Higher Ground (2011) Poster

(2011)

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10/10
Fabulous Capturing of Fundamentalist Christian Culture
James Tabor31 December 2011
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.
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10/10
Great film about one woman's spiritual journey and struggle with faith
Dick Sanders15 January 2012
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 God.

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.
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8/10
A cathartic, ambiguous denouement...a passport to higher ground
Lary913 May 2012
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.
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10/10
Gentle and Deserved Critique of the Church.
director-nikki4 February 2011
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.
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8/10
The genius of Higher Ground
rzajac17 June 2012
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?
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8/10
A Devout Woman's Spiritual Journey
ligonlaw8 January 2012
Warning: 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.
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8/10
Rare Gem in Addressing Faith
mishmael217 February 2011
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.
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10/10
A Highly Subjective View
berghwithanh28 January 2012
Warning: 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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9/10
Films don't get much better than this. Just wonderful.
Jimmy Collins16 October 2011
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 award time.

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!!!
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Farmiga owns it
Red_Identity21 July 2013
Catching up on Vera Farmiga's work is my current goal, and seeing as how she directed this one I felt more obligated to see it at this time. She's captivating and heart-breaking, infusing her subtle charm and many nuances to great effect. I don't think the film is all that great, particularly because I see quite a few holes in some of the character relationships and some of the writing arcs, but it's serviceable and Farmiga's directing reminds me somewhat of Sarah Polley's. I do think Farmiga is quite easily the best thing about it, both her directing and acting and for that it's worth a watch. Her younger sister also shows some acting talent.
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8/10
So good I wish I could recommend it at church
ttomeny17 September 2011
Congratulations to Ms. Farmiga on such an excellent debut as a director.

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.
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8/10
an opinion from a Christian viewer
Khemaluck Deeprawat29 June 2012
I am a Christian who have had some experience with the kind of community this movie portrays, and while watching this film, I think this is something for Christian community to watch and think about it. I don't think the film attack the faith or the religion, but it make us question whether all the singing, ceremony, bible reading, church activities,that we do everyday matter at all if there is no "Love and Honesty" in them. Doesn't the Lord tell us that nothing mater if it's not done with love? Doesn't the Bible tell us that you shouldn't come to my altar if you haven't reconcile with your brother? Doesn't God tell us not to judge others? Through her life, Corinne's growing and losing of faith reflect that even honest doubt is still better than pretending to have faith, better than faith with a narrow-mind, faith that is blind to see one's own fault,or faith that judges other people to go to Hell. How many times, after we sing and praise the Lord, and read the Bible, we go home and then hurt those people in our family? How many times we doubt but don't dare to admit to others because we want to be accepted in the community? I think watching this film and discussing about it with an open mind can help Christian community view themselves more honestly. If you watch the whole films, you will find that the moment that reflect "God" the most are the ones when the characters truly love,care,and accept one another, not the scene where praise song are sung or clever words are spoken. The most beautiful things in the movie was the good friendship between Corinne and Annika,the honest sharing of thought between Corinne and the Irish postman,and Corrine's courage to speak out about her doubt in front of her church for the last time. Those are the moment when God is reflected, not in ceremony, gospel singing, or church attending. And the scenes that make me feel a bit shamed of being a Christian because you know such mistakes do exist are: Wendy, Corinne's drug dealing sister, left her home after Corinne and her husband tried to preach to her in anger and force a faith upon her, the scene when the husband strangle Corinne's neck in the care after she tells him the truth how she feels, the scene when the counselor preached Hell fire to her and throw all the faults at her.

In the end, you will understand why Corinne choose to stay "out with the dogs." (That dog in front of the church is really cute, by the way.) The only sad thing about this film that disappoint me was that it doesn't show "true faith" and "how to go through doubt after accepting that it exists in your heart." In every Christian community, I believe there are those whose faith are real and strong, not just pretending or make-believe. There are those people whose hearts are so beautiful and know what the real teaching of Jesus is and how it should be applied in life, but are wise enough to know that forcing a faith upon a non-believer or judging a sinner to go to Hell is contracting to what God asks us to do. These people do exist in Christian communities and they can really be a good example of others, even to non-believers.

Recommend the film highly, but watch it with an open heart, please.
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9/10
What's not to like???!!!
jeromec-231 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I'm going to start with what I didn't like. This film could have done with a scissors taken after it. There was too much music, too much on the young girl's life, and too much that didn't need to be there.

But if one was attentive, one didn't mind. Every film has some flaws in it, but good ones have enough in them that the flaws can be overlooked.

So let's consider the good parts.

This was not a typical Christian film. It had R rated language, it had sexuality that was plain and honest. It had an honest discussion of faith and an intelligent representation of doubt. It had Christians who lived their problems and it had small bits of drama that made us aware of the main Character's observations.

What's not to like? The R rated language is sometimes an adjunct that is necessary especially when anger is our most dominant emotional response. Those 4 and 5 letter words are all that will work. We might just as well say what we think.

When one sees the world through poetic eyes one begins to interpret rather than think literally. When we interpret, perhaps we lose sight of God, but we begin a journey that could perhaps take the rest of our lives to come to the end. Corine (the main character) went on such a journey. She began to realize that she wasn't living the same life as those around her. She wanted to, but it just wasn't in her.

Slowly, ever so slowly, discontent set it. She could not live what she perceived as the rigid life of those around her. Finally after a violent eruption of honesty coupled with her near choking murder by a nearly out of control angry husband she agrees to go to a marriage councillor. What a mistake.

He judges her even before she gets there. I think the film missed a chance to really get some of her anger plainly stated. The councillor is actually correct in what he says. He has a poor vocabulary to talk to her, but he is not wrong. She could confront him by saying that he is right, but he is still not her teacher. She knows that basic discontent has set in. What I liked about the film is that it admits that basic discontent cannot be cured. She must leave her husband. She must leave the church and she must leave her old life behind so that she can go on the journey she so desperately needs to take. He is an arrogant man, full of self righteous hatred of anyone who does not think and believe as he does, and he needs to be told that, if not for his development, then for hers.

It missed a chance, but it was not wrong. She was not developed enough to stand her ground and teach men. Not yet.

That would come later, almost at the end. Then she was able to say (finally) that she did belong in Church. She was able to say that she admired those who have faith, but she did not. And she joined the dogs outside. She did it willingly and honestly.

Bravo, for her.

In the meantime the church did the only thing it could. It continued on with its service. Christians will see this as a slap in the face. I don't really. They have their standards. She has hers. They each have to live within their structure and the film presents us with that. That's where most of my nine out of ten came from.

What's not to like when you are given so much opportunity to think and observe.

9/10
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4/10
A loose collecting of scenes which sometimes work alone, but do not fit together as a whole
chaz-2820 September 2011
Higher Ground is about a woman who wants something far more than she can actually handle it. Corinne (Vera Farmiga) is so sure in her devoutness to God that there is never any question or doubts. She knows there are mysterious ways she will never understand and sometimes even forgets her place when she almost preaches at the learned men of the church instead of sitting in the background like women should at her church services. Then why does she still feel empty? She is inviting God in, leaves the porch light on, but sometimes he just does not show up.

Corinne listens to her best friend pray for her in tongues and so wants that same energy to flow through her and speak those strange and unfamiliar words. She stares into the bathroom mirror almost begging the unseen to let the spirit flow through her and make her feel ecstatic. Alas, no holy spirit shows up. In fact, those mysterious ways show up again in forms which make Corinne start to wonder just what is pulling the strings in the world if all of her prayer goes nowhere and horrible things continue to happen and that empty feeling inside of her grows larger.

The screenplay is based on Carolyn S. Briggs's memoir "This Dark World" and must come to life more on the printed page than on screen. Higher Ground is a faith story of one girl's and then woman's history of faith and then disenchantment. Sometimes it is delightful especially early scenes between young Corinne (Taissa Farmiga) and her boyfriend (Boyd Holbrook) and even more so with her best friend Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk). These supporting characters are far more intriguing on screen than Corinne is. The majority of the film follows Corinne through her daily grind and interactions which either affirm or hinder her faith. This memoir may make for interesting conversation in the author's living room, but on screen, it just wanders around.

Just because one is able to write a memoir does not mean it will be compelling to an outside observer. The scenes in Higher Ground may work individually at moments, but taken together, they do not quite fit alongside one another. At the end, they really are just scenes juxtaposed together to tell a life story wrapped around faith; that is about as interesting to watch as it is to read about.
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5/10
Well-intentioned critique of Christian Fundamentalists flounders without completely fleshed out characters
Turfseer8 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Vera Farmiga stars in and directs this new indie based on a memoir by Carolyn S. Briggs, who also co-wrote the screenplay. Set mainly in the 70s and 80s, Farmiga plays 'Corrine', who grows up in a household with a alcoholic father and ends up rebelling against her estranged parents by hooking up with a musician boyfriend who eventually gets her pregnant. A near tragic incident, where their newborn child almost drowns after the band's van falls into a creek, propels the young couple toward becoming members of a group of Christian Fundamentalists.

"Higher Ground' then charts Corrine's commitment and eventual estrangement from the group. The sect is depicted not as a bunch of Charles Manson-like crazies but rather young, hippie types who attempt to cope with the modern world in often contradictory ways. Perhaps the best part of the film is in the depiction of how group members don't always fit into the stereotypical view as to how Fundamentalists are supposed to act. For example, the group does not shy away from dealing with the topic of the inability of some male members of the group who are unable to sexually satisfy their wives. The pastor ends up playing an explicit cassette tape, providing sexual instructions that will help the men perform better in bed. Despite the awkwardness of the get together, the Fundamentalists are at least not shown to be complete prudes.

Corrine and husband Ethan also seem positively reasonable when they first allow Corrine's sister to stay with them but soon have to kick her out after they discover that she's been holding drugs at their house for a friend. On the downside, Corrine's community does everything they can to alienate her from her faith. Being a bit more intellectually inquisitive, she attempts to interpret some Biblical passages before the congregation in a more intellectually sophisticated way. She ends up being reprimanded by the pastor's wife, who insists that the women in the congregation "know their place" and not attempt to preach since that's a "man's job".

There are other disturbing events that undermine Corrine's attraction to the group. After Corrine's best friend, Annika, is operated on for a brain tumor, she ends up as a virtual vegetable in a wheelchair. The group seems to be in denial about the tragedy and hide their feelings by insisting everything is alright because this was "God's plan". Later, when Corrine's marriage breaks down, she's brought to one of the group's marriage counselors, who admits that he cursed a local politician for committing adultery. Corrine seethes as the counselor interprets the politician's death in a car accident the next day, as retribution for his infidelity.

Perhaps where 'Higher Ground' falls down the most is in its lack of development of the principal characters. We really get to know next to nothing about Ethan, except that he loves his children and has a very bad temper. Do the films' scenarists ever show him at work, interacting with people in the work world? He's either completely demonic when he attempts to choke Corrine after she makes it clear she plans to leave him or still a loving father when he shows up at Corrine's family get together. Aside from the domestic histrionics, why not flesh the character out a bit more, as to some idiosyncrasies? The same goes for Corrine. It's actually Annika who has the more interesting personality (before the brain surgery) with her sexually-laced drawings and speaking in tongues. Since she spends almost all her time rebelling against her Congregation, there's little in getting to know Corrine as a flesh and blood human being. At film's end, Corrine has adopted a bit of a saintly persona and like Ethan, the feeling is that we don't get to know her as a completely drawn character portrait at all.

Corrine makes it clear at film's end that while she still has respect for the Fundamentalists due to their strong faith, she cannot abide by their narrow-mindedness. I had a little trouble believing that the Congregation would actually let her speak in her final sermon as they had already barred her from speaking when she was part of the group.

On the whole, 'Higher Ground' is a noble attempt to critique religious fundamentalism but doesn't quite come off as completely convincing drama or fully fleshed out character portraits.
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10/10
Spiritually Based Identity Exploration
cinemaniac200229 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I saw "Higher Ground" with quite a stoic, serious audience at the Landmark Cinema in Chicago. So much so that I felt I needed to restrain my impulse to laugh most of the time. I can only imagine the uproarious sounds that are going on during screenings of this film in Los Angeles,where people rarely hold back their levity. It appears as though the pious subject matter of this film is enough to make quite a few folks just a little too uncomfortable to let out too many guffaws.

It isn't often, after all, that religion is covered easily in the media in any case. Unless there is an obvious comic connection, many people simply think it is rude to laugh at all about religion - mostly because you can never be sure exactly what people's religious beliefs may be. Therein lies the huge risk of offending someone. Based upon my torturous years at the hands of Catholic nuns in a boarding school near Chicago, I can attest to the fact that I was rarely laughing. In fact, neither was anyone else at that facility during the explosive 1960s. Most of the time, I was just trying to stay on the good side of those nuns, which, for a person like me, was a certain failure. Needless to say, I bore both emotional and physical scars for many years, as the result of having a precocious nature, among other reasons. Like the fact that I was not officially a Catholic and came from a single-mothered household. My mother finally succumbed to my peer pressure at age 7 and allowed me to become baptized. That First Communion dress was going to be mine, no matter what. I was only at the school in the first place, because my mother desperately needed what she felt was trustworthy child care, while she worked nights. Little did she know what was really going on in that place. But that's entirely another story altogether. This personal story is being told to help demonstrate how easy it is to jump on board with just about any religion you're exposed or subjected to - particularly when you are of vulnerable age and circumstance. Even when you may know better or are not treated very well.

First time director, Vera Farmiga, is an actress whose name that not many people may not know of, despite her work in major, well-known films like "The Departed," "Source Code," and "Up in the Air," for which she garnered an Academy Award nomination.

Farmiga, also in the lead role, brings the same level of meticulousness to this film both as an actor and director - just as she did in her many other extraordinary film roles. It would be easy to get lost in a sort of over the top display in a film such as this, given its religious subject matter. Instead, Farmiga's graceful and truthful manner effortlessly displays the poignant journey of a woman struggling to come into her own identity, while exploring the most personal spiritual quest for a life of authenticity.

Taken from born-again Christian Carolyn S. Briggs' memoir, the 60s story follows her character, Corinne, from a home of parental discord, which forms the catalyst toward teenage love which results in pregnancy and a shotgun wedding. Her world understandably becomes focused on wife and mother-hood, usurping her dreams of education and a writing career.

When a near-fatal tragedy is averted, her husband asserts the circumstance as divine intervention. She then unquestionably accepts her new fate as part of a fundamentalist religious compound. The gorgeous New York Hudson River Valley location demonstrates how seductive an environment can be in convincing people to joint an earnest spiritual community.

As a result of this sequestered life, she learns nothing of the newly developed feministic views of the times. She adapts to her surroundings, learning to people-please as much as possible. Her preoccupation with her three young children seems, much of the time, to satisfactorily suffice.

Joshua Leonard as her loving husband, Ethan, never seems to understand just how his wife may have been drawn into, rather than choosing her life's direction herself. She was never really given an option to choose the church and spiritual direction that their family's life became built around.

While there is quite a bit of hilarity in the film (depending upon your particular sense of humor) - the writers, actors and Farmiga's directing never sinks into mockery, as many American films tend to do with this subject. Rather than make light of the characters and their choices, the humor is found more appropriately in the various situations themselves. Her spiritual crisis is dealt with honesty and patience, while being conveyed in a respectful manner. This could be due, in part, to an admission she made about her own life: "My dad is someone who feels the breath of God on his face. He's tapping into something that I have yet to tap into - and yearn to."

As she seeks true contentment, she finds that answers aren't as clear as they appear to be for others in the sect. Which brings to light many questions about blind faith, true believers and the questions that other spiritual followers face or even choose not to explore at all, in many denominations. "You've got fundamentalism, and you've got relativism. I wanted to push both ways and try to come at it from a middle ground," Farmiga has been quoted as saying with regard to "Higher Ground." It's apparent in this insightful, gentle, yet powerful film, that she did indeed, reach that goal.
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1/10
Prepare For A Scourging
Cinnyaste29 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
There is no bigger fan of Vera Farmiga's acting than this reviewer. Thus the disappointing "Higher Ground" went down like a horse pill.

Total Disclosure: only the first 41 and last 10 minutes were endured in real time. The remaining hour in Fast Forward. The story's extreme repetitiveness and lack of dramatic arc was nonetheless painfully evident. Not that there wasn't a clue this film was a disaster. During an NPR interview, Ms. F. had little meaningful to say about it.

In "Grand Canyon" Attorney Kevin Kline asks friend, Producer and show off Steve Martin (paraphrasing), "Why is it when someone is successful in one area they think they know about everything else?" Bingo!

As her first (and hopefully last) directorial effort, Ms. Farmiga's ego trip is a crashing bore not fit for human consumption. It's the cinematic equivalent of Christ's scourging. It's self important pretentious eyewash. One Hundred Eleven Minutes! This rudderless tale would overstay its welcome at seventy-five. Maybe if it were a thirty minute short. . .

Search for faith or critique of fundamentalism my ass. This is essentially the same scene played over and over again: Vera looking quizzically at someone else spouting off about Jesus. Lots and lots of vacant stares. And playing guitar while singing Jesus' praise. Even Jesus Freaks' eyes will become heavy watching "Higher Ground."

Major Film Festivals, have some balls and Stop, Stop, Stop awarding these empty films. Investors, Stop, Stop, Stop investing in excrement wrapped in shiny paper with a tag reading 'Important Art'.

While you're at it Independent film, hire someone besides John Hawkes. Five films in 2011? Including two Indies? Overexposure personified.

It's truly amazing how many far superior films to "Higher Ground" are made yearly. Films with minuscule budgets, lots of heart and engaging stories made by passionate, intelligent storytellers. Films without a rising 'C' lister. Films no one sees. Films no one distributes. Because they've been elbowed out by "Higher Ground."

Jennifer Jason Leigh's equally awful ego stroke, "The Anniversary Party," has exactly the same discordant vibe as "Higher Ground."

Do yourself a favor and give this film a big, wide pass. Ptoooey!
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10/10
Vera Farmiga's directorial masterpiece
DarkVulcan2926 October 2011
This is about as real has it's gonna get, It never tries to be a fancy Hollywood thing.

The story is Corrine(Vera Farmiga) who is happily married with good kids, lives a Christian life, pretty what a lot of women would envy her. But then tragic event that comes across her, life suddenly makes question everything. And will things start to come unravel? How will all of this come about in the end?

Vera Farmiga is brilliant as actor and director, she really is believable in her performance, and as director, she does it quite, and I can tell she makes the actors feel comfortable working with her, you can see it in there performances. Dagmara Dominczyk is also good has Farmigas outspoken friend. The movie will remind you too keep the faith.
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4/10
One Sympathizes With Corinne, But The Movie Isn't Especially Gripping
sddavis6322 May 2012
I would have to say that the basic problem with this movie is that it's jot especially interesting - at least, it wasn't to me. Basically, we follow the spiritual journey of Corinne (Vera Farmiga, who also directed this) from childhood through a fundamentalist upbringing and involvement in a fundamentalist Christian sect until the point at which (literally) she walks out of the door and into a new life. To be honest, I felt little connection with Corinne. I didn't find the character well developed. We saw her at various points in her life, but the connections between those various points weren't explored. Corinne seems to struggle with her faith from the moment that she gets "saved," never really comfortable with it, but not really comfortable breaking away from it either. Her struggles with her faith is portrayed in a number of scenes where she clearly thinks thoughts that are unacceptable to the sect to which she belongs (there's a hint of lesbianism scattered in this movie, especially in the relationship between Corinne and Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk.) Corrine has fantasies about Annika - portrayed fairly innocently on screen - but they surely represent her inner struggle with the idea that there has to be more to life than she's seeing as a part of this rather controlling sect, where she's being constantly told how to dress and where it's clear that women are second class members.)

The movie wasn't overtly negative of this type of Christianity. It's clear that some members of the sect are quite content with this life. It's just that Corinne wasn't. I would have liked to have seen more about Corrine's spiritual search. The only form of Christianity she was exposed to outside of the sect she belonged to was charismatic Christianity (Annika spoke in tongues.) But even though Christianity is far more diverse than that, the movie's end seemed to point to a sense that Corinne either had to stay with the sect or leave the faith altogether. There was no reference at all to more mainline versions of Christianity, although that may in itself make a point. As a mainline pastor, my general observation has been that people raised in fundamentalist backgrounds tend to give up on the church altogether if they rebel, rather than seeking out a more moderate take on Christianity; almost as if they think, even though they've rejected the teaching, that fundamentalism is still the only valid expression of Christianity that there is. I refer to the group as a "sect" because I didn't have a sense that they belonged to any particular denomination. They seemed to be a very independent group (which, to me, raises all sorts of problems in terms of accountability.) Some of the sect members seemed to be a bit of a caricature of such people. There was a very "hippy-ish" quality to some of them.

Watching Corinne's spiritual evolution was somewhat interesting, and the ending of the movie, as she walked out the door of the sect's service, did make me feel some sympathy for her. It was as if she was on her own, with no help, no one to turn to after all these years when she was told so much about how to live. Overall, though, the movie didn't really strike much of a chord with me. (4/10)
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2/10
Amateur Hour
Mike B17 March 2013
There are just too many disconnections in this movie. It's really BAD. Scenes just meander one into another without any rhyme or reason. They are punctuated by pretty people singing and playing guitar. I think if the film had focused on a few days (or hours) of our main protagonists' life it would have been far better. Instead we get a whole lifespan with a multitude of themes. There is really nothing good about this film – the dialogue, the editing, the acting, but most of all the storyline is like a buffet dinner with everything possible at the table – and none of it tastes good. So really go to a buffet dinner instead of this movie – at least you won't come out feeling empty.
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7/10
The path to "Higher Ground" proves to be a tough climb for Vera Farmiga
jtncsmistad5 April 2016
With the proliferation of faith-based movies currently in theaters now ("Miracles from Heaven", "God's Not Dead 2", "The Young Messiah" among others) I thought it would be interesting to review one among the genre from 2011, "Higher Ground".

As a Christian, "Higher Ground" is kind of a tough call for me. While I identified with Corrine (Vera Farmiga in an ambitiously impressive directorial debut, as well) in her lifelong search for faith, both in God and in herself, I came away from this film conflicted.

We see Corrine being indoctrinated into a church cult while still an innocent young girl in the 1960's. We then watch as her extraordinary life unfolds before us, both personally and religiously, through the tumult and the joy, spanning the spirit-searching decade of the 1970's and on into the '80's. We bear witness as she transforms from the subservient female role commanded of her by the cult, to an emancipated and independent single mother immersed in a quest for self-discovery. As we do so, I couldn't help but feel that Corrine's road toward her own personal "higher ground", while undoubtedly still rigorous and fraught with challenge, would likely have been one of less disillusionment, discouragement and frustration had it not been born and nurtured of such distorted doctrine.

The sexual themes in "Higher Ground", which are quite frank and explicit, come off as blatantly prurient and inserted primarily for commercial appeal. These scenes register as out of place and really unnecessary to the telling of the story.

This film is clearly a labor of love and devotion for the ultra-talented Farmiga. Her role as Corrine is an exceptionally difficult one to deliver on with credibility and impact. Farmiga more than meets demand with her multi-layered and affecting performance. Her character's testimonial as the movie ends is at once moving, heart wrenching and hopeful. The words pour out from the depths of her soul. And they make it clear that Corrine's journey to reach "higher ground", while it sustains as a driving and passionate yearning, is just beginning.
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10/10
well worth watching
eliotbay11 June 2015
Sort of unaware of this movie & glad I watched it. I will highly recommend others from my old Church family check it out. Personally found the story very interesting, having grown up in the 60-70s, attending a smaller suburban Presbyterian church. I think we were lucky our youth group visited various other denominations & the LDS, too. Once, at an Evangelical church we listened while members stood up & gave "Testimonials" of their faith. One thing I learned is not all churches had great stained glass windows, pipe organs, choir directors & some sort of so-called "Order of Worship". Anyway, have always thought the work of Vera F. was very good even in that terrible Boston cop flick w/ Matt Damon, Martin Sheen & old Jack Nic. Now, after viewing Higher Ground, even more impressed with her talent & acting range. Then reading the credits & learning this film was her directorial debut - WOW, great job!
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10/10
Rare exploration of this subject without bias
Al Rodbell21 August 2013
As a Jewish born atheist it would be easy be contemptuous of this living in Christ as a way of life. As I watched this film unfold, slowly at first without a given direction, I remained riveted by the characters, from the young Connie and her family doing nothing in particular but being children and parents. Then we see them as teenagers, watching human beings, not representatives of socio-economic classes, or even primarily members of religious groups.

There were no cheap shots at all, as those imbued with religious fervor, from the minister to the older women who counseled Connie, were all meaning well using the values that they possessed, which is all anyone could do. Even the therapist, as a self described Prophet who saw the devil in Connie, was not caricatured.

The ending, which I will not disclose here, was indeterminate, yet this was also true to life, as there never is a solution for all time, just one that will get you through the day, to continue to struggle on finding happiness wherever it may lie.

Highly recommended
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9/10
Accurate Depiction of the Charismatic Circles of the 60s, 70s, & 80s
beorhhouse14 August 2018
I was there. I knew all of those people. This is the most accurate depiction of the Charismatic movement of the late 60s, 70s, and 80s before everything went 'Evangelical.' There were good people in those circles, even a few saints, but many were just like the fools in this film--uneducated, narrow-minded, and essentially Hardshell Baptists with long hair and bell-bottoms.
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4/10
directing debut
SnoopyStyle10 January 2017
Corinne Walker was 'saved' at her church as a child. As a teenager (Taissa Farmiga), she dates musician Ethan Miller while her parents split apart. Corinne marries Ethan and have daughter Abigail. They travel with the band on a bus which crashed. Ethan barely saves Abigail reviving the family's religious beliefs. As adults, Corinne (Vera Farmiga) and Ethan with their children Abigail and Lilly live in a religious community. Corinne's sister Wendy arrives to stay but she's holding a package of cocaine. Later, Corinne gets pregnant, has sex dreams about her best friend Annika, and struggles with her religious faith.

Vera Farmiga is an amazing actress. This is her directing debut. She is unable to strip this life-long story down into a tighter and more concentrated drama. It saunters from one life event to another. I would probably skip the childhood story and start with the bus crash. That way, the movie can start right at the community. I simply have a tough time staying with Corinne as her life skips by. I wonder if this material would work better as a TV series.
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