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Higher Ground is a beautiful and stirring tale based on a personal
memoir about a woman who, after growing up in a Christian church,
starts asking questions about what she's been taught. She delicately
steps around the admonition not to preach to men, quietly disobeys the
order against exploring her spirituality, and finally, at a turning
point, learns that it is OK to be sad and angry at God, that she does
not have to sing "It Is Well With My Soul" when it honestly isn't.
Though the film's critique of the church is firm and sharp in many places, its observations are fair, loving, and certainly earned. Besides being a thoroughly enjoyable film to watch, Higher Ground is an excellent starting point for dialog. Those who are other than Christian, even perhaps those who dislike Christians, may be able to put voice to their concerns in a new way, and can maybe be led to see that most Christians are honestly just trying to be the best they can be. Christians can take the critique as a mirror to hold up to their own congregations, looking for areas where perhaps they are inadvertently hurting others or themselves. To those inside the church, I would suggest that this film is a God-given opportunity to examine yourselves, to open your eyes enough to realize that the church is not infallible, and perhaps take the prompting to apologize for areas in which you and the church have failed to represent Christ accurately.
Religious or not, whether you seek dialog or just pure entertainment, Higher Ground is an excellent choice. It is worth every minute, a fun way of looking at a serious topic, and it will always stand out in my mind as an exceptional piece of art.
This amazingly intelligent and touching film, directed by Vera
Farminga, her first, in which she also stars, was among the best I have
seen this year. Farminga, known for Down to the Bone, Up in the Air,
and a half dozen other fine films truly exhibits the range of her
talents as an actress. The film portrays Christianity in particular,
and religious faith in general at its best and its worst, depending on
ones point of view. One thinks of the Tennyson quote: "there lives more
faith in honest doubt than in half the creeds," I loved the scene of
her outside the church building with the dogs, which took on an amazing
symbolism in its context as she had just been warned by her Christian
counselor that she would be cast out of heaven "to the dogs." The
ending will surprise viewers. It is not predictable. The music is also
powerful and authentic and carries the mood and spirit of the faith the
film faithfully reflects.
I think some of the negative reviews come from Christians who are offended at how this film portrays faith but there is no doubt that the kind of faith the film reflects is very alive and well, even though Christianity has many expressions around the world. This kind of charismatic evangelical fundamentalism is quite common outside the mainstream churches.
Actor/Director Vera Farmiga plays middle age mother Corrine in this
drama of a Christian woman's spiritual journey spanning three decades.
In a scene that foreshadows the rest of the film, when attempting to
learn to play the accordion Corrine is told, "maybe you haven't found
the right instrument yet." Throughout the film Corrine seeks to find
her self through various religious expressions during the 'Jesus
movement' era. When her yearning for intimacy and authenticity is not
found in the Christian community, Corrine journeys to find a faith that
is true to herself and resonates with what she knows as truth.
Higher Ground is a rare gem in the midst of Hollywood's often shallow and stereotypical portrayal of faith. Screenwriters and filmmakers would do well to look to Higher Ground (both literally and figuratively) when exploring issues of faith. Truthful in its portrayal, Higher Ground neither demonizes Christians nor paints an overly rosy picture of what a life of faith and struggles with doubt look like. It is a quality, honest portrayal, which invites personal reflection and communal dialog. The quality production will draw you in and musical score will take you back to religious experiences of your youth. It would be hard to not be moved by this film and walk out inspired to continue on one's own faith journey wherever that might lead.
Higher ground is one the finest films on its subject ever made, as well
as one of the best films this year. Surprisingly, it's the directorial
debut of one of our finest actors, Vera Farmiga. She's been very good
in every film in which she's played any role, but is probably best
known for her Oscar nominated turn in Jason Reitman's Up in the Air,
opposite George Clooney. But for her own film, Farmiga has chosen a
very difficult subject one woman's struggle with her faith; her
tenuous relationship with her husband inside a strictly defined
religious community; and most important, her personal relationship with
The story covers the three-decade spiritual journey (late '50s through '70s) of Corinne, played as a little girl by McKensie Turner, as a teenager by Farmiga's younger sister, Taissa, and as a grown woman by Farmiga herself, in a performance that is brave, nuanced, and emotionally powerful. Hollywood films on this subject can either preach to the choir or have a contemptuous agenda, but Farmiga's film isn't about whether this or that religion is good or bad. It's about faith, and doubt, and finding one's way in life. In fact, this is the best work on the subject since Meryl Streep dazzled us in "Doubt." Here's how it goes: As a little girl, Corinne's pastor shows her how to invite Jesus into her heart, an idea that appeals to her since her home life is marred by a drunken father (John Hawkes) and a mother who has eyes for other men (Donna Murphy). But Corinne doesn't quite know what she's supposed to feel. She does like animals, and she also gives an accordion a try, when a door-to-door salesman pitches one to the family. Corinne's mother says, "She's not musical," to which the salesman quickly replies, "Maybe she hasn't found her instrument yet." This foreshadows Corrine's struggle to find her path to God.
Corinne is intellectually curious and has a talent for writing, and when a young guitarist asks her to write a song with him, she finds herself doing what so many teenagers have done before, and then pregnancy and a wedding follow. Corinne must then put her dreams of a writing career on hold, as she cares for the baby while her husband plays in a rock band. But a near tragic experience convinces them they need to give up this reckless life and join an evangelical Christian church. Corinne wants very badly to feel the Spirit, and to be happy with her husband in this religious community, but she doesn't feel what her pastor preaches, nor what she sees other members feeling. This is both a puzzlement and a torment to her, especially when she makes a good friend, Annika, played wonderfully by Dagmara Dominczyk, to whom loving and feeling God come easily.
This particular Christian community will be one many people recognize; they adhere to the bible's word and are happy to follow a strict patriarchal discipline. As a director, Farmiga does not judge, but those who do not subscribe to this type of religious practice may, and that would be a mistake. These are not bad people, they have chosen a life that works for them; it just may not be a good fit for Corinne. She's smart, studies the bible along with many other books, and she feels she has something valuable to share with the congregation. But when she speaks up, she's admonished by the pastor's wife for "coming very close to preaching and attempting to teach the men." She chafes under this restraint, which seems unreasonable to her. And then a second, very real, tragedy strikes, turning her struggle into a spiritual crisis. I think many people will recognize precisely this experience from their own lives: it is very real.
Farmiga's film does not hurry, the story unfolds slowly, and it also contains a fair amount of humor. I could've died laughing during a scene in which Corinne's marriage counselor tells her about "a dire MacMuffin moment," but it was no laughing matter. There are also many small everyday family scenes that may not seem of much consequence, but every piece of the story is important, so watch and listen carefully, as everything builds to one of the most emotionally powerful endings of any film this year. At the climax, Corinne speaks to the congregation, from her heart, a heart that perhaps gives too much, and also with a mind trying very hard to make sense of what it means to walk "The Higher Ground." In the end, we get a sense that Corinne will find her instrument, and that she will go on to make music with God.
Higher Ground is an excellent film and a brilliant directorial debut by Vera Farmiga, from whom I think we can expect great things in the future. I highly recommend it to all who appreciate literary quality stories that deal honestly with human feelings and relationships.
A lot of folks are posting to point out that HG is just plain boring. I
say it's not.
What it is, is mundane. Farmiga set herself a difficult hurdle. She decided that she wanted to set this odyssey in the context of the life of, really, an ordinary woman. And so there's a notable wash of the quotidian over the whole movie; lots of pastels and a paucity of striking drama and color. Who buys a ticket to eat oatmeal? Well, there are a couple of redemptive factors, esthetically speaking.
One thing she does is place flashpoint moments of pretty intense drama, such as when the personality conflict with her husband culminates in violence; a real white-knuckler! And, that being merely a notable punctuation point in the action, a careful tracking shows the flick to be a kind of moderated exposition, ranging from the truly mundane to some pretty challenging stuff; and everything in between and every which way.
HG is an invitation to lovingly and thoughtfully consider those of our brethren who have addressed their existential crises by buying into this particular "out"; socializing themselves into fundamentalism.
Interestingly, the eye of the camera viewing this epic could be the fairly dispassionate eye of a deistic god: For example, I found the scene where our heroine meets with a "prophetic" councilor particularly challenging. It requires that we get off our duffs, roll up our sleeves, and personally address the issue: From whence do persons who promote themselves as social arbiters derive their credentials? Does his firm, unblinking claim to divine calling overrule the intuitions of women who simply feel unfulfilled? HG is, I think, carefully directed to leave you to answer this, and other questions, in the tabernacle of your own heart. This will naturally put off some moviegoers who never really felt that this was the purpose of film.
I'm not kidding: I'm fully aware that this style of filmmaking puts off plenty of people. Farmiga didn't make this film to be popular: She made it to be honest with herself.
And perhaps that's the foundation point of the best recommendation for this flick: How often do you get to see films like that?
Higher Ground is a story about an honest search for faith in a fearful, posturing world. It is an unpretentious film. It is also Vera Farmiga's directorial debut and it showcases her signature style. She displays astonishing depths, carrying roles with integrity and intelligence. I've always noted that she has an atypical screen glamor that grows in its unfurling. In fact, it's a special beauty but it fits a needed niche. If you have ever walked the path of faith, honestly questing, be prepared for a cathartic, ambiguous denouement that may take you to higher ground. I enthusiastically recommend this soft, sad but lovely journey by cinema.
Vera Farmiga is a great actress, I think everyone knows that, but now
with Higher Ground we get to see what a true talent she has as a
director. The story that is told here is one like I've never seen
before, a religious film that doesn't really come off with a bias
attitude for or against the church, it does paint a beautiful portrait
of a woman who found faith at a young age and in her adult life is
slowly losing that faith. The character of Corinne is not a weak woman,
she is a tough woman who speaks her mind and doesn't let herself be
quietened down by the men in the church, this type of character is what
is needed in films about women today and Vera Farmiga performs this
difficult role so spectacularly it's a crime if it is ignored come
Everything about this movie is just amazing, the acting, the script, the costumes, the production design, everything just fits together perfectly and all aspects compliment each other very well. I am not a religious person at all, I have zero interest in any religion, I really only went to see it because of it being Miss Farmiga's directorial debut but almost instantly I was totally taken in by the story. One thing I noticed is the surprising amount of humor, I found myself laughing so hard so many times, the scriptwriters knew just when to lighten the load and throw in an intelligent laugh, at those times the entire theater was in hysterics. I can see why this film has such a low rating, a lot of Americans would probably be offended by it but oh well, you win some you lose some, full props to Vera for taking in such a daring subject for her first feature.
This movie deserves to be seen by all types, religious, non religious and even just those after a terrific film to watch, it's a film that would get you talking afterward, one for discussion, me and my partner are still talking about it.
I am so looking forward to seeing what Vera does next, she is obviously a very talented woman in many ways and with Higher Ground she shows amazing promise as a director.
In a word, EXCEPTIONAL!!!
Congratulations to Ms. Farmiga on such an excellent debut as a
As a completely involved in church evangelical Christian, it was exciting to see major elements of my lifestyle portrayed accurately on screen for a change. This film takes a kind and thoughtful middle road, not portraying the Christian life at extremes as it so often is- both negatively in many mainstream films and over the top positive in Christian films.
I wish I could send an email to all my church friends telling them to go see this film. But, as the film intimates, there are social and cultural taboos present within Christian churches. Some of the dialog and a few of the images would be so offensive to a small minority of my Christian friends that I would not dare to broadcast a recommendation but rather discreetly recommend it to those who would not be offended.
And a sizable segment of the really committed Christian population does not attend (at least in public) any R rated movie. This movie looks like it could have easily been brought to the screen as a PG-13 and reached a much wider audience.
And I hope this can reach as wide an audience as possible both for its portrayal of the Christian lifestyle and so we get to see more films from Vera Farmiga.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
When Vera Farmiga selected "Higher Ground" to direct, she did not
select an easy subject or one that would typically draw much box
office. For most of the movie, you are in church or praying with other
Christians and immersed in the evangelical world.
Hollywood,in particular, does not do sincere exploration of devoutly religious material, in this kind of depth. Devout Christians are more often portrayed as mentally unbalanced, dangerous or ignorant.
For the first third of the movie, I waited for the dark turn of the story to unveil black hearts in the congregation.
The soundtrack is all religious, White gospel music, with mostly acoustic instruments.
We are introduced to sectarian religious people who have devoted their lives to seeking a connection to God through Jesus. This is not a cynical movie, and there are no snarky undercurrents. I was prepared to dislike this film when it was clear that we are being invited into the world of a small born-again congregation. They speak the language of the intensely religious, and they find Biblical references to explain the events in their lives.
Rather than being put off by it, it worked for me. Yes, there were flaws in the story-telling, and there weren't a lot of production values, but this film is about living life on a higher ground.
It is too slow for most audiences, and there is no action and not much suspense. The female protagonist seeks contact with her savior in almost every scene. She is not only a servant of her God, but she is reminded that women do not teach or preach to men in her community.
She has many questions about her life and her faith, and the film is about how she addresses her spiritual crisis. There aren't any bad people in this film. Even the people I didn't particularly like were very decent sorts of people. Farmiga is the protagonist who becomes born-again as a child, and, as she matures, she finds a gap between what she believes to be true and what she is hearing from the pulpit and her fellow travelers. She is unsatisfied with platitudes and the preaching rings hollow when applied to her life. Her journey is very personal, and, in the end, she follows the truth in her heart. This film does not indict the beliefs of others, and I did not find it to be anti-religious. All spiritual journeys are intensely personal. One must find one's own path to higher ground.
This film takes some time to get to you; because it is sincere and essentially a spiritual journey. It will not please everyone, but it might be a gem for those who give it a chance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I can understand why many people will fail to see Farmiga's genius in
creating this gem. It is a slow, thoughtful movie. The fact that
Corinne sometimes seems to lack emotion is part of the point. She is
repressed in every way, yet at times the true woman's spirit shines
through - when laughing with her children, for example - and this
contrast shows the depth of Farmiga's acting ability as well as her
admirable restraint and daring as a director. To honestly portray a
repression that is as much internally as it is externally driven - this
is a fine line, and one that Farmiga walks with delicacy.
Watching Higher Ground was a deeply personal experience for me. Corinne's story could be mine in so many ways. From the music (which I knew word-for-word), to the nearly word-perfect alter calls for children (while every head is bowed and every eye is closed), to Corinne's moments of recognition (inside with you, or outside with the dogs), everything felt intensely real and honest. People who see this movie as attacking Christianity are probably not able to see their own worlds with any spirit of truth, as - for me, anyway - everything about Corinne's experiences in her church was painted accurately and with a painful degree of realism.
I watched this movie with my husband, who was raised without any religion and has a hard time understanding what it was like for me to walk away from my whole life, my whole world. This movie helped me express to him that pain, and that freedom. Like Corinne, I simply couldn't pretend anymore.
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