Thursday, September 24, 2015

Movie Review of 90 minutes in Heaven

By the way ... even if you don't read the rest of this post, please scroll down to the bottom and read the bolded words - all profits from this movie go to charity!!
I absolutely love that Hollywood is so on board making movies about faith. I truly hope this isn't just a passing fad.

I remember a few years back, somewhere on this blog encouraging my readers to go out and support Christian movies AT the theaters. Especially opening weekend ... because that's where Hollywood counts the interested dollars. And it has worked. (Not because of me.) But somewhere along the line the message was sent that there is a market for family-friendly, faith-building movies. Now it seems there are so many options, it is impossible to hit them all. At least for me who lives an hour away from the closest participating theater.

But I managed to make it to the theaters to watch 90 Minutes in a Heaven. This is an inspiring story of hope, family and community based on the true events of Don Piper, a Baptist minister. Those true events look like this:
  • Pastor Don died in a car accident 
  • He was left at the scene under a tarp unattended to for 90 minutes as the road crews cleared the scene 
  • Another Pastor waiting in his car behind the accident scene felt prompted by God to pray for the dead man; he crawled into the wreck to pray and sing over the lifeless, damaged body
  • Don then, pronounced dead 90 minutes earlier responds to the man's prayers and starts to sing along. 
That is the basic story plot. However that is not actually what the movie is about. And here is where the conflicting reviews may come in. While that dead body lay on earth another 90 minutes, Don actually visited Heaven. And when the man prompted by the Spirit prayed for Don in the crumpled up car on the road, Don was yanked from Paradise back to Earth to endure months and years of unimaginable pain in recovery.

Check out the trailer.

This movie isn't about whether or not heaven is real - we've done that one already. This movie is about a man trying to recover physically when all he wants to do is be dead -- and in heaven -- again.

But obviously God wasn't finished with Don Piper yet. The real life Don is still alive and well and living out his calling of bringing hope to people who seemed to have lost theirs. He was actively involved with the making of the film and seems to have made a life long friendship with the actor who portrayed him. He still vividly remembers his time in Heaven and can't wait to return. However he has accepted his calling here, on earth and has embraced it whole-heartedly.

Image result for 90 minutes in heavenI read the book Piper wrote in 2004. It was a fascinating story wrapped up in pages of anguish. Piper was a very angry man for a long time. The book itself covered very little of the heaven experience and endless pages of the recovery. That is what you will find in the movie as well.

I am not knocking the experience of his recovery. It was grueling. Thirteen months confined to a hospital bed. Thirty-four surgeries. And on and on it goes. Not to mention adding in the personal, emotional agony of not wanting to be alive at all; of seeing Heaven and then being ripped from its splendor. I get it. But I needed to see more than that in a two hour and one minute long movie. I needed more of the grace side of the story. I needed more of the Jesus I believe in.

It seemed like the greatest lesson Piper learned (from the movie perspective) was to let others into his pain. To allow someone to minister to him, instead of the other way around. Great lesson ... but where is Jesus?

It seemed the greatest lesson the movie wants you to take home with you is God still answers prayers. And hope is alive.  Great lesson ... but where is Jesus?

The movie I saw on the screen was moving, powerful and inspiring ... just not in the way I would hope a faith based film would be. And maybe that is where interpretation comes in. Don Piper didn't write the screenplay. It was written by Michael Polish. And I can say nothing to Polish's faith or understanding of the gospel. (Again, I will state that there is nothing wrong with the screenplay or making of the film. It is well done ... it just depends what you were hoping to find in it).
Image result for hayden christensen as don piperThe main character of Don Piper is played by Hayden Christensen, most well-known for his role as Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars episodes II and III. I think he did a great job of a very difficult role. The movie is filled with a lot of slow moving and anguishing traumatic scenes. I say traumatic instead of dramatic on purpose. We, as watchers clearly see his pain and suffering. Also, there is a bit of a personal voice over as Piper/Christensen shares a little of what he was feeling inside. However it translated on screen as a hurting, angry man. Period.

One of the final scenes in the movie we get to see Piper accept the calling of his experience and walk across a room to encourage a young man enduring the same painful bone "fixator" experience. 

And yet, I still walked away from this movie with a feeling of "yeah that's nice, but so what?"

As a believer, excited to see Hollywood take on faith films I find myself caught in a conundrum. I don't agree with hitting people over the head with my three inch thick Bible. But I also don't agree with showing them any kind of faith that is lacking the Saviour.

In two hours of very fine movie watching I never once met Piper's Jesus. I saw endless prayer and huge faith. I saw a community of believers rallying around a hurting family. I saw tremendous strength in an impossible situation. But I never saw Jesus.

I'm afraid that unbelievers could walk away with another round of "why's" to fuel their unbelief. "Why" would a loving God send a man away from Heaven to endure excruciating pain on earth? Isn't God supposed to be good?

So, watch the movie, you ask?
  • Yes. I think the movie is well done. The story is inspiring. 
Read the book?
  • Yes. An even stronger yes. You need to fully understand the anguish Piper went through to come to terms with returning to this world. The books does a better job of this than the movie.
Use this as a opportunity to share my faith with my friends and co-workers?
  • Nope. Sorry. Tell them instead of what JESUS did in your life, even if it isn't as dramatic as Piper's life.
My next step ...  I am still intrigued by the overwhelming experience Don Piper endured. Following the release of the movie, Eva Piper's side of the story emerges with a new book titled A Walk Through the Darkness. I think I will check this one out.

Interesting fact: If you are going to go see this movie, save your ticket stub.  If you've seen it already but didn't keep your stub don't worry. All profits from this film will go to charities as the first film put forth by Giving Films. So visit their website and select the charity you which your movie dollars to go to. I chose StreetGrace, an organization committed to make a difference in the human-trafficking of children. Tell me in the comments which one you picked?

Thanks to Graf-Martin and 90 Minutes in Heaven for a chance to view this movie and review it. My opinions are all mine.

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