MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions. I Can Only Imagine Website
Directed by Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin. Starring J. Michael Finley, Dennis Quaid.
One of the comments that I hear quite often from people who have seen a faith-based film is that “it’s actually pretty good for a Christian movie”. That would seem like faint praise to most folks, but it seems to satisfy Jesus followers (many who choose to go to the theater exclusively only for Christian films). If you are one of those persons, I am pretty sure that you have not only seen I Can Only Imagine (which was a big hit with churchgoers its first two weeks), but are also familiar with previous films by The Erwin Brothers: Woodlawn, October Baby, and Mom’s Night Out.
I Can Only Imagine intends to tell the true story behind the creation of MercyMe’s classic worship song (which has sold more copies than any other Christian song in history). Written by Bart Millard (Finley), the song visualizes what it will be like to enter eternal life and see Jesus face-to-face. The background to the song’s composition is the change that Bart saw in his father Arthur (Quaid), who had been abusive to Bart, his mother (Tanya Clarke) and his brother, but who came to accept Christ late in life, become the best kind of dad. Bart also found it in his heart to forgive his father.
This story of forgiveness and reconciliation is buried in the middle of a clichéd “making of a band” story that includes all of the regular players, including a faithful wife (Madeline Carroll) who Bart first meets at church camp, a tenacious and plain-speaking manager (well-played by country singer Trace Adkins), and a couple of celebrity contemporary Christian artists. We also get to see that reliable scene in which kids in cars drive around the country, handing over a CD to little local radio stations, hoping that the DJ can give the song a spin.
Most of the details of the song’s history are reimagined for the film. Personally, I am willing to give filmmakers artistic license if it helps to tell a better story. But I was disappointed that Jesus was pushed to the sidelines. We rarely hear his name spoken and Arthur’s faith decision takes place off-screen. If all you want from a faith-based film is to have your beliefs affirmed and endorsed, this movie will satisfy you. But I can only imagine how much better this film could have been had it emulated the Apostle Paul’s testimony that “I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” (Romans 1:16)
The filmmakers worked hard to keep this film PG, toning down the scenes of family violence. In the process, they have also sacrificed the hard work that Bart Millard had to do to overcome the emotional damage of his childhood. For many victims of family abuse, Jesus has not yet arrived on the scene. That’s where you and I enter the story.
Four halos: This inspirational film is full of heart and compassion, but is not likely to touch those outside of the Christian community.
Two pitchfork: For a few scenes of domestic abuse.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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