Friday, September 16, 2011

"Higher Ground": a woman immersed in her community of faith learns the value of doubt; where does the audience live?

"Higher Ground", the new “faith” piece from director Vera Farmiga to me seems more like a 100-minute live-in with a cultlike evangelical Baptist community than anything that tells a universal story.  It’s based on a 2002 memoir by Carolyn S. Briggs, “This Dark World”, and perhaps as the title suggests, it’s a kind of cult soap opera. This movie expects you to "live it" for 100 minutes or so. 

It’s set in upstate New York, in the Hudson Valley, not in the Bible belt (you sort of expect a film like this from Texas).  But that probably matters little.  The characters live an intimate life which is predicated on the idea that everyone there share’s its purposes – here, to save souls.  The outside world is not dealt with much, and presumably it stays away, out of sight. Everybody has to belong to some kind of community, right? At least, this movie depicts "living in a community" rather than as an individual. 

Vera plays Corinne who, despite the tender mercies in the community, is capable of doubt.  Now some theologians say that personal questioning – of the Mother Theresa kind – is absolutely necessary to faith. 

Within the context of this film, I’d believe that. Her faith strengthens when her baby is rescues from drowning when a bus goes off the road, but then another family member has cancer, and well – do bad things really have to happen to good people?  Read Job.

The appeal of this film to most of the sparse audience (at the AMC Shirlington) was the way the people – mostly women – in their own spaces, deal with (mostly marital) sex and even the trappings of masculinity, in their talk and their art.  Sin (even drugs, and marital breakup) creep into the community, under the guise of godliness, not so soon after periodic baptisms. The people share all our vices; they just have their own community to give it context.

There's a curious song named in the credits, "Hair on My Chest"; yet none of the "married" men in the community in the film seemed to have any.  (One scene in particular comes to mind.)  They say marriage and fatherhood actually lowers testosterone levels.

I also thought, this "community" may exemplify what writers like Carlson and Mero mean when they talk about "The Natural Family" (Book review blog Sept. 18, 2009). 

Here is the official site from Sony Pictures Classics. It’s probably too whimsical to have come from Sony’s “Affirm Films” (April 3, 2011 on this blog).

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