‘Heaven Is for Real’: Daring, Disarming, Dogma-Challenging

April 25, 2014 Updated: April 25, 2014

America’s best products are movies and music. 

What’s the deal with Christian movies? They tend to share an overly saccharine sweetness. The recent “Son of God” being a case in point.

“Heaven Is for Real” falls solidly in the saccharine sweet category. However, the story itself is quite interesting. It’s also true. 

Greg Kinnear is Todd Burpo, Iowan pastor, volunteer fireman, wrestling coach, and business owner. He’s a do-gooder of extreme do-goodness. 

Fracturing an ankle sliding into home at the local softball game is an experience that immediately goes into his Sunday sermon. He preaches in a small town.

When his wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly) insists it’s time for a vacation, the family sets out for Denver, shouting Queen’s “We Will Rock You” in the car. 

His 4-year-old son Colton (newcomer Connor Corum) ruptures his appendix and gets an MRI. It’s bad. Pastor Todd goes to the hospital chapel and throws chairs around, hollering heavenward, “Don’t you take my son!”

Meanwhile, back home, word gets around. The entire community becomes engrossed in prayers for the pastor’s son. Colton lives.

Back to life as usual? Not really. The boy is starting to say some very interesting things. When they go to the Denver petting zoo to hold Rosie the tarantula, Colton says, “I’ve been here before.”

He also says, “The angels sang to me.” Todd asks when they did that, to which Colton replies, “When you were in the other room, yelling at God.”

Colton says he met Jesus. Jesus has a multicolored horse. Jesus has “markers” too, he says, pointing at both hands and feet. 

Well, if pastor Todd is going to talk about his busted ankle, he’s definitely going to tell his flock about Jesus’s multicolored horse too.

You’d think a congregation of true Christian believers would cotton to this. That they’d cotton to it like multicolored cotton candy.

But no. It scares people. Pastor Todd keeps talking like that, he might get fired. Especially with newspaper reporters sniffing around, trying to get stories about the boy who went to heaven.

When the article comes out, the teasing starts. In one of the movie’s funniest scenes, schoolyard brat-boys tease Colton’s older sister. She whacks them, but good.

This of course sets us up for one of the many Christian teachings: “You should have turned the other cheek.”

This is the kind of thing a religious movie needs to be careful with. You have to explain in detail why that’s a good thing. Because in this day and age, turning the other cheek has long become a scorned concept.

And because most of us thoroughly enjoy the concept of a tiny girl with tremendous attitude going all Clint Eastwood on some schoolyard punks.

Meanwhile, the proofs and clues that Colton actually went to heaven keep piling up. To relate all of them is to spoil the movie. So we’ll just say one more.

We see him early on, in heaven, with Jesus. A little girl comes up to him and hugs him for a very long time.

Later, back in Iowa, Colton tells his mom, “Did you know I have a sister?”
“Well of course you have a sister.”
“No, I have two sisters. One died in your belly.”
“What was her name?”
“She didn’t have a name. You hadn’t named her yet.”

Sold! Heretofore skeptical mom buys the multicolored cotton candy on the spot. Now Sonja’s a believer.

As Colton says, “I see it, so I believe it.” Maybe if you go see this movie, you’ll believe it too. Highly recommended for those struggling with belief in spiritual realities.

Warning: don’t buy cotton candy at the movie theater. Because what will you have if you combine that sugar with the saccharine sweetness of “Heaven Is for Real?” A toothache. You will have a toothache. But if you’ve lost your faith—you just might find it again.


‘Heaven Is for Real’
Director: Randall Wallace
Starring: Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Connor Corum, Margo Martindale, Thomas Haden Church
Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Rated PG
Release Date: April 16
3 stars out of 5

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch