Today’s Prayer Focus

I Can Only Imagine

also known as “Eu Só Posso Imaginar,” «Можно только представить»
MPA Rating: PG-Rating (MPA) for thematic elements including some violence.

Reviewed by: Raphael Vera

Moral Rating: Very Good
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: • Adults • Young Adults • Family
Genre: Christian Biography Drama
Length: 1 hr. 50 min.
Year of Release: 2018
USA Release: March 16, 2018 (wide—1,629 theaters)
DVD: June 12, 2018
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Relevant Issues
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Growing up with an abusive father

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Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

Does God feel our pain? Answer

What kind of world would you create? Answer

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About despair, fear and hope

God’s glory

God’s providence

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Eternal life with God versus eternal death

Is Jesus Christ the answer to your questions?
Discover the good news that Jesus Christ offers
Paradise or Pain? Why is the world the way it is?
Why is the world the way it is? If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving, would He really create a world like this? (filled with oppression, suffering, death and cruelty) Answer

Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer

God’s Story Online home
Do you understand God’s Story? Take a multimedia journey through the Bible, from Creation to eternity. Hear and read an exciting summary of the Bible’s most important records, in chronological order.

Where did CANCER come from? Answer

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Featuring J. Michael Finley … Bart
Brody Rose … Young Bart
Dennis QuaidArthur
Madeline Carroll … Shannon
Cloris LeachmanMemaw
Trace Adkins … Brickell
Tanya Clarke … Adele
Rhoda Griffis … Jen (Amy's Manager)
Gianna Simone … Dr. Avondale
David Norona … Bill Layton
J.R. Cacia … Rusty
Priscilla C. Shirer … Mrs. Fincher
Nicole DuPort … Amy Grant
See all »
Director Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin — “October Baby” (2011), “Woodlawn” (2015), “Moms' Night Out” (2014)
Producer Kevin Downes Productions
Mission Pictures International
See all »
Distributor: Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. Trademark logo.
(Lions Gate Entertainment Corp.)
Distributor: Roadside Attractions. Trademark logo.
Roadside Attractions
, a division of Lionsgate Films

“The song you know. The story you don’t.”

Bart Millard (J. Michael Finley) is asked how he wrote the song, “I Can Only Imagine”… and he says simply, “It just kinda happened. Lyrics took about 10 minutes, music the same.” This answer does not satisfy the interviewer who suggests, “You didn’t write this song in ten minutes, it took a lifetime.” And she is right. The story of Bart’s life, his experiences, and his trials are what inevitably led to the creation of the most popular contemporary Christian song ever written. This is that story.

Flashback to a young Bart who mows lawns, rides his bike and, like any other kid at the time, listens to music on his Walkman. The dark secret he keeps is that his parents fight all the time. His dad, Arthur (Dennis Quaid), has a violent temper and often takes that out on Bart. A week-long trip to a Christian camp brings him into the fellowship of God for the first time in his life, and, by the end of that week, he knows he will never be alone again. However, as soon as he returns home, the reality of his tragic home life sends him spiraling into a despair that he will spend a good part of his life running away from.

As you may have guessed already, “I Can Only Imagine” is not a film about the creation of his band Mercy Me. Rather, it is based on a true story of how God can change all hearts, from a young open one to an old, stubborn, and some would say unchangeable, even monstrous, heart. It is also very much a film about the providence of a God who loves us and will, unknowingly by us, orchestrate circumstances both for His glory and our benefit. This may be Bart’s story, but it is one that can resonate with so many who, like him, are on a rocky, uncomfortable and often painful path. However, if we earnestly seek our Lord, then He will see us through this life into a Heaven that we can only imagine.

Objectionable Content

Language: None. While there is no foul language, nor is the Lord’s name taken in vain, some of the dialog is very heated. Bart’s parents are heard, not seen, arguing, and his Dad threatens his mom to ‘shut up, or I’ll shut it for you.’ A young Bart makes accusations against his dad, and, although they may justified, they are still disrespectful. As Bart grows up so does his open criticism of his dad. These scenes may make some young children uncomfortable as may some of the minor violence.

Violence: Mild. Bart’s dad Arthur maliciously throws his son’s homemade helmet into a fire to try and dispel his dreams. As a child, Bart lunges to attack his dad, but he is easily pushed off and held down. There is mention of Arthur hitting him so hard he could not sleep and cried all night, but this is not seen. Later, Arthur is shown taking out his frustration by repeatedly hitting his car with a bat and, in the process, breaking a lot of glass. After an adult Bart rejects the breakfast his dad made for him, Arthur breaks the plate over his head. No blood or lasting injury is shown, but parents of very young children should take this into consideration, as well as a funeral scene that may spark young minds to questions about death.


The film is an inspirational and often humorous one that has more than a few biblical themes running throughout including: parenting, forgiveness, providence and redemption.

Fatherhood—The film does a good job of showing how Arthur’s unloving, abusive treatment of Bart only serves to alienate him. By behaving contrary to the Word of God, the consequences will reverberate throughout both their lives. How much better would all of our lives be if parents followed the Bible’s simple instructions?

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” —Ephesians 6:4

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” —Proverbs 22:6

Importance of granting forgiveness to others

In God’s sight, it is totally unacceptable for a Christian to refuse to forgive others.

Remember the parable of the master who forgave a guilty man who owed him an amount so enormous that he could never hope to pay it back? The master completely forgave him. But, afterward, that forgiven man roughly grabbed another who owed him a very small amount, and allowed him no time to repay—showed him no mercy—and threw him into prison. When the master heard of this, he was FURIOUS and his punishment was swift.

In that parable, the Master represents God. And the forgiven man represents you, IF you have similarly FAILED to forgive another, when Christ’s blood has paid your unpayable debt to God, and He has forgiven you for everything you have ever done wrong—and for your continuing failures to do everything that is truly right and good.

Therefore, we have a responsibility to be humble, forgiving, loving servants of God.

Forgiveness—The youth pastor at the Christian camp Bart attends plants the seeds of forgiveness that take many years to bear fruit, but, when it does, it makes a wondrous difference in Bart’s life and in all those around him. As Mercy Me’s manager Brickell (Trace Adkins) tells him, he needs to stop running and face up to what is holding him back. As a Christian, it will come as no surprise that before Bart can be blessed with his greatest work to glorify God, he must first forgive the only man in the world he is sure he cannot. This is what our Lord would have us all do.

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” —Colossians 3:13

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” —Ephesians 4:31-32

God’s providence—Perhaps the most moving element in Bart’s life is the most subtle one, which is that of God’s hand guiding and steering him towards his destiny. Throughout his life, events transpire that, at the time, seem like fortunate coincidences, but only in hindsight can one see the handiwork of God actively caring for one of his children. This is available to all of us who deign to call Him Abba, Father.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” —Romans 8:28

“In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.” —Proverbs 3:6

Redemption—Even before Bart leaves his dad, God orchestrates events to reach Arthur’s heart. None of the teachings from the film may be more important than the miracle of redemption, the truth that will one day join us with our Lord Jesus in Heaven.

“I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.” —Isaiah 44:22

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” —John 3:16

“I Can Only Imagine” is a well told, well directed and solidly acted film. Dennis Quaid has the standout performance of the movie, but the supporting characters, including Trace Adkins as their gruff but sympathetic manager Brickell, and of course J. Michael Finley in the lead, all do their part to keep the film always interesting. The most resistant heart will have trouble not being moved during the final act, a powerful ‘spirit infused’ climax to a very satisfying film. I highly recommend this for the whole family.

  • Violence: Mild
  • Profane language: None
  • Vulgar/Crude language: None
  • Nudity: None
  • Sex: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—Honestly, you can’t go wrong seeing this film. It is appropriate for all ages, and it’s so nice to have a non-animated movie to take the kids to. And by all means take your church youth group. I was having a bad Monday today, but several hours after seeing this movie I realized that I was feeling very uplifted. Dennis Quaid never disappoints in a film, and he is excellent—as are all the actors. Really, it would be a shame to miss this while it is in theaters. No gun shoot-outs, not fist-fights, no swearing, no nudity, no sex, no sexual innuendos, no witchcraft or zombies. It’s just a refreshing true story, about real people, very well done, that will leave you with good things to think about.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Maggie Hays, age 70 (USA)
Positive—If you have not already seen this film, see it now! Right now! Don’t walk; run and see it!

It’s an awesome, inspiring movie about how a person triumphed through an overwhelmingly dark childhood to a life of professional success and personal satisfaction.

From that aspect, the film is a study of how one person allows unfortunate circumstances to let failure and resulting bad behavior consume their lives and how another draws strength, success and inner peace from an even more unfortunate circumstance.

So very refreshing to see a classic movie format for a change, where actual acting and dialog carried the day; not a bunch of special effects and graphic blood and guts-type violence.

To that point, the central character, surely experienced a terrifying and hellish childhood, but the movie brought it out through the words, dialog, relationship and intense moments, Not from simplistic in-your-face violence. You could feel the violence, even though it did not smack you in the face.

The movie also had a multifaceted story line; there was a romantic tread, and moments of excellently placed comic relief.

There also was a character mirroring trade, where the provider of pain and the provider of forgiveness briefly changed roles, at one point. From a parent’s perspective, the moving was gut-wrenching.

Dennis Quaid was simply fantastic in playing Bart’s dad and the perfect character actor for the part. A superb film.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Ralph Hemphill, age +50 (USA)
Positive—Go see this movie! Authentic. Moving. Inspiring. Exceptional. Truly exceptional. Solid performances by everyone in an excellent cast. Worth seeing. The audience in the packed largest theater in the complex applauded the film. Excellent.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Tori, age 40+ (USA)
—“I Can Only Imagine” is an inspiring true story of the events that brought the eponymous song to the birth. The acting, writing, directing, etc. Are spot-on. Biblically speaking, there is some violence and thematic elements, but no profanity or sexual content, hence the PG rating.

I can’t say more without ruining the surprises, so I will end by saying, Go see it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
D, age 32 (USA)
Positive—This is a wonderful movie. Not only is it an amazing story of God’s redemption, but also of how God weaves tragedy into triumph. Over and over, you could see God’s hand at work opening certain doors and closing others. At that moment, I’m sure Bart couldn’t see that, but now with benefit of looking back, it is clear how God had His hand on Bart’s life. This movie will touch you, encourage you, and remind you of the overwhelming power of God’s grace. Go see it—you will be thankful you did!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
C. Nelson, age 57 (USA)
Positive—Absolutely wonderful movie! It’s high up there in comparison to others in the faith-based genre. Acting, singing, writing, and everything that was associated in making this production was great! The acting was especially good from Dennis Quaid, Priscilla Shirer, the guy who plays Bart, and the young woman that plays his love interest. I was also happy that even though some scenes deal with the grim subject matter of child abuse, that the producers and actors involved did it in a tasteful manner, so that it was still a family-friendly movie. It shows you just enough, and gives you just enough clues so that you are well aware of what happened, but they don’t make it graphic.

The main message here was definitely forgiveness. This would be an easier film to take a non-believer to, because it isn’t overtly preachy. I think that every Christian should support this movie. It was interesting to see the story of how the song was made.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
John Johnson, age 22 (USA)
Positive—This movie is to be very appreciated and has a valuable faith lesson. It can help others recognize God is the only true power and presence and hope for the most difficult life circumstances. Sometimes forgiveness cannot go forward without our asking for God’s help into our hearts our lives to heal the wounds… His love does conquer all. Thank you to all involved in the movie, cast and crew for inviting a very purposeful gift to the movie industry.

A better choice to attend to this movie that nurtures hope and light to choice goodness instead of the darkness. The world has enough going on that certainly does not equip better life lived out.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Mary Ellen, age 60s (USA)
Positive—Excellent Movie. Acting was very good. Story was real and full of depth. I think the subject was handled very well. I personally was touched by it because I took care of my father for 5 years, and he was a wild man not abusive but not a loving father either. So I could really relate to the emotions and sadness and the redemptive story. My Father came to Christ too and it is very soul satisfying knowing God can change the most hardened person through our precious Lord Jesus.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Sharon Ulstad, age 57 (USA)
Positive—My Aunt took my brother and me to see this movie, and we thought it was excellent.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Charlene (USA)
Positive—Saw this with my wife on my birthday. It was quite a tearjerker. I had tears several times. Powerful story of redemption, forgiveness and God’s power to do great things out of bad situations. You will not be disappointed. And please consider to support recent Christian films in the theater so they will make more and get the gospel out.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Brett, age 41 (USA)
Positive—This movie was SO MUCH BETTER than I could have imagined (pun intended)
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Chrystal, age 41 (USA)
Positive—My son and I went to see this movie, and it is absolutely the best faith based film I have ever seen. It gave me a new perspective on forgiveness and faith. As Bart Millard said about his dad, “If the gospel can change that dude, He can change anybody.” I truly recommend you see this movie if you haven’t already…
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Stephen, age 49 (Massachusetts, USA)
Positive—Saw this movie last Tuesday with some friends. I had heard so many great things about it, and wanted to see it for myself. All I can say is… WOW!! This movie is flat-out AMAZING. An excellent reminder of the power of forgiveness. Everything-the acting, script, music, and direction—work together perfectly to create one of the best movies these eyes have ever seen. Warning… if you watch it, make sure to have the tissues handy. If you don’t end up crying, I guarantee you’ll come VERY close.

At several points during the movie, I even found myself choking back tears… and I hardly ever cry at movies. My favorite thing about it, besides the story, was the acting. Can’t remember the name of they guy who played Bart. But, I hope to see him in more movies soon… he was excellent.

A big surprise for me, was to see Trace Adkins as the band’s manager, Scott Brickell. I truly did not expect to see him in it. But, for me, the best performance in the film belongs to Dennis Quaid as Bart’s abusive father, Arthur. It’s absolutely incredible seeing, as Bart puts it, “God change my father from a monster, into the man I wanted to become.” And, another surprise that I wanna mention is Cloris Leachman as his grandmother… so good to see her back in a movie.

As far as content issues, aside from some violence, this is one of the cleanest movies I’ve seen in a long time.

Long story short… do I recommend “I Can Only Imagine”? The answer to that would be a RESOUNDING yes! Very powerful, yet very entertaining at the same time… See it as soon as you can. You will LOVE it! I know I did.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Jared Barton, age 37 (USA)
Positive—Movie was good overall. Spoilers ahead **

Positives: The dad (Dennis Quaid) showed a truly changed life, which is what happens to every true converted heart. He also rightly explains how this change happened, from the hearing of the word preached.

The only negative: This movie is based on a song that sings to Jesus. Listen to the song and He is the main emphasis in the lyrics. That is great, as it should be. But the movie mentions Christ extremely little. In the movie, He is not the focus of why the song was made. So at the end of the movie this song is sung, and his dad is the focus, not Jesus. That’s my only gripe.

Loved the moment in the hospital right before the dad dies. Great emotional point, and I’ll emphasize again the changed life of the dad. This is what Christ does in the heart of every sinner. Loved it!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
Ryan, age 39 (USA)
Neutral—I watched this movie on DVD last night. It was recommended by a couple of friends, and I was aware of a certain amount of fan interest. I had only a vague knowledge of what it was about, other than a singer/song writer who rises up over a bad past. I don’t think the film is bad, but it did not really speak to me. The story jumped around from the boy’s youth to when he was grown and left out a lot of years where you could have gotten more perspective from his feelings and experiences. And you never get an understanding of why his father is the way he is.

I know it was based on a true story, but, for me, it was a predictable Christian film. The song from the title was over-hyped. I didn’t get any inspirational message from it at all. (I liked the character’s singing of “Oh, what a Beautiful Morning” far better!) I would give this a 2 out of 4 stars.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 2
Janet, age 64 (USA)
Comments from young people
Positive—I have been to the theatre to see this film… Twice! It is amazing! It is the first movie I’ve watched that has made me cry, so that’s saying something. The story is so powerful and unbelievable. What makes it even more amazing is knowing that it is a TRUE story! It touched me so deeply.

The film is very well made with great acting, and absolutely terrific cinematography. The theatre that I watched it in the second time had over 100 people in the room, which was so encouraging. This film has the power to change many lives, and I hope that God blesses it and uses it to bless many of the viewers! You need to watch this movie!!! It will touch your heart!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
Ethan Curtis (USA)

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