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Who would guess a four-year-old could cause such a ruckus? In 2010, Preacher Todd Burpo released the book Heaven Is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. In 2003, his son Colton Burpo had undergone emergency surgery. But since he hadn’t actually died on the operating table, people refused to call this a near death experience and thus tried to discredit it.
In the movie adaptation of the book, Todd (Greg Kinnear) works as a garage door installer, coaches high school wrestling and serves as a volunteer fireman during the week. On Sundays he preaches to his congregation in Crossroads Wesleyan Church in Imperial, Nebraska. But despite his best efforts to support his family, Todd and his wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly) struggle to make ends meet in a community dealing with economic challenges. Then Todd breaks his leg and suffers a kidney stone attack. It’s enough to make anyone feel like Job.
Just as Todd is healing, Colton (Connor Corum) undergoes emergency surgery. After the young boy miraculous recovery, he begins talking about his visit to heaven while on the operating table. His comments aren’t preachy; just the kind of random remarks you’d expect from a four-year-old. It seems this affirmation of a life after death, even from a child, would be reassuring to Colton’s father and the rest of the congregation. Not so!
Todd (who preaches from the Bible every week) hesitates to accept the reality of heaven, or hell for that matter. In some ways his reaction might be understandable. He’s been through a lot. At some point in life most people will be faced with the choice of believing in a higher power or the arm of flesh. Even the seemingly faithful, like this small town reverend, can struggle when life gets hard. And that’s what Todd does as he seeks to define what heaven is to him.
Oddly enough, the reaction of the congregation isn’t at all expected either. Rather than strengthening their faith, many of them are confused or even outright vitriolic toward Todd’s family following Colton’s innocent comments. Those who joined in prayer for Colton only a few weeks earlier suddenly mock the boy and his parents. One is left to wonder if they see themselves as believers or merely members of a Sunday social club.
The film contains references to death and the depiction of some very sanitized medical procedures, along with a bloody sports injury. But other than that there is little content for parents to worry about. In the end, the point of the movie isn’t really a debate over the existence of heaven. Whether or not you agree, it’s hard to discredit another person’s personal experience, especially one as adorable as Colton. The real question of the movie seems to be one of faith—do you have it or not? And if you don’t believe in God, is Wikipedia the source of all truth?
Heaven is for Real is rated PG: for thematic material including some medical situations.
Director: Randall Wallace
Cast: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Connor Corum, Margo Martindale
Studio: 2014 TriStar / Sony Pictures
Website: Official site for Heaven is for Real.