Is there something beyond this life? Jonathan Stone (Angus Benfield) isn’t sure. Like the giant boulder he can’t seem to remove from his backyard, middle-aged Jonathan carries the weight of the world on his shoulders — his failures, mistakes, fears and doubts lurk like shadows in his life. His loving and well-meaning wife, Elizabeth (Michelle Fozounmayeh), who he has been with since he was a young man, encourages him to break out of his comfort zone and pursue a more meaningful life — in career, and in his faith. Elizabeth and Jonathan are no strangers to the pit-falls of life, and their relationship, although loving, bears the scars of past mistakes. The film plays out as scenes from the couple’s past, present, and future; taking the audience on a touching and personal journey through the life of one man, and beyond.
Do we meet our loved ones after death? Is there an afterlife? Are all the pains of the past finally healed? Heaven seeks to answer these questions and more, as expressed through Jonathan’s experiences. As an EMT, Jonathan is surrounded by death, which provides a perfect set up for the questions at hand. No death hits closer to home, however, than that of his own wife. How do you go on? Why does God allow suffering? When Jonathan awakes in Heaven, he is replayed the story of his life; reminded of its significance, struggles, triumphs…and God’s role in it all.
Creative direction and beautiful storytelling are the highlight of Heaven. Mr. Benfield, who also wrote and starred in the film, executes a masterful grasp of narrative, creating a visually interesting and emotionally compelling account of Jonathan’s journey. The use of flashbacks as a storytelling device in filmmaking can sometimes get old, but Benfield’s brilliant concept of telling the story backward and forward is quite dazzling. Although the dialogue might be a bit dry or cliched in some scenes, and the plot has its flaws (like some at-times sketchy eschatology), the general overall feeling of the film is transcendent and gripping. It is one of those slow-moving, dramatic films, which can be frustrating during certain points, but things make more sense as the movie progresses.
My biggest pet peeve with Heaven is that although the film clearly says one must know God in order to be saved and enter Heaven, there’s only one mention of Jesus, and it’s a joke…not even a reference to the plan of salvation. Scripturally we understand that the only way to the Father is through Jesus (John 14:6), and that the only way to Heaven is salvation in Jesus (Acts 4:12, John 10:9), so neglecting this extremely important detail within a film all about Heaven and the afterlife is sort of shocking.
While Heaven has the best of intentions, it fails in some areas, but it does succeed in its purpose: opening up conversations about life beyond this world, encouraging people to rest in the hope of Heaven as a reprieve to the chaos and pain of this world, to set our sights higher than just day-to-day life. We often spend so much time preparing for a “good” life on earth, as the character Jonathan did, that we neglect to prepare our inner man for his heavenly estate. Heaven is a good reminder that there are more important things to strive for, the film parenthetically exhibiting the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:33, to seek first the Kingdom of Heaven (which is not only the physical place, but also the government, authority, and sovereignty of God).
Content wise, there are several scenes which would not be appropriate for small children; references to drug use, a lot of deceased people, the aftermath of car accidents with bloody victims, etc. For this reason, we award Heaven the Dove Seal of Approval for Ages 12+.
The Dove Take:
While Heaven has the best of intentions, it fails in some areas, but it does succeed in its purpose: opening up conversations about life beyond this world, encouraging people to rest in the hope of Heaven as a reprieve to the chaos and pain of this world, to set our sights higher than just day-to-day life.