FILMS: I Can Only Imagine

The book review this month has somehow morphed into a film review, though it may not be the first time this remarkable feat has happened. ‘I can only Imagine’ is a movie with which some may already be familiar but will be new to many others, as it was for me.

The title is that of one of the most popular songs on the current Christian playlists. ‘The song you know. The story you don’t’, says the DVD cover. So what’s it about? Well, the film was made in 2018 but recalls events that happened some years earlier and the experiences that gave rise to the song. In case you’ve forgotten the lyrics, let me jog your memory by setting out the chorus:

Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel?
Will I dance for You Jesus
Or in awe of You be still?
Will I stand in Your presence
Or to my knees, will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah?
Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine.

The film tells the story of Bart Millard, the writer of the song. It’s the story of a childhood with a hugely abusive father; it’s the story of a boy deserted by his mother; of contacts with a church, particularly helped by his childhood sweetheart, Shannon; of his conversion and his involvement in music as singer-songwriter with his group MercyMe. It’s the story of the father’s late-life conversion and the coming together of father and son in the weeks before Millard Senior’s death through prostate cancer.

Despite the rather grim circumstances of his early life, Bart’s story is one of hope and one of special relevance to Flame International and its supporters. Forgiveness, and reconciliation through forgiveness, are major Biblical themes and figure large in Flame teaching: Bart wrote ‘I can only Imagine’ directly as a result of the forgiveness he gave to his dad and the warmth of the relationship the two of them experienced as a result. The movie does not make light of the costliness of forgiveness but is a great example of what God can do following it.

Along the way another theme emerges as a result of the song. If, like me, you try to imagine what resurrection life might be like the film and the song give real food for thought though, ultimately this side of heaven, we ‘can only imagine.’ There is more: it explores the power of encouragement and persistent friendship in the persons of a schoolteacher and a music industry executive.

This is a well-made movie made for universal release with high quality acting supported by equally high-quality filming and editing. J. Michael Finley plays the role of Bart Millard whilst Dennis Quaid plays the abusive father. Both give superb performances though that is not to belittle the quality of acting of the lesser figures, such as Bart’s childhood sweetheart whom he rejects as he gets into his music career but whom he later tries to win back.

Does Bart reconcile with his estranged mother? Does he manage to reconcile with Shannon? Do they marry? All good questions but, until you watch the movie, you’ll just ‘have to imagine.’

Directed by Erwin Brothers Based on the life story of Bart Millard Distributed by Lionsgate Released 2018. Running Time 110 minutes. Available from Amazon.
Reviewed by: Jonathan Liggins
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