Higher Ground is the first film from Vera Farmiga, whom many will recognize from Up in the Air and Source Code, and it’s a solid first effort.
The movie chronicles a woman named Corinne’s (Farmiga) lifelong affair with Christianity, detailing her first curious brushes with it as a child, her full-fledged commitment to it as a young wife and mother, and her (apparent) rejection of it in her forties.
From the outside looking in, the spirit-filled community Corinne devotes much of her life to is both recognizable and bizarre. Recognizable because what they what from life is what we all want from life—a happy marriage, healthy families, friends, laughter. Bizarre because their practices are outside the norms of secular culture and most mainline denominations. What they do can seem crazy at times, wrongheaded and manipulative at others.
Regardless, everyone in Higher Ground gets a fair shake, which is the movie’s strong point. Farmiga forgoes caricatures for genuine human portraits, articulating in the process what it’s like to live with one foot in the sanctuary and one foot in the outside world, an experience many Christians can relate to.
It’s in this sense that Higher Ground critiques “Christian films” that view salvation as a means to an end, not something transcendent or spiritual. Higher Ground’s goal isn’t to simplify a life of faith but dramatize its complexities and highlight its nuances. If the story ends on a note of indecision, it’s because Corinne’s story (which is based on a memoir by Carolyn S. Briggs) isn’t finished—it can only comment on her state at the time. But more than that, her position half-in/half-out of the sanctuary represents a type of faith potentially stronger than it may first appear. For it’s when you despair of ever praying ever again and yet still pray that the soil is fertile, ready for something new and potentially greater—or at least with more perspective—to grow in its place.