Based on Carolyn S. Briggs’ memoir, This Dark World, Higher Ground, now playing at Stamford’s Avon Theatre, is a story about dealing with life through religious beliefs.
First-time director Vera Farmiga (Down to the Bone, Up in the Air) chronicles three decades in the life of Corinne Walker (masterfully played by Farmiga), a young married mother of three whose life is dedicated to strict Christian beliefs circa the nineteen eighties.
Her life seems perfectly normal for a while, but after various challenges and tragedies enter her life and the lives of the people who surround her, she begins to doubt her own religious beliefs and enters a spiritual journey tying to figure out how to retain her faith while coping with overwhelming obstacles. This thoughtful study of human relationships and self-discovery addresses important issues about religion and the ways in which God answers prayers.
When Corinne’s closest friend, Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk) suffers a massive brain tumor, her prayers are answered when Annika’s life is spared, but she is left paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, leaving Corinne to question her faith. Also, her husband, Ethan (played by Joshua Leonard), is so obsessive in his religious belief, that it puts their marriage in jeopardy.
While some of the characters are over zealous and hypocritical in their religious beliefs, others are more moderate and use their faith in a positive way to help them through life. Then, there is Corinne, who decides to veer away from her family and her religion and question the things that she has been accustomed to.
Filmed entirely in Kingston, New York, Higher Ground is superbly enacted and captures the flavor of a Christian community with total precision. What’s so exceptional about this movie is the fact that it isn’t an attack on Christianity in any way.
It’s a thoughtful, honest presentation of what many of us have asked spiritually when hardships befall our lives. The film allows us to draw our own conclusions and reminds us that religion is a very personal spiritual outlet for comfort and happiness.
Thankfully, the movie does relate that each and every person deals with religion on different grounds, utilizing their beliefs in various levels of devotion. While Higher Ground may not be a film for everybody, I feel that it is a very courageous movie and is worthy of much discussion nevertheless.
It’s a film that definitely touches the heart and is not only thought provoking, but emotion-filled, compassionate, sometimes funny, and always interesting.