Reviewed by: Raphael Vera
Growing up with an abusive father
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
Eternal life with God versus eternal death
Are you good enough to get to Heaven? Answer
Where did CANCER come from? Answer
J. Michael Finley … Bart
Brody Rose … Young Bart
Dennis Quaid … Arthur
Madeline Carroll … Shannon
Cloris Leachman … Memaw
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
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|Director||Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin—“October Baby” (2011), “Woodlawn” (2015), “Moms' Night Out” (2014)|
Kevin Downes Productions
Mission Pictures International
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“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.
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
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.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.
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My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4½