Higher Ground is a delicate exploration of faith gained and lost, told through strong acting and graceful direction by Vera Farmiga.
As a general rule of thumb, religion in American cinema is usually treated with disdain and irreverence. Higher Ground curbs that trend in its adaptation of “This Dark World, a memoir written by Carolyn S. Briggs in which she chronicles her journey from fervent Christian to non-believer.
Backed with a touching and whimsical screenplay by Briggs and Tim Metcalfe, Oscar nominated actress Vera Farmiga handles Briggs’ life story with emotion, respect and intelligence. Farmiga refuses to go down the well-trodden path of judgement and stereotype to create a fully realised look into what it is to gain and lose faith.
Sectioned into four parts – Summoned, Consumed, Wilderness and Wrestling Until Dawn – Higher Ground begins with dedicated Christian Corrine (Farmiga) reborn through baptism. We then see her journey towards Christianity as a young bride (Tarissa Farmiga) married to aspiring rocker Ethan (Joshua Leonard), with a near death experience sealing their faith into the protestant hippie, “Jesus Is Alright With Me” brand of Christian belief.
Yet just as experience gave her religion, so to does experience take it away, with too many contradictions and unanswered feelings prompting this woman of deep devotion to walk away from a belief structure which formed her worldview for the majority of her adult life.
As Corrine, Farmiga plays the role with a warmth and openness; allowing comedic moments to exist with the dramatic in her portrayal of a woman who seeks to find God but cannot. Equally good is Joshua Leonard as her husband Ethan, a man entirely devoted to his faith and his marriage yet struggles with Corrine’s emerging non-belief.
Farmiga’s direction is also strong, yet in a subtle way. She simply lets this story unfold, with a shiny glow framing its quiet realism filled with powerful choices.
2011 has been a year of religious mockery. Red State equated believers with monsters, The Ledge was an atheist wish fantasy made into film, and Paul relished in caricature.
Higher Ground drops the bitterness, steps out of the religious culture war and tells an honest story about faith, family and God’s greatest gift of all: free will.