Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Take a Journey to "Higher Ground"

On Tuesday evening, I went to see the movie Higher Ground with the Movies and Meaning Meet-up group that I am part of. I had suggested this film to the facilitator. Its not one that I would have made a point to see on my own, but because the movie watching group includes a discussion at a restaurant afterwards, I figured that this was the kind of movie best seen with others and to discuss when impressions are fresh in our minds.

All I knew about the movie going in was that this is actress Vera Farmiga's personal project. She directed it and stars in it. The movie is based on a memoir called This Dark World. It's about a woman who joins a fundamentalist church and eventually struggles with it. That's all I knew going in. The movie appears to be set in the 70s for the most part. What I loved about the movie was seeing a large chunk of lifetime. You really come to feel like you know the main characters. The audience gets to see Corinne as a young girl, her first introduction to church (and "being saved"), her first crush and first love, and onward into adulthood.

A scary accident occurs which eventually gets Corinne to join the church that her husband had been a part of. The scenes of the church services does not clue the audience in to what kind of church it is. I was familiar with the hymns and how church members interact with one another. I did not see any evidence of "fundamentalism", though people were dressed in awful 70s clothes, which was likely the decade it took place in. Then there are a little hints, such as one lady taking Corinne aside to tell her that the comments she made in church "came very close to preaching" and that men do not want to be preached to by a woman. Oh-kay. Now that's a foreign concept to me.

It's difficult to write what this movie is about, because while watching it, I felt a lot of emotions and in the end, it was ultimately a shared journey with Corinne in her life with her husband, children, family, and fellow church members. As I watched, I could see the appeal of the church. They are a close knit group that seems to do everything together. Though the church is conservative in regards to women (which most churches were back in the 1970s), I did not hear a lot of the kind of "hellfire and damnation" sermons during the church scenes, as I have in actuality when I've attended evangelical churches.

Because the church portrayed in this film is not the extreme variety, it is easy to understand the hesitation Corinne feels about leaving. While nothing really major seems to drive her away, it appeared to be more a series of little things that finally added up to where she could no longer ignore it. In the church, she has a close friendship with one lady who is very free spirited compared to the other ladies in the church. When something happens that changes the nature of their friendship, it leads to her scrutinizing what she experiences a little bit more. In one argument with her husband, she made a reference to Dr. Seuss and when he did not get the reference, she claimed that was one of the problems she had with him. He lived, slept, drunk Jesus 24/7 and seemed incapable of talking about anything else. Yeah, I know people like that. Very difficult to talk with single-track minded people who are OCD for the Lord!

When the film finished, I was stunned by the experience. Vera Farmiga definitely got the spirituality right. It hit all the right notes. I have a complicated "relationship" with religion, myself. My personal experiences don't seem to match most members of the church I belong to. Though I love the Community of Christ, I often feel like an outsider and sometimes even "unwelcome" because others don't know how to think of me. My views are probably so odd to other people. It doesn't help when I'm casual and open about my beliefs. I imagine that it could be unsettling for other people whose beliefs fall within the norms of Christianity. I'm sure my New Age spiritualism does not sit well with some people, and I know for certain that one lady had complained to me about it. But what can I do? I believe in being honest about what I believe and I believe that I have to interpret my own experiences as accurately as possible. When one's personal spiritual experience does not fall within "the norm" of Christian traditions, what can you do? Its a good thing that the Community of Christ does not excommunicate or disfellowship members for not believing the same thing.

This movie has made a fan out of me regarding Vera Farmiga. I first noticed her a couple years ago in the excellent film Up In the Air. I thought she had an interesting look to her. Then I loved her in Source Code. Now, her directoral debut and it is a home run. She's 3 for 3. I'll have to see what other films she has made and check those out. One thing that surprised me about Higher Ground is that there were quite a few laugh out loud moments that I did not expect. In this movie, you do get the sacred...and the profane.

The discussion was educational. It was interesting to hear everyone else's impressions of the film and how they relate to it from their own spiritual experiences and worldview. We're all progressive Christians, though different denominations. I'm the youngest person who attends. Unfortunately, the mystery lady I had met at last month's movie outing did not come. I was bummed, because I wanted to continue our conversation from the last time. She was the one who had asked if we had met before, because I looked familiar to her. I forgot to email her, asking if she wanted to go out for coffee and a discussion and thought she might come to the next month's movie outing. Now that she hadn't, I feel like I dropped the ball on this one.

I'm looking forward to October's movie outing. It's likely to be The Way, starring Martin Sheen and directed by Emilio Estevez about one man's pilgrimage on El Camino de Santiago in Spain. With the group facilitator having returned on his 10 week pedal pilgrimage through eight western states today, I'm sure that he might be interested in a movie about a spiritual pilgrimage. I'll probably never hike even a portion of El Camino, but I know someone who has and I think this movie will help me understand more of what its about. Hopefully its an actual movie and not a documentary, though. I'm curious to see how they can have a story / plot about this famous hiking trail.

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