A film chronicle of one woman’s journey of faith


The New York Times reviews “Higher Ground,” a film about one woman’s spiritual journey from mainline Christianity to her baptism and life in a tight-knit evangelical/pentecostal church to her movement into the world of the spiritual-but-not-too-religious secular world while still maintaining intellectual curiosity and spiritual engagement.

While we haven’t seen the film, the story is intriguing and sounds very familiar to many people in our congregations…and outside.

A.O. Scott reviews the film, which he puts together in a class of religiously-themed films such as Robert Duvall’s “Apostle” and Michael Tolkin’s “Rapture.”

“Higher Ground” flashes back to Corinne’s earlier life from an opening scene of her baptism, in a sun-dappled pond surrounded by rustling trees and happy faces. Though her subsequent experiences will be marked by growing ambivalence, the joy of that moment is never entirely dispelled. Corinne is smart and capable, and while her childhood was shadowed by the unhappy marriage of her parents (John Hawkes and Donna Murphy), she is hardly a desperate pilgrim clinging to easy consolation.

Nor is her church, in spite of some cult-like aspects, depicted as an outpost of repression and hypocrisy. Especially when Corinne is with her friend Annika (the amazing, earthy Dagmara Dominczyk) — who speaks in tongues to God and with easy candor about sex — she feels loved and listened to. The patriarchal ways of the pastor (Norbert Leo Butz) and his wife (Barbara Tuttle) grate on Corinne, in part because they stifle the intellectual curiosity that feeds her faith.

But the secular world has its own compromises and blind spots. Corinne’s gradual move away from her circle of believers (and Ethan) is not presented as an unequivocal liberation. What faith and doubt have in common is that both are hard work, and the hard-won wisdom of “Higher Ground” is that human nature does not necessarily distinguish between saints and sinners.

I don’t mean to make it sound as if the movie, which was written by Ms. Briggs and Tim Metcalfe, were preaching or making an argument. Nor does it aim for a soft middle ground of nervous tolerance. Instead, it presents the subjective facts of Corinne’s life as precisely and clearly as it can, refusing to condescend or sentimentalize anyone, and inviting you to sift through the nuances and find the answers for yourself.

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Looking forward to this! 🙂

Here's an interview of director/lead Vera Farmiga on NPR: http://www.npr.org/2011/08/26/139974949/for-vera-farmiga-a-search-leads-to-higher-ground [Links to review of film , at bottom]

JC Fisher

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