CALL me naïve, but I continue to be surprised by how many people still consider the visitation of life-threatening illness the result of someone’s sinful behaviour. Haven’t they read the Book of Job, let alone the New Testament?
Anyway, that’s a crucial element of Miracles from Heaven (Cert. 12A), based as it is on the book recounting the true story of ten-year-old Annabel (Kylie Rogers), who falls out of a tree she has climbed and is knocked unconscious for a short period. It is miraculous enough that when she fell no apparent harm was done. On recovering, she tells Christy, her mother (Jennifer Garner), that she went to heaven only to discover it wasn’t her time yet.
The child begins to undergo continuous pain, however. Nothing that the medical profession does alleviates her suffering of what is diagnosed as incurable. The family’s Texan church doesn’t really help, either, with its emphasis on the need for spiritual atonement. Does the fault lie with whoever let Annabel climb 30 feet up a tree, or is there some other skeleton lurking in the family’s cupboard?
Fortunately, the audience isn’t allowed to entertain that thesis for too long. A disconnected series of incidents involving people who are trying to do the right thing brings about the miracles referred to in the title. As in many Hollywood films about Christianity (such as the recent God’s Not Dead 2) the main characters are, once again, white and middle-class — not that they can help that, being a dramatised version of real people’s lives. Even so, it smacks of tokenism that the only significant black and working-class character is Queen Latifah’s waitress.
That said, the film has enough subtlety elsewhere to let viewers decide whether God is working his purpose out through those who respond to Jesus. Miracles from Heaven makes it plain that, if the Holy Spirit blows where he wills, then anything and anybody can be an instrument of God’s healing touch.
It is a feisty piece. The rows that Annabel’s parents have test their admittedly strong marriage and ultimately are part of the healing process. This is one of the nicest faith films of recent times, thanks to director Patricia Riggen’s sensitive handling of the subject-matter. From the look of it, she probably has heeded both Job and Jesus in her telling of it. The genre all too often lends itself to blatant proselytising. The ingredients of the recipe that Miracles from Heaven cooks up include enough sprinklings of salt to temper any threat of a sugar rush.
The film is being promoted by Damaris Media, a Southampton-based faith organisation that often works with film companies to provide study materials to accompany new releases. It has produced a downloadable Leader’s Guide with wide-ranging activities and discussion questions.