Dr. Donna Copeland’s
GREG KINNEAR MARGO MARTINDALE
THOMAS HAYDEN CHURCH KELLY REILLY
HEAVEN is for REAL
I would imagine this is one of the most difficult bestselling books to be adapted in the past few years. As we continue the 2014 religious theme, Heaven is for Real is the only one of the major releases set in modern times. Based on the book by Todd Burpo, a preacher in small town Nebraska coming to terms with his 4-year-old son’s claims of visiting Heaven is quite the simple page turner. The film version, directed by Randall Wallace (We Were Solders, Secretariat) skirts around much of what drew me into the book. Typically I don’t like having the knowledge of the book to compare the film to, but as cinematic adaptations go, those unfamiliar with the book might not see it as rushed as I did.
After a near death experience, Todd (Kinnear) and Sonja (Reilly) Burpo’s 4-year-old son Colton (Connor Corum) begins recounting his experience meeting Jesus and explaining details he would never have knowledge of or been present for. Todd is a local volunteer fireman, wrestling coach, handy man and local pastor. He begins to question his own faith, especially from the pulpit, as the world begins to talk and revel in Colton’s revelation. The church becomes uncomfortable with the press and talk of the town, as Todd begins to wonder exactly what to believe.
While the book is a short read, there is still lots of descriptive events that get lost in translation here; the Burpo’s have a lot of trials and tribulations and, granted, seeing numerous examples of those on repeat in film could certainly lose the audience. The thought process between Todd hearing the information from Colton and what he does with it is very much sped up in the film for time restrictions. One of the most important elements of Heaven is For Real as a book or film is precisely that we all have questions and it’s good for those who believe and non-believers to question things.
One of the most memorable scenes in the book is when Colton reveals knowledge of miscarriage that Sonja had before Colton was born. The film plays the scene just right, but I felt it needed to happen earlier in the story as it does in the book. The performances here are adequate, not overly dramatic, and Kinnear paints Todd as a real human being that many will be able to identify with as he struggles with the many questions and difficulties he is facing. The film could have spent a little longer developing the characters and the visualized scenes of Heaven and Jesus visiting Colton would have been better left to the audience’s imagination.
Final Thought – Those unfamiliar with the book will find this more emotional than those who have read it.
By: Dustin Chase
This is a heartwarming film that is likely to be a big hit with the Christian community. The Burpos are a normal happy family struggling to make ends meet financially. Todd (Greg Kinnear) is a minister who must supplement his income with welding jobs, and is a volunteer fireman as well. His wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly) is warmly supportive, and leads the choir at church. Their very bright children are Cassie (Lane Styles) and Colton (Connor Corum). They have many friends, and are active in community affairs.
When Colton is four, he becomes very ill and is rushed to the hospital and rushed even faster to the operating room for a ruptured appendix. His parents are devastated, especially when it looks like he may not recover. Todd goes to the chapel and yells at God not to take his son, and Sonja calls her best friend Nancy (Margo Martindale) and asks her to get in touch with church members to request their prayers. So far, although this is horrendous for the people involved, it is not an unusual story.
What makes this tale unusual is that later Colton nonchalantly tells his father that while he was on the operating table he had an out-of-body experience of looking down at the doctors performing surgery. Moreover, he saw his dad in the chapel being angry with God and his mother making a phone call. Todd is rather incredulous, but doesn’t really take his son seriously, until he begins to describe having angels sing to him and meeting Jesus, and particularly when Colton seems to have been given information about family events that he could not have known previously.
This produces struggles of faith in Todd, and being the good minister he is, he lets his congregation know about Colton’s experience, and incorporates the information into his sermons. Now comes the part that troubles me a bit but makes me smile as well. I have noticed before that many devout Christians have problems when their faith is tested simply by a report such as this, and they discount the report—often angrily. I want to say to them, “But I thought you really believe that there is a heaven and that Jesus and some of your loved ones are there.” There are many documented reports of out-of-body experiences, and that a child brought up in a Christian family might report on visiting heaven does not seem so far-fetched to me. I have no idea whether it could be true or not that Colton actually went to heaven, but neither do I think it matters one way or the other. Clearly, the child derived great comfort from the experience.
It does seem appalling that Todd’s congregation—who seem to love and respect their minister so highly—could turn on him so quickly and begin looking for another pastor. But in Todd’s struggle with his faith he comes to a resolution in his own mind, and is able to impart this to his flock in a thought-provoking way.
This story is based on a real family who went through this experience, and Todd has written a book about it, which has been a best seller. The director Randall Wallace has created a very engaging film based on this book. The child who plays Colton is incredibly good; he is a natural with an unusually expressive face. There is probably no more endearing child than he is, but Lane Styles is likewise very good. The adult, experienced stars, Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Margo Martindale, and Thomas Hayden Church are top-notch performers who bring the story to life in a most satisfying way.