Monday, September 12, 2011

A very necessary film

"There are sermons that instill dogma. But the better sermons, in my experience, are the ones that promote discussion. That's the kind of film I was trying to make." -Vera Farmiga
For Vera Farmiga, Higher Ground seems to have been a movie she needed to make. And as it turns out, it's one I needed to see, as a fairly recent apostate. The consistently sympathetic--and realistic--portrayal of a small Christian community throughout the film is challenging and honest. Believers would be hard pressed to find instances of lazy caricature or mockery. Corrine, the main character who eventually finds it necessary to leave that community, is complex as well--not painted as a victim or angel but a genuine, flawed, intelligent human being.
While Corrine's path is central throughout, the film takes a wide-angle approach to its depiction of that journey, so that the supporting characters take on real shape and color as well. When tragedy strikes the community and Corrine's faith begins to unravel more quickly, the camera does justice to both the lack of belief emerging on Corrine's face, as the group sings a heartbreaking rendition of "It Is Well With My Soul," and the determined trust that is evident in other faces in the crowd.

At the same time,
Higher Ground doesn't shrink from tackling common issues in the evangelical church--the damaging and very real consequences of patriarchy, the use of fear to elicit conformity, and the gap between those who insist they hear God's voice and sense his will and blessing and those who, like Corrine, invited him into our hearts long ago, some of us many times over, but are not privy to anything like those revelations.

It feels rather dull to simply rave about this even-handed approach to what is considered an easy target (religion), commending the movie most of all for its rare, "balanced" approach to exploring that target. But Farmiga's directorial debut does that so beautifully, telling a simple story of an ordinary woman's life and friendships and heartbreaks, leaving this viewer inspired to be more relentless in seeking accuracy and depth in my own endeavors and interactions.