March 26, 2016


"Miracles from Heaven" is a disruptive new God film from the folks who brought us "Heaven Is For Real." (My review: ) There are many similarities to the two films. Each film is about a miracle experienced by a child. Each child has an out-of-body encounter with heaven and God, and comes from an already-believing family. Each film features scenes in church with preaching and praise and worship music. And each film is, thankfully, well-lit. "Heaven Is For Real," for me, was a much more straightforward film about a four-year-old boy who dies, goes to heaven and comes back, while "Miracles from Heaven" is a much stranger, more complex story of a slightly older girl (ten years old) with a complicated medical condition who experiences a bizarre accident that cures her, or does it? Was it really the accident that cures her? Was it prayer? Was it God intervening no matter what? And how can anyone relate to such a weird miracle?


My suspicion was that I had already seen the film just by watching the trailer--that is, all the good parts were shown in the trailer and "spoiled." I was half right. What you see in the trailer is pretty much the third act. A lot is given away in the trailer, to be sure, but I don't know how else the filmmakers could have gotten people in theaters without revealing an event so curious that moviegoers would want to see the full story. Casting big-name actor, Jennifer Garner (as Christy, the Mom), gives even more credibility to this incredulous tale.


I am calling this a disruptive film because my very first gut-reaction was: "'Heaven Is For Real' is about an experience of heaven. 'Miracles From Heaven' is about a family who received a miracle. People's reaction is going to be: I prayed for a miracle for my child and didn't get one!" But this does not seem to be people's reaction. The film does not sidestep this question of the problem of evil, the question of "Why, God?!" and the answers are not the usual. The answers are embedded in events, experiences and the realities the everyday miraculous along with the extraordinary miraculous. There is a wonderful emphasis on "being the miracle" ourselves, but not to the exclusion or doubting of the truly God-miraculous. It's not God or us, it's God and us. And our God is disruptive, is He not?


The film starts off super-saccharine: a portrait of the happiest family in Texas (no doubt to show the contrast to their upcoming struggles). Their church is the happiest place on earth with the best music in Christendom (the golden-voiced  Mac  Powell from "Third Day" is the music ministry). The pastor is jovial, entertaining , kind and beloved. Life is a dream until middle daughter, Anna (Kylie Rogers) begins having severe, persistent stomach pain out of the blue. The always-excellent New Zealand actor, Martin Henderson, plays Kevin, the husband/Dad: a laid-back veterinarian who doesn't worry too much about anything because of his tremendous faith in God. Christy, instead, is losing faith fast. Although they're a great parental team, "Miracles" is also a story about a fierce mother-warrior who storms heaven, earth and hell to get her daughter help. Jennifer Garner's performance is average, nothing more. Her range is more suited to "Alias," and roles that require a kind of earnest, superficial lightness. The child actors--as are all child actors today it seems--are magnificent.

"Miracles" is not a Hallmark film, not "heartwarming" (both of which I am allergic to). This film "goes there," albeit in a slightly whitewashed way. We observe a little girl who is dying, who is depressed, who is angry, who is going through the five stages of dying. We see a mother at her wit's end and a family who is literally torn apart and focusing all its attention on only one member.


The real Beam family is shown at the end with an update and voiceover from Anna herself. Fascinating.

"Miracles From Heaven" gets better and better as it goes along, and there are even a few surprises at the end. The answers given (to the question of tragedy) midway through the film pale in comparison with the final answers. The answers are not a bunch of tenuous chatter. The answers are lived and inarguable. The ultimate question of the film seems to be: "Is life better with God?" It's a question that each one of us will have to answer for ourselves.


--I would add: "Is death better with God?"
 "If we have believed in Christ for this life only we are the most pitiful of men." 1 Corinthians 15:19

--If you think (from the trailer) that the little girl falls OUT of a tree? She doesn't.


--The soundtrack is rather facile, excepted, and standard for an "inspirational film."

--Without investigating every nook and cranny of the problem of evil, it covers enough.

--Ma always berates me because I don't like her Hallmark films. "What's wrong with a happy ending, huh?!" "Why do you have to be so cynical all the time?!" "There's not enough goodness in life!"

--The film is something of a medical drama (which we are so used to from TV: we now find in-depth medical explanations and terminology interesting).

--Maybe this whole film is a metaphor for the hope of heaven (that thought really came to me at the end, from the film itself). Heaven which is real. Heaven where all shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

--Anyone who has lost a child or has a sick child would really appreciate this film, I would think.

--Like "Heaven Is For Real," they do "show" us "heaven." Noooooooooooo!!!!! It doesn't make me wanna go there! But, thankfully, unlike "Heaven Is For Real," they don't try to show us God/Jesus.

--I did cry a bit at the end, OK?

--The aftermath of the "accident" unfolds rather deliciously.

--I was very conflicted about even bothering to see this film for the reasons mentioned above:
1. Didn't I already see the film by watching the trailer?
2. Why would anyone make a film about such an unrelatable episode in someone's life?
3. If you're going to make a film like this, you'd better darn well deal with the problem of evil, and deal with it very, very well.
But they did it. The film is successful as a film and as a God story.

--The ending is really quite good I must say (notwithstanding a hammy speech by Christy and the reaction of the stereotypical, self-righteous, annoying church ladies).

March 19, 2016


A new DVD: "Uncommon Grace--The Life of Flannery O'Connor"--the only documentary ever made on her--has just been released that does great justice to the life, work and faith of the ever-relevant Flannery. Although only sixty minutes in length, you will feel like you have sojourned for years with the acclaimed short story writer in Georgia, Iowa and New York City. Carefully researched, with interviews from Flannery experts and those who knew her, "Uncommon Grace" is an in-depth peering into the soul of a most unusual American author. Flannery was a devout Catholic who nevertheless knew, understood and wrote about the Protestant South that was her home.

Starting from childhood, Flannery (her real name was Mary Flannery O'Connor) loved books and creating books. While she was still quite young, she even felt that "literature" would be her future, her calling. Flannery was an only child whose father died an early death of lupus--an incurable auto-immune disease that would claim her life prematurely also (at age 39 in 1964). But in those short years, Flannery's rise to notoriety was meteoric.

I knew bits and pieces of Flannery's story from people in my life who are ardent admirers. I had read parts of a collection of her letters and a few of her startling "Southern gothic" short stories. "Uncommon Grace" tied all these threads together for me. Her importance to the world of modern literature cannot be underestimated. She has been a major influence on artists of other genres (e.g., songwriters). She has been imitated by many. The dark and shocking quality of her characters and endings seems incongruous at first with the bespectacled, conservatively-dressed O'Connor. But when one gets to know the unsentimental, quipping, sharp-tongued scribe, it all makes sense. Flannery was concerned about her contemporaries whom she saw falling into agnosticism and atheism. How could faith penetrate the modern age? What did her peers need to hear? Flannery famously said of her works: "When people are hard of hearing, you need to shout."

A basic premise in Flannery's narratives is that God is offering every person transformative grace in the moment, every moment, but even more at life's decisive, even if unforeseen, turns.

At the height of her career, due to her illness, the still-young Flannery was forced to live as a part-time recluse on the dairy farm run by her mother. (However, all writers have to be recluses of a sort in order to write.) She folded the everyday landscapes and scenes and people around her into her prolific tales (two novels and thirty-two short stories along with other writings) that were published and received with much buzz, reprintings and awards.

One of the most important questions explored by the film is the question: "Was Flannery a racist?" The answer is a bit complicated, especially in light of her short story: "Everything That Rises Must Converge."

"Uncommon Grace" is thorough and engaging on all counts (not too heavy, not too light) with an original, sparse, utterly fitting piano soundtrack. My one criticism is that the filmmaker herself did some of the narration. Although she has a pleasant voice and reads well, she has a Midwest accent and is not a professional narrator. It would have been well worth it to hire a professional. However, the film is otherwise up to snuff and completely worthy of immersing oneself in--by Flannery aficionados and neophytes alike. The filmmakers created this film as a true labor of love: to give some insight into Flannery's uncompromising worldview informed by her Catholicism.

Flannery suffused her stories with a jarring otherworldliness invading thisworldliness at life and death moments. In other less talented hands, these parables may not have worked, and might even have sounded preachy. But Miss O'Connor was deadly earnest about her craft and essentially gave the Gospel message new incarnations, new wings and new audiences.

"Uncommon Grace" is available on Amazon. Website: