Sunday, May 29 , 2016, 12:55 am | Overcast 59º

  • Follow Noozhawk on LinkedIn
  • Follow Noozhawk on Pinterest
  • Follow Noozhawk on YouTube

Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘Heaven Is for Real’

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman | @CinemaInFocus |

4 Stars — Intriguing

In Matthew, the Bible tells us that "unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." The innocent faith of a child who enters heaven without fear is the simple truth of the vision expressed in the film Heaven Is for Real. However, even within the Christian community it is not that simple.

There are several views of heaven. These varying beliefs often make people uncomfortable when someone claims to have a vision of heaven and then proceeds to describe what he or she saw. Even when it matches what another Christian might envision, it seems to be wishful thinking.

Most often, such visions are considered to be simply a near-death hallucination or even a hoax to sell books and films. However, when the person describing the vision is only 4 years of age and has collaborating evidence of things he could not have known otherwise, people can get upset because it seems to require a response. This is the situation in Randall Wallace's film Heaven Is for Real.

Based on a book by pastor Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) about the vision described by his son Colton (Connor Corum), Wallace weaves a tale that is intriguing. A master at telling a story, as seen in his previous movies Braveheart, Pearl Harbor, Secretariat and The Man in the Iron Mask, Wallace doesn't just have little Colton explain what he saw, he helps us know him, his parents, his town, his church and his life so that we live with the same tension everyone else experiences when they hear his account and have to confront the implications that become obvious when this little boy shares his experiences in heaven.

The tension comes from the incident itself. "Everyone must die," as Wallace explains in Braveheart, "but not every man really lives." It is this awareness that death is inevitable but life is not that causes any discussion about heaven to have an existential reality for each of us.

This is seen not only in Todd, but also in his wife Sonja (Kelly Reilly), church leaders Nancy Rawling (Margo Martindale) and Jay Wilkins (Thomas Haden Church). Their own personal experiences with life and death have caused pain and doubts that each struggles to understand. This is also seen in Dr. Charlotte Slater (Nancy Sorel), whose loss of her husband caused her to see any belief in heaven as "magical."

Recent studies in brain function show that hallucinations actually activate the visual centers of the brain. Thus, the brain cannot tell the difference between a "vision" and an actual physical sight the eyes see. Though not yet fully understood, the implications seem to be that what Colton "saw" was in fact something his mind records as a visual experience. Remembering them as he would any visual experience, Colton is able to identify his great grandfather as a young man, his sister who died in the womb and Jesus Himself.

One of the intriguing parts of the film is his rejection of all art depicting Jesus until he sees a painting by Akiane Kramarik, who saw a "vision" of Jesus when she also was 4 that she painted at age 8. Her mother says that "the first time she came to me I knew that what she saw was real for her." We would expect that if both of these children are having hallucinations rather than visions that they would have unique or idiosyncratic experiences. This is not true because they both identify the same picture as being Jesus who they "see" in heaven.

Though Wallace ends the film with a more generalized acceptance of Colton's vision, the tension for his father Todd is released when he acknowledges that he believes that heaven is indeed real. The message of the film is one that requires at least investigation and then the decision to either affirm or deny the existence of a place beyond death prepared by the Creator. It is this choice that brings the film around to the question that each of us must face: Is death the end, or is heaven for real?


» The recent MRI research during hallucinations and the activation of visual centers creates a fascinating support by modern brain science for the claims of people over millennia that they have had a "vision." Have you ever experienced a vision, and how was it different for you from your imagination or a dream?

» Pastor Todd struggles with his own concept of heaven as he is confronted by his son's experiences. He also struggles with experiencing God for himself. Do you think pastors have more experiences of God than do others and that is necessary for their care of the congregation, or is that not necessary? Why do you answer as you do?

» One of the strengths of the film is the humanity portrayed in a pastoral family. Did you find that helpful, respectful, enlightening or not? Why do you answer as you do?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk's intent is not to limit the discussion of our stories but to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and must be free of profanity and abusive language and attacks.

By posting on Noozhawk, you:

» Agree to be respectful. Noozhawk encourages intelligent and impassioned discussion and debate, but now has a zero-tolerance policy for those who cannot express their opinions in a civil manner.

» Agree not to use Noozhawk’s forums for personal attacks. This includes any sort of personal attack — including, but not limited to, the people in our stories, the journalists who create these stories, fellow readers who comment on our stories, or anyone else in our community.

» Agree not to post on Noozhawk any comments that can be construed as libelous, defamatory, obscene, profane, vulgar, harmful, threatening, tortious, harassing, abusive, hateful, sexist, racially or ethnically objectionable, or that are invasive of another’s privacy.

» Agree not to post in a manner than emulates, purports or pretends to be someone else. Under no circumstances are readers posting to Noozhawk to knowingly use the name or identity of another person, whether that is another reader on this site, a public figure, celebrity, elected official or fictitious character. This also means readers will not knowingly give out any personal information of other members of these forums.

» Agree not to solicit others. You agree you will not use Noozhawk’s forums to solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites, without Noozhawk’s express written approval.

Noozhawk’s management and editors, in our sole discretion, retain the right to remove individual posts or to revoke the access privileges of anyone who we believe has violated any of these terms or any other term of this agreement; however, we are under no obligation to do so.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.