Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Higher Ground [2011]

MPAA (PG-13)  Roger Ebert (3 1/2 stars) Fr Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's review -

Higher Ground (directed by and starring Vera Farmiga, screenplay co-written by Carolyn S. Briggs and Tim Metcalfe based on the book This Dark World: Story of Salvation Found and Lost by Carolyn S. Briggs) is a film that would probably irritate a good number of Catholics and Christians in the United States today.

To a believer like me, it _feels_ like a straw man, even though I do believe that it _does try_ not to be.  

At its base, Higher Ground a story a woman, Corine (played as a child by McKenzie Turner, as a teenager/young adult by Taissa Farmiga and as an adult by Vera Farmiga) who (1) grew-up in a traditional evangelical/fundamentalist tinged Christian household, (2) _chose_ as a young adult to become a devout  evangelical/fundamentalist Christian as a result of both an immediate crisis soon after she married her high school sweetheart Ethan (played as a teenager/young adult by Boyd Holbrooke and as an adult by Joshua Leonard) and a more generalized yearning for order in her and her husband's young lives, and (3) eventually found it impossible to continue in that faith.

Her departure from her church (and apparently from her faith) appeared to be at least as complex as her entry.

Sure it was _clear as day_ that _a good part_ of it was the result of a very rigidly-held patriarchical understanding of Church by the group that she and husband belonged to.  In the film, Corrine found herself reprimanded by both the Pastor Bud (played by Paul Irwin) and _especially by his wife_ for "coming very close to preaching" one evening during a discussion or faith-sharing session (preaching in this group being considered to be the province only of men).  This kind of rigidity, _when observed from a few steps distance_ (like on a movie screen) seems _simply incomprehensible_ in the modern world.

Still, both the film and presumably the book (I did not read the book and probably won't for lack of time) make the point that this did not compose the entirety of Corrine's departure from her faith.  Instead it was partly the result of the experience of tragedy with regards to a close personal friend, Annika (played by Dagmara Dominczyk) and a general sense of distance from God.  At one point, Corrine says (shown even in the trailer): "Oh God, I want to _feel_ your presence.  Instead, I just feel _nothing_."

Near the end of the movie, she and her husband go to a Christian counselor.  The counselor initially sounds like an absolute quack speaking in _very uncomfortably_ grandiose terms.  TO THE MOVIE'S CREDIT the film does not simply dismiss his appalling if _certainly sincere_ words: "Listen Corrine, we're fighting for your soul.  We want you inside with us in the Church, not outside with the dogs."  Neither she, nor the most of the audience (including myself honestly) understand initially what he's talking about.  Yet, by the end of the movie, it's clear that Corrine (and probably most of the audience) understands.  And yet the movie _ends_ with her _at the Church door_ presumably _about to step out_.  It's a VERY, VERY NICE ENDING.

Folks, I've said this for years at house blessings, where the Reading in the Catholic ritual for such blessings is "Build your house on Rock" (Matt 7:24-28) that _sure_ it's possible to go through this life _without_ believing in God.  The experience of those around us, childhood friends, relatives, etc, in the modern world tell us that this is so.  BUT it is _so much easier_ to _believe_.  The crises in life happen _anyway_ whether we believe in God or not.  I just find it so much easier to believe that God is at my side (and really _with everybody_, _even those I don't particularly like_ or am arguing with) as I go through them.  And yes, _with the perspective of time_ and much prayer and reflection, I do find that events and _even tragedies of the past_ do come to have at least _some redeeming value_.

But I do "get" Corrine too (at least in the movie, again I haven't read the book).  I do hope that she comes to find a peace with her Church and her Church finds _a place_ for her.  And I do hope that all the Corrines of the world and their Churches come to find a similar peace/understanding as well.  For from the time of Jesus in Gethsemene to Mother Theresa in our time, "Dark Nights" have proven redemptive.

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