Saturday, March 31, 2012

Higher Ground

Corrine gave her heart to Christ as a child at Vacation Bible School, but without a supportive home environment, didn't really start following him until after she was married.  The "Jesus People" came to town, and Corrine and her husband became involved in a fundamentalist church.  Higher Ground depicts Corrine's struggle with her faith over the next several years.  She wants to embrace the faith, but it never becomes real to her, and the sense of detachment grows.

The tongues just aren't happening for Corrine.
Corrine's struggles are real, and common.  Many Christians, in their honest moments, probably share her struggles.  We have to laugh with her as we watch her reactions to some familiar Christian quirks, like her surreptitiously wiping the communion cup before she drank from it, or locking herself in the bathroom and attempting to come up with a prayer language.  While the Bible studies and church services seem for the most part quite genuine and heartfelt, the movie does fall into the common trap of portraying Christians as self-righteous and superficially pious.

As Corrine continues to feel more distant from her faith, her best friend gets a brain tumor.  She survives, but is severely disabled.  Who doesn't share her questioning, as she hears songs and sermons about God's power and God's plan?  How can that be in God's plan?

She finally reaches a breaking point.  As she sits in her car listening to Keith Green's "Create in Me a Clean Heart, she pleads, "Lord help me.  Because I can't feel you.  I feel nothing.  Draw near to me, Lord, where are you?"  Then she proceeds to leave her family, starts driving a convertible, fixing her hair differently, and flirting with the mailman.  While I certainly share Corrine's struggle, and have prayed that prayer with her, this is the kind of message that drives me crazy in this kind of movie or book: the answer is to break away from this confining lifestyle and find freedom away from Christ.

In spite of what I perceive as a bias against conservative Christian theology, Higher Ground is to be commended for its questions, if not its conclusions.  I don't think I'm alone in sharing Corrine's feelings, as expressed in a speech toward the end of the film.  This just might bring you to your knees:

I invited him in.  "Welcome," I said, and I gave my heart outright.  And I'm standing here today, and I'm telling you, I'm telling you today, that I'm still waiting for him to make himself at home.  You know, I call and I call, and there have been times where I know he answered me. . . . But other times, I've got the porch light on, and he doesn't come.  And I feel like I live in an empty place. . . . I need all of this to be real, and I don't always know how to make it real.  
Higher Ground in interesting, thought provoking, and maybe even convicting and inspiring, but be warned: it earns its R rating with language and sexual references.

By the way, Higher Ground is based on the memoir This Dark World, by Carolyn S. Briggs, who also wrote the movie screenplay.  I have not read the book, but the title alone makes me think Briggs's story is even more bleak than portrayed in the movie.

Bottom line, 3 stars.

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