One of the most successful biblical films in the year of the Bible epic is undoubtedly “Heaven is for Real”, an adaptation of the enormously popular bestselling book of the same name. “Heaven” follows the story of the Burpo family through many trials, including the near-death of their son and the revelation later on that during this scrape the boy, Colton, had a near-death experience.
I’m going to come right out and say it from the get-go: I was not the biggest fan of the book. I do believe that Colton had an NDE and saw a glimpse of Heaven. But some of what is described in the book made me think, “… Really?” This made me very glad for some of the choices made in the movie.
The film, by and large, goes for a much more skeptical outlook on the experience than the book does, and cuts some of the most outlandish parts altogether. This might disappoint some, but it relieved me (strangely enough.) The wisdom of this decision is reflected and magnified, though, whenever the movie does decide to journey into the fantastical: Heaven is just not convincing or particularly well done, specifically at one point where Colton sees angels flying around. The movie is really at its best when it’s focusing on the human aspect of the story, and when it’s letting us make up our own minds as to what happened.
“Heaven” is much better than your average Christian movie. That’s kind of condemning with faint praise, I know, but it’s true. The film is beautiful in many places, the acting is great, and the script gets a lot of things right.
Should you see it? Probably, if for no other reason than to be a part of the conversation. Just realize that it won’t be the greatest movie you’ve seen this year. And, if you’re prone to napping during movies, bring caffeine.
“Heaven” falls prey to a common problem in Christian films: It gets preachy. (Ironically, this was also my main problem with another, very different movie: “Machine Gun Preacher”.) It also falls prey on occasion to saccharine, slowness, and bad music. (At the start I looked at my wife and said, “This is dangerously close to 80’s rock ballad territory…”) As I mentioned before, it also fails to depict a compelling vision of Heaven, and in my opinion it would have been better if they had left all of that up to the imagination. Even if they had just cut out the scene with the angels, it would have improved the movie dramatically.
Having said that, “Heaven” also has a lot going for it, too. I suppose unsurprisingly, this movie spends a lot of time thinking about death, loss and if something comes after. While that is absolutely to be expected in a movie titled “Heaven is for Real”, I still think they are very needed and necessary topics to be addressed and I appreciate their screen-time in this film. Furthermore, the acting is superb (especially in regard to the Burpo family), the interactions between the family members are very well done, the movie is overall well written, and the parts that made me wince in the book are gone altogether (goodbye, weird angel war with bows, arrows and swords!). There’s even a couple of tear-jerker moments, as one might also expect. And, once again, I appreciate the fact that, by and large, we get to make up our own minds as to what exactly happened to Colton, rather than being spoon-fed doctrine. This movie will no doubt start conversations, and for this reason as much as any other I recommend that you see it.
You can buy “Heaven is for Real” at Amazon.com.
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All Images related to “Heaven is for Real” are (c) 2014 Sony Pictures, Inc.