There has been a proliferation of faith-based movies of late. I have seen very few of them, but did find my way to the 2014 American movie Heaven is for Real. This is a story about Pastor Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) and his family, particularly his four year old son, Colton, (Connor Corum) who has an emergency appendectomy after his appendix has ruptured. The congregation prays for him and he doesn’t die on the operating table, but he does have a vision of Heaven and Jesus and people in heaven.
The script is contrived, cliched and manipulative. It should appeal to people who like their religion emotional rather than rational. Directed by Randall Wallace, the movie feels like it was Burpo’s financial salvation rather than Christian living (particularly life after death) being depicted.
I left the movie uncomfortable with the theology of the movie, although not uncomfortable with the tough journey the hero of the movie had to undertake to draw his conclusion. Heaven and hell are pretty difficult theological concepts with which Christians may or may not grapple during their spiritual journeys. The truth is that there is not much information on the subjects given to us in the Christian scriptures.
The movie seems to find a universal heaven at the end of the day (or the end of the 100 minutes or so it runs). While I go along with heaven being “for real”, I am not certain it is for everyone … yes, this does make me wince because it is not the feeling of contemporary popular culture which demands that heaven is an equal opportunity place where everyone is going to land up. I acknowledge that God is Love, and I’m going to leave the whole judgement thing to Him. Jesus who died for us also warned about judgement, if not actually hell. Yes, I don’t like the tension between judgment and love either.
The whole premise of the movie is based on a vision by a pre-schooler. This doesn’t automatically invalidate it, but it does leave me feeling the same way that other movies requiring willing suspension of disbelief do. Call me a cynic. So my feeling about the theology is that it is cheesy. That, of course, colours how I feel about the movie, which is probably why I prefer not to do faith-based movies, but then I don’t like my religion easy and neatly packaged especially when the stuff inside is actually heresy.
As a movie? Rating 5/10. As theology? No go.