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Tuesday, January 22 , 2019, 11:01 am | Fair 59º


Cinema in Focus: ‘I Can Only Imagine’

4 Stars — Inspiring

There are some songs that heal the soul. Bart Millard’s “I Can Only Imagine” is such a song.

Written when his father died, the song imagines what it will be like to be in heaven providing healing hope for all of us as we face death. A top song by Millard’s band Mercy Me, the story of its writer and the redemptive message of God’s grace has been brought to the screen by the Erwin brothers, Andrew and Jon. Having worked with writer Brent McCorkle on previous films, the Erwins also enlist the skills of a new writer Alex Cramer.

Telling the true story of Millard’s life (J. Michael Finley as an adult and Brody Rose as a young teen), we are made to realize that though this award-winning song may have been written in minutes, to be the person Millard needed to be in order to write these words took many painful years. Having been raised by an abusive, single father (Dennis Quaid) and a mother who left him when he was in junior high, Millard lives with the pain of both a father’s anger and a mother’s abandonment.

The telling of his life is woven in a series of ages. From his childhood when we meet a young Christian woman, Shannon (Madeline Carroll as an adult and Taegen Burns as a young teen), who is taken by him, to high school where Millard is trying to be the football hero his father wanted, to his providential injury that put him into the glee club where his teacher (Priscilla Shirer) discovered his voice, to the early years with his band Mercy Me until finally the debut of his most acclaimed song, we uncover the interwoven nature of his soul and his talent.

We won't spoil this journey or the depth of his pain or all that happens with his father, but it is important to note that Christian music legends of Amy Grant (Nicole DuPort) and Michael W. Smith (Jake B. Miller) demonstrate the integrity and generosity we would expect from such leaders. Also important are the true life descriptions at the end of the film that tell of the reconciling nature of Christian faith.

Though all people travel a difficult journey and many find solace in music, this story tells of the added healing of Christian music and its call for reconciling redemption. That is a message worthy of all.


» The moment when we finally hear the title song, we realize that it is not about seeing his father in heaven but rather seeing God, his heavenly father. How has your earthly father influenced you in your desire to see “our Father”?

» Perhaps in the final analysis, all music is an imagining of something or someone that is beyond present experiences. Philosophers have long suggested that this world is only a shadow and that the real is beyond us. Yet Millard’s father talked about reality as though it was only what can be seen now. How have you dealt with your own imaginings that take you beyond this world?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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