Dear Affirm Films,
In a very short period of time you have become my nemesis. In the last month, almost four hours of my dwindling existence has been eaten by your nonsense.
Like Risen before it, Miracles from Heaven is a Christian-themed film that meets one criteria, and one criteria only—it’s a Christian-themed film. Which is to say the story, characters, tone, narrative intentions, performances are all secondary considerations. The only thing that the film is concerned with communicating is a fundamentally dull narrative conceit—God exists.
Films that have compelling questions at the center of them, films like Apocalypse Now (what does war really look like) or even Blade Runner (what is it, exactly, that defines what it is to be human) are intrinsically interesting. On the other hand, films that have answers baked into the subtext like Tomorrowland, or in this particular case, Miracles from Heaven, are intrinsically boring as fuck. If the question is already answered at the beginning of the film and the whole runtime is nothing but an exercise in propping up that conclusion, how is it anything but propaganda?
To spend a lot of time tracing out the plot would be a waste of everyone’s time. Suffice it to say, a little girl has to suffer the agony of some horrible, and rare, intestinal affliction in order to reignite her mother’s undying devotion to a cruel and capricious deity. There is one scene, though, that really kind of exemplifies why I find this kind of film so utterly wrongheaded.
The aforementioned little girl manages to climb 30 feet up a tree (despite being debilitated by pain) and falls headfirst into the tree’s hollow heart. As family and neighbors pray at the foot of this tree—in a scene so contrived and overlit it made me angry—firefighters rappel headfirst into the hollow and retrieve the unconscious child. As she is placed on a stretcher, the whole impromptu congregation raises their eyes to heaven and thank God for the child’s deliverance—as the people who actually risked their own well-being are utterly ignored.
The problem here isn’t really the underlying themes. It is the fact that Miracles from Heaven is so incurious about its own premises. Any character that might exhibit the slightest doubts about the existence of God is either portrayed as a buffoon or converted by the end of the film. And so much of what makes narrative film great depends upon the tension inherent in ambiguities. If you know who the murderer is from the first frame, it is incredibly difficult to care much about the rest of the story. This kind of just-so filmmaking really doesn’t create much in the way of entertainment, and even as a kind of comfort food it is so banal that it is nothing but thin gruel.
And nobody but Oliver likes that shit.