, saccharine-sweet string section too early in the movie before the story had even gotten going. But it was forgivable, and the story did get going quickly, so it wasn’t a big deal. Some people didn’t like the Heaven CGI. I thought it was nice. I liked how rooms would melt away into vistas of Heaven as if the fabric of space and time were an unfinished skyscraper, and you were suddenly in a half-finished room of that skyscraper with no north wall, and you were staring out into the biggest sky you’d ever seen.
Redemptive Value and Conclusion
Full disclosure. I believe 100% that what happened to Colton Burpo (coolest last name ever) was real. I believe he really did go to Heaven. I read the book, and I believed it.
However, the movie adaptation skirts a little bit around the Christian theological position of free will and Hell. I’m referring to the basic orthodox Christian belief that grown adults don’t all automatically go to Heaven when they die; a person first has to willingly accept the free gift of grace from Christ and “confess with their mouths and believe in their hearts that Jesus rose from the dead,” as Romans says. Of course, a person can make that confession on their death bed without anyone ever knowing about it, so it’s not always cut and dry. It’s hard to say, “Oh, I know for sure that this person is NOT going to Heaven.” Trust me, I have heard some wild stories from hospital visits with people who were dying, who had never given Jesus a second thought, and then suddenly something clicks in their heart or they actually see an angel or Jesus appears to them, and they believe in Him before they die; and I bet things like that happen without anyone knowing about it. So you never really know what happens in a person’s heart during their last moments of life. You never know what decision they might make. The problem is that some Christians believe that a free will decision to receive Christ is not necessary. I’m referring to Inclusivism.
However, it is my conclusion that the film is not advocating this very subtle heresy of Inclusivism, which has quietly slipped into certain streams of evangelical Christianity. (Inclusivists believe a mix of things, depending on who you talk to; but their beliefs include things like: there is no hell or consequence for people who willingly reject the grace of Christ and a relationship with Him, there is no choice to be made about Christ thus evangelism is not necessary, and all people go to Heaven whether or not they willingly receive the grace of the Cross and choose to follow Jesus.) The movie did not touch too much on the whole issue of the “choice” that we all have to make to “receive Christ” or the question of Hell because, frankly, it took all 100 minutes just to adequately cover Colton’s story of visiting Heaven. The film wisely chose not to bite off more than it could chew. I think if it had tried to cover an all-you-can-eat buffet of hot-button theological topics, it would have stretched itself too thin, and the artistic quality would’ve gone down the tubes. The heart of the movie intelligently focused on how Colton’s trip to Heaven caused conflict and hardship in the Burpo family — something that many casual readers of the book might never have considered. It really made you feel the tension of suddenly having to deal with a situation where your child is talking about Heaven and what all of the implications of that would be. It also brought to life the brokenness of having a faith journey in a fallen world — the kind of mess in life that doesn’t always heal perfectly. Greg Kinnear brought this to the screen with absolute perfection. Overall, Randall Wallace hit a home run. He managed to make the film earnest and emotionally powerful without being preachy.
And, I have to say, the movie does an impressive job of incorporating just about everything from the book — even the amazing side-story with the six-year-old girl in Lithuania who receives visions of Heaven similar to Colton’s, and she begins painting jaw-dropping portraits at the age of four, which is also a true story. It made international headlines. All of that is worked into this movie, and it’s done with taste. The film portrays a joyful but honest Christian worldview. It doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat, nice Hallmark bow. There is real messiness in there. Characters really struggle and hurt. Things in their hearts don’t mend. Not everything is perfect, and not everything is perfectly resolved. But there is real joy in this film — raptures of it, even.
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