Religious movie teaches Christian family values

“Heaven is for Real” is either the most comforting message of this century or the world’s sickest joke.

The movie, based on the book “Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back” by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent, tells the true story of four-year-old Colton Burpo, who almost dies in an emergency operation for a burst appendix.

Colton comes from a strong Christian family in a small Nebraska town. His father, Todd Burpo, played by Greg Kinnear, is the town’s Wesleyan pastor, a volunteer firefighter, the local high school’s wrestling coach and a garage door repairman. His mother, played by Kelly Reily, leads the local youth choir at the church.

Hard times fall on the Burpos as Todd injures his leg and is forced to temporarily quit work. The family begins to suffer as bills pile up. Tragedy strikes as an illness turns severe, leaving Colton in the emergency room with a burst appendix. While on the operating table, Colton leaves his body and travels with Jesus to heaven, meeting Jesus rainbow-colored horse, biblical figures, his great-grandfather and his miscarried older sister.

When word gets out about Colton’s amazing tale, the entire town becomes skeptical, pressuring Todd to stop preaching about his son’s “trip”. Todd must wrestle with his own faith in God and convince the town that miracles can happen in the 21st century.

“Heaven is for Real” is one of a slew of recent movies that center around Christianity, including “Son of God,” “Noah” and “God’s Not Dead.” With all the cluttered messages, it is easy for this movie to get lost in the mix. However, “Heaven is for Real” stands alone as a movie of faith, not just in God, but also in other people and the belief in a brighter future.

Whether the idea of a heaven is real or not, this movie offers an amazing look into the heart of a family. The Burpos have a genuine nature that is seldom portrayed in today’s films. Kinnear and Reily have such chemistry onstage that they could practically be married. Colton Burpo, played by Connor Corum, is obviously not an actor, but captures the vibrant nature of the real Colton so well that he seems born to play the role.

The movie cannot compare to the beautiful artistry of the book, however.

Having read the novel, I felt a little empty after leaving the movie. Colton’s articulate images of heaven conjured up such beauty in my mind that no camera can compete. Even the real Colton Burpo, when interviewed for movie promotions, said he liked the movie but heaven was nowhere as beautiful as it was in real life. The director seemed to understand this, though. God was never physically depicted, angels were merely dazzling white glows with wings and even Jesus’ face was hidden from the camera’s eye.

Overall, the movie depicted a positive light. It did not seek to answer the question of whether heaven is real, but offered audiences the chance to question their own faith. The Bible says Christians should have faith like a child, and Colton shows audiences that believing takes incredible faith.

“Heaven is for Real,” directed by Randall Wallace, is rated PG for thematic material including medical situations and is playing at the Cinemark Towne Centre in Conway.

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