Heaven is For Real: The Men that Brought the Story to the Big Screen
In today’s world it isn’t often that we see movies that address the questions of life in a candid way. Most movies are steeped in either action or attraction and any broader questions about life are lost in symbolism and metaphors. However, with the recent release of Heaven is for Real audiences are offered something unforeseen. Based on the true story of Colton Burpo, the four year old has a near death experience but returns with declarations of the afterlife that don’t produce the expected reactions among some. The portrayal of this incredible encounter allows people to have an honest look at faith and the moment of struggle each person faces at some point in their life.
To tackle such a story line is a weighty job and to attempt to stay true to the actual story makes it even more daunting. Yet, the screenwriters, Christopher Parker and Randall Wallace, managed to adapt this true story from its novel form and create a spectacular movie that inspires viewers to look within themselves and address the insecurities that make us creatures desperate for proof of what we cannot see. During a recent interview with the men that brought this piece to the big screen, Randall Wallace and Christopher Parker discuss why this project was so important to take on and the difficulties of presenting it.
For Christopher Parker, he had recently read the book before he was approached to work on the project. He was immediately drawn in to the amazing story not only because a child claims to visit heaven but because the boy’s pastor father finds himself struggling to accept his son’s story. Curiosity about the afterlife is a universal notion and people from all faiths try to interpret and predict what the unknown holds. Christopher felt that “everybody wrestles with their faith, but what happens when it puts you in a head lock?” He wanted to explore those tremors that seem to rock your world when you face a philosophical and existential crisis. More importantly, how do you come out of it without becoming cynical?
We all become equal in our human destiny.
Randall Wallace, who in addition to screenwriting also directed, saw a sense of greatness that could be accomplished in a movie such as this. Randall has worked on such films as Braveheart making him familiar with gripping plots and challenging material. He felt this particular story, and the question of what happens after death, “cut through every culture, every religion, and what if this story that this kid is telling has any truth in it?” It is a question no one can escape. We all become equal in our human destiny. We each have a beginning and an end which unites us in way that we don’t always think about. This movie brings people together through this common denominator and appeals to every person that has pondered their existence beyond this physical world.
In order to capture this unique film, it took trial and error and a lot instincts. One of the particularly difficult scenes to capture was when Colton saw heaven. Trying to recreate something like that is a test in itself. In the end, Randall and Christopher created the kind of heaven that you would see from the viewpoint of a four year old. They thought of sticking to traditional biblical ideas of what heaven would look like, but they eventually decided to portray Colton’s description. Wanting to stay true to his story, they also wanted to further convey the contrast of interpretation. What a four year old saw and remembered might be different from what an adult would have seen. Similar to the idea that we are all made in God’s image, but we all look different. We all have our own version of heaven and that means there is no right or wrong.
While filming, Christopher was reminded of one of his favorite quotes from the movie Bagger Vance, “God is most happy when his children are at play.” This is what he kept in mind as they brought Colton’s story to the screen. They wanted the audience to see the experience through his filter, and they wanted it to be a joyous depiction. Colton saw heaven as a happy and serene place where as others might be filled apprehension of judgment and subsequent damnation. It was Colton’s story, and they followed his lead down to the angels. When Colton came upon the beautiful angels singing, he asked them if they could sing “We Will Rock You” which was met with cheerful laughter. Details such as this were kept in the movie not only to illustrate the innocence and openness of Colton but also the impression of overwhelming elation with which Colton returned.
Randall Wallace and Christopher Parker have created a masterpiece that will move audiences. This familiar internal struggle is one that everyone can relate to no matter what faith. Their unique insights have brought a boy’s journey to life for others to experience. They have given audiences access to the inner turmoil that our fear of death brings while maintaining the raw but innocent viewpoint of a child.
Heaven is for Real is in Theaters Now.
I attended a press junket hosted by Sony. All opinions remain my own.