Heaven Is for Real

Apr 20, 2014

It won't make you a believer in Heaven, but it will make you afraid to live in a small town if you have different ideas.

Heaven Is for Real

Grade: C+

Director: Randall Wallace (Love and honor)

Screenplay: Chris Parker (Battle of the Year), Randall Wallace (Braveheart)

Cast: Greg Kinnear (Little Miss Sunshine), Kelly Reilly (Me and Orson Welles)

Rating: PG

Runtime: 100 min.

by John DeSando

“Heaven, hell, the worlds are within us. Man is the great abyss.”Henri Frederic Amiel

Heaven Is for Real is the real-life experience of a 4 year-old boy, Colton Burpo (Connor Corum), who had a near death experience that took him to Heaven and back by the time his operation for a ruptured appendix was complete and successful.  Adapted from the Reverend Todd Burpo’s2010 best seller, the film chronicles Colton’s visions of multicolored horses and a handsome Jesus, as well as relatives who have passed on, leaving challenges for a small-town Christian enclave.

With dad Reverend Todd Burpo (Greg Kinnear) narrating, it could have been a heavily Christian-themed film, yet it has only touches of the fervor you might expect. Rather, if you can get beyond the low-level melodrama of Colton’s Nebraska family life, with pastor dad struggling to keep from slipping into financial hell, the film takes a low-key approach when it nudges the audience to belief in the heavenly visit. Make no mistake: it has touches of a televangelism parable.  But at that, it’s never strident--it happily includes a couple of outright agnostics challenging the reality of the unreal vision to keep it in line with the skepticism many have about extreme Christian claims.

Heaven Is for Real does a credible job showing the intimate relationships of a small heartland town, never more alive than when it tumbles about with questions of faith, the good life, and death. However its depictions of heaven as a light source with winged angels hovering about seems silly.The film’s real limitation is not getting away from the small matters of familial life and actually grappling with the epistemological questions the boy’s experience induces. No one has the definitive answer about the afterlife, but it sure is fun to argue about it. This film dodges the big debates in favor of small town life: boring!

“He who looks only at heaven may easily break his nose on earth.” Czech Proverb

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at