We know that Isthmus readers like movies and we also know that you like talking about movies, which is why the arrival of the critically-acclaimed and thought-provoking Higher Ground to Sundance Cinemas seemed a perfect opportunity to get together for another screening followed by some lively discussion.
On Wednesday, November 16, we'll catch the 6:50 p.m. show, and immediately after (around 9 p.m.), retire to the lounge upstairs at Sundance to discuss the film with Isthmus staffers and a panel:
- The Rev. Dr. D. Jonathan Grieser, Rector, Grace Episcopal Church
- Karen Gustafson, Associate Minister, First Unitarian Society
- Corrie Norman, Visiting Senior Lecturer at UW-Madison in the Religious Studies Program
About the film, which stars Vera Farmiga in her directorial debut, The New York Times' A.O. Scott writes:
Movies about belief and believers frequently succumb to woozy piety or brittle contempt, but Higher Ground belongs, along with Robert Duvall's Apostle and Michael Tolkin's underappreciated Rapture, among the elect. Focused with sympathetic intensity on the ordeal of a single soul, it illuminates, as though from within, a complex spiritual struggle.
In The New Yorker, Anthony Lane writes:
The crucial thing about Higher Ground is that it takes at face value the faces, many bearded, almost all beatific, that the camera surveys -- quite an achievement, given Hollywood's woeful record in the dramatizing of faith. People who in other movies would be flat-out nut jobs or one-scene comic foils are here given a substantial chance to show what they can do, and how they elect to live; so much so that when Ethan (Joshua Leonard), Corinne's husband, comes to blows with her in their station wagon, nearly throttling her in frustration, and then cries, "Satan, get out of this car!," you don't smirk, or wait for someone's head to spin around.
Roger Ebert has this to say:
I would like to say Higher Ground, which marks Farmiga's directorial debut, never steps wrong in following this process, but it does. Sometimes it slips too easily into satire, but at least it's nuanced satire based on true believers who are basically nice and good people. There are no heavy-handed portraits of holy rollers here, just people whose view of the world is narrow. There are also no outsize sinners, just some gentle singer-songwriters who are too fond of pot and whose lyrics are parades of cliches.
Farmiga is pretty amazing as Corinne, the woman at the center of the film. In individual scenes, she captures a subtle mix of warmth and wit. But this character's struggle doesn't seem as momentous as we're meant to think it is. In particular, her give-me-a-sign-Lord imprecations suggest a child's understanding of faith.
Join Isthmus for the screening and discussion this Wednesday.