Prayer Focus
Movie Review

The Other Side of Heaven

MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and brief disturbing images

Reviewed by: Ken James
STAFF WRITER

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
Genre:
LDS Historical Drama
Length:
1 hr. 53 min.

Starring: Christopher Gorham, Joe Folau, Anne Hathaway, Miriama Smith, John Sumner | Directed by: Mitch Davis | Produced by: Gerald R. Molen, John Garbett | Written by: Mitch Davis | Distributor: Excel Entertainment Group, Inc.

There are so many real-life missionary stories out there that are full of suspense, mystery, intrigue, action, and drama. Hundreds, if not thousands of faith-based films could be created to merely scratch the surface of what has been happening around the world in the past few centuries. (See From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya for a good compilation of such stories).

“The Other Side of Heaven” is one such story, but specifically focused on the propagation of the false Mormon doctrines brought forth by Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and others since the 19th century. This true-life story, based on the experiences of Idaho native John Groberg (played by Christopher Gorham), has our young “Elder Groberg” heading from home to the isolated islands of the Tongan nation during the 1950s. He leaves behind his one true love, Jean (Anne Hathaway of “The Princess Diaries”), whom he hopes to marry upon his return from his mission, creating the union that the LDS church believes will last into all eternity. Yet Jean also has another suitor—will she be able to wait three years until John returns from his missionary stint on a faraway tropical island? This is just one of the many complexities John must deal with.

I’ve spent time in Asia as a missionary (though not LDS) and can say that this story is very true to life: facing suspicion from the locals, having to learn an entirely new language and culture, drastically changing one’s diet, all while trying to share a gospel that you believe to be the only true faith. Like every other “Elder” I’ve met (the LDS term for their missionaries), John is very personable, honest, hard-working, and sincere about his faith and eager to share it with others.

As history shows, the Tongan islands show an amazing percentage of the population adherent to the Mormon faith. If you’re not a geography buff, the Tongan islands are situated in the Pacific about 2/3 of the way between Hawaii and New Zealand. It is a monarchy with just over 100,000 people. While the Protestant faith has also been brought to these islands, the Tongan people seems be to especially open to aberrant teachings like Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses. The tiny island that John found himself on is no exception: the people were already familiar with Protestant Christianity, even having its own minister, and so were wary of the LDS faith. Yet many of these Tongans see John’s good life and, like John’s Tongan companion (another Elder who goes from family to family sharing the LDS teachings), believe that what John teaches must be true since he came so far to share it. He wouldn’t have done that if it was a lie, would he? Interesting logic. One can still be sincere, but sincerely wrong.

During his time on the island, John faces both good times and bad times. The Protestant minister and several others believe the gospel John teaches is false and will therefore have nothing to do with him. He is often shunned, but over time even the minister comes to realize he just did not know John. The two make peace, leaving the viewer to feel that justice has now been served. In another scene, a strong stance for sexual abstinence comes through loud and clear (kudos to that) as a stunningly beautiful local girl literally throws herself at this innocent American man. Rebuffed by him sexually, she goes on to later accept the LDS teachings too. In an early scene, a father brings John his dead son, firmly believing that he has the power to raise him from the dead. Not knowing what to do, John takes the boy in and spends over 24 hours in prayer for him. Reciting a strange mantra of “Good air in, bad air out,” the boy is revived. Was it God that gave him back his life? I had difficulty knowing what to make of that scene, though I do believe God has the power to raise anyone He wishes from the dead. Naturally, when this happens many locals come to believe in the power of the Mormon faith.

John continues to face other hardships, from the dangerous high seas to hurricanes on a destructive rampage. Every time, he is shown as truly caring and eager to help anyone he can. Despite the strong character and positive morality taught throughout “The Other Side of Heaven”, I cannot recommend it for others. While Director Mitch Davis and Producers Gerald R. Molen and John Garbett are to be applauded for making a technically strong faith-based film with a compelling story (though 45 minutes should have been cut out), we cannot support a film that promotes the LDS church or its teachings in any way.

The official film site for “The Other Side of Heaven” states that this film “is only a Mormon movie in the sense that the main character in the film is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The film was not produced, funded or endorsed in any way by that Church. However, because John Groberg is a current leader in the Church, he did consult with the leadership before allowing his life’s story to be told. His leaders raised no objections.” But film production company Excel Entertainment lets it be known that “Excel Entertainment is dedicated to serving the LDS entertainment market through music, films, and other media. Our goal is to produce art and entertainment that reflects our beliefs and initiates thought-provoking dialogue.” That it certainly does in “The Other Side of Heaven”. It is propagandic in nature, and could be spiritually dangerous to those who are open to considering the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

To learn more from a biblical Christian perspective on what the LDS church teaches, please see our section on Mormon teachings. For biblical Christian materials in Tongan, please visit our Tongan homepage.

Year of Release—2001

Viewer Comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—What a great movie! I do not think it was a promotion of the Mormon religion at all but it however promote the belief in God, the need to do what it right in spite of hardship and the positive effects of staying with your convictions. Compared to the 95% trash that comes out of Hollywood that I will not take my wife to see, this movie was refreshing and left me saying, “Hurrah for Israel” (see the movie to know what I mean).
My Ratings: [Good / 5]
—C. Fish, age 30
Positive—Whether he was a missionary for Mormons, Catholics, Baptists or Protestants, it doesn’t matter. Finally we have a movie about someone with such a strong belief in his religion that he leaves his home to teach others and ends up learning more about his own Christ centered life by serving those he was sent to teach. The message is clear: all will come to Christ through loving each other—Christians, all! The movie is lovely—the cinematography as wonderful as “Castaway” …although I would have liked to have seen more growth in the main character, all the acting was sweet, memorable. A definite must-see for all who are weary of the highly charged sex, violence and bad language in today’s films. I give it two thumbs up! I look forward to adding it to my video collection of Sunday videos!
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
—CJ Calvo, age 47
Positive—I watched this movie today. It is hands down the best Christian and best low budget film of the year. No greater family or personal faith promoting story is out there. It gave valuable insights to teaching fellow students about chastity and faith. Perhaps the Mormon things will bother some. But at very least—especially in rebuilding the island after the storm—it was a refreshing lesson of the importance of overcoming prejudice in our time of hate between faiths. The young man learns a language from reading the Bible, and Mormon or not, it is clear he is motivated only to serve God and build up his fellow beings. Combating alcoholism, establishing schools, interracial friendships, singing hymns—this movie truly reminds us of the sacrifice and spirit of early missionaries. Especially in that both the young Mormon and the elder Evangelical both realize each other’s own sincerity and devotion to God and service. No, it’s not for the faint-hearted…My Ratings: [Excellent! / 4½]
—Matt, age 22
Positive—Wonderful family film! That is very rare in the world of today. I took my family not knowing what to expect and was very pleased with the love and Christ-centered morals of the story. “Mormon” or not… I would highly recommend this movie to all christian families!
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
—J Call, age 48
Positive—Certainly, the fact that the main character of this film is Mormon will be problematic for some. But despite the presence of some LDS theology (as well as some theology that would fit almost any Christian denomination), this film isn’t about Mormonism. It’s about a young man who follows his convictions where they lead and who is willing to live by his faith. He offers one of the strongest arguments for chastity you’re likely to hear in any film this year, and the film portrays healthy romantic love in a way that very few films do. Although slow at times without much dramatic tension, the film is beautiful to watch. Although wholesome, it wouldn’t be suitable for young children, who would find it boring. Finally, if you’re interested in missions or sociological or theological issues, you’ll have plenty to discuss afterward.
My Ratings: [Good / 3½]
—Eric, age 48
Positive—I am absolutely baffled that Christians would find anything offensive about “The Other Side of Heaven” merely because it is the story of a Mormon boy. Have we, as a Christian community, become so indoctrinated in the “cult” teachings of our paid preachers, that we cannot see beyond our prejudice and view this inspiring story for what it is: a person of faith seeking to turn our brothers and sisters to God? Why are all efforts by our Mormons friends and neighbors viewed with such skeptism? Just a note to the reviewer who disliked the portion of the film where the Christian preacher “came to his senses” regarding the Mormon missionary at the end. Obviously, that reviewer just didn’t get it. It was John Groberg who came to understand he had judged wrongly.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
—Stewart Robinson, age 58
Positive—This film was a breath of fresh air! It was enlightening to watch a film that is void of worldly trash found so predominantly in many movies today. I encouraged everyone on my email list to watch this film. The acting is great, the directing is professional, although the story is a little bit choppy. I have watched it five times and I will purchase it when it comes out on video. I don’t mind that the film is about a Mormon missionary. It doesn’t preach any “mormonism” in it and it is not offensive to mainstream Christian beliefs. It is one of those “feel good” movies that I couldn’t stop thinking about for days after watching it. Definitely worth the trip!
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 4]
—Matt Hale, age 32
Positive—This movie is a very well done independent film! The cinematography, acting etc. left nothing lacking. It is a wonderful story of learning, growth, and stepping out of your comfort zone… This movie deserves plenty of praise… Applause to the actors and makers of this touching movie!
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 2½]
—J. Steele, age 21
Negative—Ditto on L. Penner’s review. I would add that the film is deceptive in the sense that the Bible is used, but there is no mention of the Book of Mormon, nor is it even shown in the movie. The intention was obviously to lead the uninformed viewer to think this is just another Christian missionary from an acceptable Christian denomination, not a cult which clearly teaches doctrine considered heretical by historical Christianity. Obvious doctrinal errors only came up a few times (eternal marriage), furthering the deception. In fact, the term “mormon” only came up a few times in the movie. The movie is instructive in showing Christians the lengths the Mormons will go to in order to further their cult.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 2½]
—Chuck Arthur, age 47
Positive—This film was great! The story was touching, the characters real, and great lessons of love and sacrifice were taught and learned.
My Ratings: [Good / 4½]
—Cathy, age 30
Positive—A wonderful movie about the things in life that really matter. Commitment to God is a central theme. I only wish we could have more good movies like this.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 5]
—Angela Merchant, age 32
Positive—This film is a faith-strengthening experience. It is appropriate for the entire family. I recommend it to anyone.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 4]
—S. Knudsen, age 27
Positive—I really enjoyed this film. After reading popular reviews of it I was a little nervous that it was going to be hokey and sticky sweet. Far from it, The Other Side of Heaven blew me away. By far, it’s one of the best independent films I’ve seen, and the special effects really added that punch of realism it needed to make you feel you were there. I really enjoyed the depth of Groberg’s relationship with the Tongan people. I came away feeling a love for that culture beyond what I already had. I grew up in a Tongan neighborhood in Northern California and found the Tongan people represented in this film to be refreshingly true to life. No stereotypical or idealistic people-just human people who you can laugh with, cry with and identify with. John Groberg has an incredible, INCREDIBLE! life story, I think this film does a great job with it.

As far as the critics go, I’ve found they generally fall into two categories. There are the people who object to characters with Christian values, (the extreme ones just plain don’t like Mormons no matter what film they’re in) and the people bothered by its lack of over-the-top conflict in the main character. Regular Joes aren’t “realistic” or “believable” I guess, that is, if you consider someone who is lost at sea for three months, has their feet eaten by rats and faces all the daunting challenges that John Groberg does to be bland. If you’re open minded enough to view a film with religious people in it without starting a holy war there in the theater, you’ll be able to appreciate this movie. It’s a good solid film that was great entertainment. I highly recommend it.
My Ratings: [Excellent! / 4]
—Angela Rockwood, age 26
Neutral
Neutral—It’s not a bad movie, it has very good production, and a good moral message for youth, especially. But, at the same time, it is deceptive, because of all the good things it has, you can easily be blind to the things that are not right. What I could see there is that the glory and credit of all the missionary work was for the LDS church, instead of lifting Jesus name.

And, also, something that really bothered me was in the part where the missionary brings to life a kid that was dead. First, He didn’t even pray for him, he just said: “bad air out, good air in” what’s that!?!?! (spooky) Second, He never mentions God or Jesus, so if that was his “prayer,” to whom was he praying??? So if he wasn’t praying to God, then to whom? Definitely, God was not involved in that, because he was not even invited, so my question is: Who did that “miracle”? I have my own answer, but I don’t want to offend anybody here, I’ll leave it like that… but think deeply about it… And who gets the credit for that?
My Ratings: [Better than Average / 3]
—Lucero Gonzalez Bayardo, age 19
Negative
Negative—This is a huge piece of Mormon propaganda, and nothing more. We should have walked out when we realized what it was about. Unfortunately, we went based on the rating and not on knowledge of the subject matter. Beyond our dismay at the complete Mormon missionary story, the acting was very poor and the plot was very choppy. At one point, the missionary, through his prayers and some incorrectly administered CPR, supposedly raises a child from the dead. He is also propositioned by a native woman who strips her clothes in front of him (out of camera view). (He turns her down, of course.)

The Christian church on the island is portrayed as evil and unaccepting of the missionary, until the end when the pastor suddenly “comes to his senses.” I strongly do not recommend this movie.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 1½]
—L. Penner, age 41
Movie Critics
…those who look for a family film that isn’t totally banal will find a good deal to appreciate in it. It maintains a rock-solid morality without ever getting bogged down in doctrine. Except for the particularities of Mormon missionhood, our hero might be an adherent of any of a dozen other religions. But while it stands head and shoulders above such previous Mormon movies as “God’s Army,” it’s still rather unfulfilling for those not listening to the sermon from the choir…
—Richard Nilsen, The Arizona Republic