Perhaps it was a stroke of genius by director-cum-leading-actress Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air) to have the film Higher Ground–about a woman disenchanted with the Young Life lifestyle–vacillate between uncomfortable naïveté and irreverent insight.
The main character, Corinne, struggles with direction and sincerity, and the film itself seems to be in a crisis of faith, indicated by a generally sympathetic lens interrupted by a few discordant notes of satire.
At the outset, Corinne’s devotion and self-awareness seems to hinder both her and the film from accessing any great truth in good faith or honesty.
The heavy-handed efforts to locate the majority of the film in the 1970s through period costume, props, soft-lit cinematography, “sexual lib”, and the pervasive scenes set in a field and drained pool, are so distracting and artificial that the characters’ youthful and religious earnestness is made ridiculous and comical. Heightening the sense that the film is possibly an inadvertent parody of itself, themes like “wilderness” are printed in random interludes before scenes, like edicts neither pertinent nor justified.
This uncomfortable and conflicted atmosphere reflects Corinne’s retrospection, which has worn thin as she becomes increasingly uneasy in her faith. Throughout the film, Corinne is caught between giving herself over to faith and being called back by the judgment and self-consciousness of the faithful. In one telling scene, Corrine is drawn aside by the pastor’s wife who accuses her of attempting to preach before men and the congregation, reminding her that she has no right to do so.
Yet there are instances of very probably unintentional irony in the film, such as the choice to cast Norbert Leo Butz, of Broadway fame, as the pastor of the exceedingly patriarchal Young Life community, slyly insinuating that this religious institution is all song and dance. Simultaneously, the film also seeks to celebrate the humanity, trust, and often egregious failings of the characters who have turned to religion with a genuine sense of gratitude and uncertainty.
The self-indulgent clichés and knee-jerk ridicule of the earnest religious group ultimately underscores the central truth that the Higher Ground of the title is a misnomer: no one, not even the film itself, can claim to be free of contention, small-mindedness, and uncertainty – a pointed reminder to both the faithful and non-believers to curb the derisive impulses of moral superiority.
By the end of the film, Corinne defiantly concludes that the ability to share lesson learned in faith, or preach, comes from doubt, falling from grace, and experiencing isolation.
Given the choice to “be in inside with her husband and family or outside with the dogs,” Corinne chooses the latter, literally and figuratively. She at last realizes that faith cannot be discovered from higher ground, from an untried state of complacency, arrogance, or through the panopticonic surveillance of her religious family.
Corinne is able to rebuff those who would prevent her from speaking, for only from her state of exile could she humbly appreciate and strive toward faith, away from the inhibition and jealousy of the flock.
Befitting a film concerned with the struggle of faith, Higher Ground is problematic and inelegant with the occasional, fleeting, moments of powerful poignancy.
The Grand Cinema is located at 606 S. Fawcett, Tacoma, WA 98402.
Show times are as follows:
|Sat Oct 1, 2011||(11:30 AM), (1:45), 4:10, 6:35, 8:55|
|Sun Oct 2, 2011||(11:30 AM), (1:45), 4:10, 6:35, 8:55|
|Mon Oct 3, 2011||(1:45), (4:10), 6:35, 8:55|
|Tue Oct 4, 2011||(1:45), (4:10), 6:35, 8:55|
|Wed Oct 5, 2011||(1:45), (4:10), 6:35, 8:55|
|Thu Oct 6, 2011||(1:45), (4:10), 6:35, 8:55|
|Fri Oct 7, 2011||(1:55), (4:30)|
|Sat Oct 8, 2011||(1:55), 4:30|
|Sun Oct 9, 2011||(1:55), 4:30|
|Mon Oct 10, 2011||(1:55), (4:30)|
|Tue Oct 11, 2011||(1:55), (4:30)|
|Wed Oct 12, 2011||(1:55), (4:30)|
|Thu Oct 13, 2011||(1:55), (4:30)|