Monday, September 12, 2011

Review: Higher Ground

I saw Higher Ground Saturday at the Magnolia at the Modern in Ft. Worth, always an interesting place to see a movie. It’s a theater, but not exactly a theater. You’d have to go to understand.

Here's the trailer:

Caroline S. Briggs, author of the memoir the film was based on (originally 2002’s This Dark World: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost, re-released along with the film as Higher Ground: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost) was present Sunday for a signing before the showing. I would have gone again if I hadn’t stayed up so late thinking about it the night before.

This is a movie I suspect you’re going to love or hate, depending on your worldview, thinking style, and viewing preferences. It’s a fairly slow, meandering movie, so don’t expect action scenes—well, maybe a few seconds here and there—or anything to hit you over the head in a black and white “aha” moment. It’s a movie that addresses a touchy subject—faith and doubt and fundamental Christianity. Does the thought of a slow movie or those words alone make you squeamish? Don’t see it. If you’re looking for a movie that lays everything out in black and white, ties it up in a bow, supports any one agenda, and entertains at a mile per minute, check the schedule again.

For me, I’m still pondering it three days later—one reason I haven’t already posted a review. So much of this movie reflects on things I can relate to from my childhood and young adult years, yet much of it is extreme opposition to those years, too. This made it a very personal experience for me, and I was mesmerized by all 114 minutes.

Each actor in this film turned a stereotype into something more. In Vera Farmiga’s first directing experience, she treats a touchy subject and even the most unlikeable characters with gentleness and respect. No one character is all good or all bad—a challenge in film or literature.

Vera Farmiga, also in the lead role as Corinne, is an expressive actress--capable of expressing herself with one twitch of a facial muscle.

Farmiga’s real-life younger sister, Taissa Farmiga, plays the part of Corinne as a young adult in a pretty stunning debut for a 16-year-old with no previous film experience. I can’t wait to see her in something more—she’s in a pilot of American Horror Story, which premiers October 5 on FX. (I am THRILLED to see Connie Britton in another series with the demise of Friday Night Lights.)

Oscar nominee John Hawkes of Winter’s Bone plays CW, Corinne’s alcoholic father.

The music, well, perhaps only lapsed Baptists might appreciate it as much as I did. In a world where church so often now means upbeat music with repetitive lyrics week after week, the soaring arrangements of traditional hymns with lyrics pulled deep from my subconscious were … ironically refreshing. I found myself with a lump in my throat more than a few times.

The laugh-out-loud moments are there, too, mostly when you don't expect them.

Highter Ground isn't for everyone, but it might be for you. If the trailer or the possibility that you might have to think turns you off, skip it. If the trailer draws you in and you’re not scared of a little honest exploration of faith and doubt, find the nearest theater (unfortunately, probably not many, as it’s fairly limited release), and get there.

The movie is rated R for language, sexual content, adult situations. I wouldn't take a child. A teenager, sure, if you're willing to talk about it with them later.

1 comment:

  1. "Highter Ground isn't for everyone, but it might be for you." I think I will love and be looking in a mirror throughout this movie! Thanks for the tip.

    "Faith"...I HAVE IT..."and doubt"...I'VE HAD THAT, AND STILL DO ON OCCASION..."fundamental Christianity"...WHERE IN THE WORLD AM I NOW after 60 years this year of being a Christian?

    Fundamental? Liberal? Somewhere on the grand continuum in-between? Faithful? Unfaithful? Skeptic without any trust at all in the "signs and wonders" some people talk about? Holy Spirit-filled Believer in God's absolute power for today?

    What in the world would you call me now? ALL THE ABOVE, I GUESS! "Higher up and deeper in" (C.S. Lewis)? Hopefully. Way outside and beyond any "spiritual" name for it people talk about most of the time. Only God Himself knows! And I suppose that's what's really important.