Is heaven real?
That’s the question that the new film “Heaven Is For Real” — which is based off a book with the same title that tells the tale of a 4-year-old who envisioned Jesus with blue eyes — looks to explore.
Told from the perspective of the boy’s father, the story details how the young Colton Burpo saw many visions — including meeting a sister who died during his mother’s miscarriage — after an emergency surgery.
Even though his experiences happened more than a decade ago, the now 14-year-old Burpo hasn’t taken back what he said. In a recent interview with Sean Hannity, Burpo recanted and retold his story about seeing visions, according to The Huffington Post.
"Jesus is more like the humanoid version," Burpo said to Hannity. "He is the one you can relate to because he loves you so much and he's actually your size."
But is the film even about faith?
Chris Larson, president of Ligonier Ministries told the Religion News Service that he can’t recommend the film or book because heaven and visions of Jesus are about much more than what the forms of media make them out to be.
“Heaven is a real place, not just a concept, and we know 67 percent of Americans agree with this,” said Larson to RNS. “We just wish many people would go to the Bible, rather than the cinema, to find out what heaven is. The Bible says there’s only one way to salvation — through Jesus.”
Much of the discussion about the film has surrounded what type of audience the film is aimed toward, rather than the religious themes. The New York Daily News reported that because the movie’s premier fell on Passover, it purposefully avoided a large segment of the population. Producers aren’t trying to entice city-goers or New Yorkers, for example, but rather religious folk who will see it, the Daily News reported.
“A lot of the country does not respond to what Hollywood does,” producer Joe Roth told the Daily News. “The idea here is (marketing) a story that would appeal universally, but would also ring a bell with people who are in quote-unquote ‘Bible Belt’ areas.”
Terry Mattingly wrote for Patheos that The New York Daily News article was a bit of a stretch, though, and the movie, despite its religious tones, is about more than just God and spreading a Christian message.
“The key theme in this story is that some real Hollywood level talents are attempting to make a real movie that is not aimed at Hollywood. This is not one of those do-it-yourself evangelical flicks.”
Still, what does the movie say about heaven and the afterlife?
NPR’s review of the film, written by Linda Holmes, said themes about faith and religion aren’t explored thoroughly, leaving more to be desired.
“It's enough for people who absolutely believe that heaven literally is a location and contains clouds and angels and a physical, green-eyed Jesus, and not too much for people who believe that Colton's story, at least, is not enough to persuade them one way or the other,” Holmes wrote. “But it's both too enamored of Colton's heaven and too uncommitted to it, in a way, to really have much to say about faith. Which is a shame, because faith really does remain an underexplored idea.”
The Atlantic had a similar issue with the film, saying it never takes steps to explore religious and faith themes deeply. Rather, the film wants the viewers to establish their own views.
"If my tears are any indication, this movie succeeds at inspiring sadness and empathy and comfort," wrote Emma Green for The Atlantic. "But the spiritual experience it offers is a very specific one: tapping into emotions via the mysterious experience of a very cute, likeable child. The film doesn’t try to convince people that heaven is real; it tries to make them feel as though heaven is real."
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