Vera Farmiga (“Up in the Air,” “The Departed”) directed and stars in “Higher Ground,” the true story of a woman’s spiritual journey, based on Higher Ground: A Memoir of Salvation Found and Lost by Carolyn S. Briggs.
It is a rare film about faith that is sincere and respectful in its appreciation for believers and those who struggle to find a connection with God. We first see Corinne as a little girl in church, shyly raising her hand when the preacher (Bill Irwin) asks the children to close their eyes and put their hands up if this is the day they will open their hearts to Jesus. As a teenager (played by Farmiga’s younger sister, Taissa), she becomes pregnant and marries her musician boyfriend. After a near-death experience, he becomes a believer and they join a community of Christians who live simply and support each other. Corinne’s closest relationship is with her friend Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk), and is inspired by Annika’s ability to be passionate in all of her relationships, including her connection to the Almighty.
Corinne struggles to find that kind of passionate transcendence, but she feels constrained when her preacher’s wife gently chides her for impinging on worship that is reserved for men and for wearing a dress that shows her shoulders. She prays for a certainty and completeness in faith that she sees around her but cannot achieve. Just as her husband’s faith is cemented by a tragedy averted, hers is tested to the breaking point by a loss she cannot understand.
As a director, Farmiga allows us to share privileged moments with Corinne and the other characters and as an actress, she glows with the humility and honesty of her seeking. Her quest, which clearly is continuing as she stands on the threshold at the end of the film (and as we know she will go on to write her book) is itself a form of prayer, as is this movie, a reaching out for understanding and and openness that makes faith a continual source of renewal.
Parents should know that this movie includes some strong language and very explicit sexual references and images, sexual situations, and teen pregnancy. Characters drink and one has drugs, there is a bus accident, and a character is ill and disabled.
Family discussion: How did Corinne’s faith change over time? How did it differ from her husband’s? From Annika’s? What will she do next? How does Farmiga let you know what she thinks of the characters?
If you like this, try: “The Apostle”