Monday, September 14, 2015

"90 Minutes in Heaven": a young pastor, gravely injured, becomes apathetic to help from others after his own near-death experience


There have been a number of films about near-death experiences, with visits to the afterlife or Christian Heaven. “90 Minutes in Heaven” (2015, directed by Michael Polish) is an autobiography of the life narrative of East Texas pastor Don Piper, who was thought to have passed away for up to 90 minutes when his Ford Escort collided head-on with a rig that crossed the center lane on a 2-lane river bridge near Huntsville, TX, in late January 1989. The story is told in the best-selling Christian book (6 million copies) by Piper with Cecil Murphy. That certain gives an indication of what books "sell".
   
Hayden Christensen (now 34) plays the 38-year-old pastor, who looks youthful throughout the film however banged up.  Actors have to let things happen to their bodies for some films, like this one.
     
He plays Piper as a gentle, dedicated family man (wife Kate Bosworth), planning to open a new rural congregation.  The film starts with the crash, and then backtracks two days. 

At the accident scene, another pastor prays for him when police think he is dead, and the pastor detects a pulse.  At the local hospital, they find a crushed thigh and arm, and send him to Houston.  Medically, the leg is saved by a device that stretches it and causes missing bone to regenerate.  Piper develops pneumonia, which he could die of, and becomes indifferent and depressed, ashamed to accept help from others.  There is an alarming sequence where he refuses to try to breathe (and is nearly put on a ventilator).  Accepting interdependence with others as a part of the practice of faith is a main theme of the film.  His wife has to deal with the inadequate health insurance and the unwillingness of the State of Texas to cover the entire cost of the accident considering the fact that the rig had been driven by a prison inmate on a work detail.

I had some personal experience with this, after an acetabular hip fracture in 1998 while I lived in Minneapolis and fell in a convenience store. I developed a little pneumonia, and was forced to do breathing exercises with equipment.

Inevitably, he heals, and the 121-minute film keeps you on the edge of your seat waiting to see what his vision of Heaven will look like.  There are a few early scenes of colorful storm clouds.  Finally, about 20-minutes before the end, the screen expands vertically (from 2.35:1) in Imax fashion to show what Heaven “looks like”.  There seems to be a stage platform in the clouds, in front of a gate with dazzling light.  Piper doesn’t report going through a tunnel.  Various people in his extended family for several decades and other friends appear, people who did not always meet in terrestrial life.  The people are of varying ages, and it isn’t clear if this was the age at which they died, or if they could somehow use “space-time” and vary their age presentations. 


The official site is here (Samuel Goldwyn, and Giving Films). The film was actually shot in Georgia, even though the setting is East Texas and Houston (which is shown).

There is a lot of familiar gospel music, like "Praise the Lord", which was popular at MCC Dallas in the 1980s (but rendition of "He's Alive").
   
I saw the film on a mini-day-trip Sunday night at the new Cobb theaters in the Village at Leesburg, VA, before a moderate audience. 

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