Higher Ground

Higher Ground (2011), the directorial debut of Vera Farmiga, has become one of my favorite cinematic treatments of Christian faith, along with The Mission (1986), The Apostle (1997), Into Great Silence (2005), Of Gods and Men (2010), and The Tree of Life (2011). The film is admirable for its refusal to judge the characters, its refusal to proselytize or polemicize. With a reverent and respectful tone, which is so rare when Hollywood turns to religion, Higher Ground tells a story about the search for authentic faith––faith in marriage and family, faith in friendships, and, above all else, faith in God. Farmiga, who also plays the protagonist Corinne Walker, describes her as “not broken down, but broken open.” “She’s not ridding herself of faith,” Farmiga adds, “she’s ridding herself of an impoverished faith.” It’s these kind of subtleties that make the film so welcome. I cannot think of another character who more saliently embodies the fragility and fortitude of faith in late modernity more than Corinne. She embodies what Emily Dickinson memorably characterizes as nimble believing: “We both believe and disbelieve a hundred times an Hour, which keeps Believing nimble.”

The lines below are from the closing scene of the film, where Corinne courageously voices her struggle to make an enduring abode for God in her heart:

When I was a little girl my pastor told me that Jesus was knocking on the door of my heart. And, so, I listened real hard and I thought I heard him. I did. I raised my hand and told everyone that Jesus was standing there, and he wanted me. He wanted me. Tap, tap, tap. Tap, tap, tap. So I invited him in. “Welcome,” I said. And I gave my heart outright. I’m standing here today and I’m telling you today that, ahh, I’m still waiting for him to make himself at home. You know, I call and I call. There have been times when I know he answered me – times when I’m sure of it. But other times I got the porch light on and he doesn’t come. And I feel like I live in an empty place. I told God, you know what, I’m not going to let go, I won’t let go until he blesses me. But I’m wrestling with something nameless, without form and void, and I just want it to be solid so bad. I need all this to be real, and I don’t always know how to make it real – I don’t know how to make it real.

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