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Generally favorable reviews - based on 34 Critics What's this?

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7.2

Generally favorable reviews- based on 20 Ratings

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  • Summary: Higher Ground, depicts the landscape of a tight-knit spiritual community thrown off-kilter when one of their own begins to question her faith. Inspired by Carolyn S. Briggs' memoir, This Dark World, the film tells the story of a thoughtful woman's struggles with belief, love, and trust.Higher Ground, depicts the landscape of a tight-knit spiritual community thrown off-kilter when one of their own begins to question her faith. Inspired by Carolyn S. Briggs' memoir, This Dark World, the film tells the story of a thoughtful woman's struggles with belief, love, and trust. Faith, love and honesty are the cornerstones of this story of a woman who learns that no matter how many times she loses her footing, she has within herself all that's necessary to get to a higher place. (Sony Picture Classics) Expand
Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 29 out of 34
  2. Negative: 1 out of 34
  1. Reviewed by: Joshua Rothkopf
    Aug 24, 2011
    100
    Funny and heartbreaking, this is a movie that would have made the '80s-era Jonathan Demme, attuned to American anxieties, blush with pride.
  2. Reviewed by: Michael Phillips
    Sep 1, 2011
    88
    Farmiga's film doesn't state things directly, but we sense what is happening to Corinne, and how some turn to fundamentalism for complex and interconnected reasons.
  3. Reviewed by: Owen Gleiberman
    Aug 24, 2011
    83
    Higher Ground breaks crucial, sacred ground in American moviemaking.
  4. Reviewed by: Mick LaSalle
    Sep 1, 2011
    75
    The problem is that the story, as constituted, is of necessity against organized religion, but Farmiga, as director, pretends that it's ambiguous. So you get a movie slightly at cross-purposes with itself.
  5. Reviewed by: Rick Groen
    Sep 22, 2011
    75
    The film's quiet realism demands from us our own act of faith: We're asked to watch closely and to listen intently in the promise of a greater reward to come. Well, the promise is partly kept.
  6. Reviewed by: Anthony Lane
    Aug 22, 2011
    70
    You could argue that the film is too wrenching a departure for an actress as earthy as Farmiga, but that, I suspect, is why she took the risk - daring herself, in the person of Corinne, to slip the surly bonds of beauty and desire.
  7. Reviewed by: Bill Weber
    Aug 22, 2011
    25
    Lacking both spiritual and narrative spark, Vera Farmiga's directorial debut suffers from her flat performance and a moribund, weirdly sex-joke-spiked narrative.

See all 34 Critic Reviews

Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 6 out of 8
  2. Negative: 0 out of 8
  1. Nov 13, 2011
    10
    "Jesus Camp", the 2006 film that profiles Becky Fischer, the controversial, and to some, downright dangerous pastor who runs the Kids on Fire"Jesus Camp", the 2006 film that profiles Becky Fischer, the controversial, and to some, downright dangerous pastor who runs the Kids on Fire Ministry, is needlessly didactic in its filmic approach. Easily identifiable as a cult, the filmmakers, nevertheless, reiterates this empirical truth with blunt force by framing the movie's narrative surrounding the youth-targeted, hyper-ideological church's rightist rhetoric(smells like child abuse) around a liberal talk show host ranting from his soapbox on how the evangelicals seem to be wrong about almost everything. Viewers, reasonable viewers, that is, with eyes and ears, can make that determination for themselves, minus the liberalist nudging. Every year, the pastor's young flock meets up at Devil's Lake, a politically-minded indoctrination camp masquerading as a holy place for praising god in North Dakota, where the conservative agenda gets programmed into these moldable minds without apology. Blinded by her own zealotry, the pastor can't see the lunacy behind the notion of using children as pro-life activists, when the filmmakers show Fischer the raw footage of an anti-abortionist, creepily handing out fetus replicas for the children to hold and opine upon. For a split second, we think she'll see daylight. But alas, no. "Extreme liberals," she spews, with unchecked ego and hubris, "they have to look at this and start shaking in their boots," oblivious to the fact that it's not just liberals, but apolitical Christians, too, who may find her approach disturbing. After all, higher ground is hardly what Fischer and her kind are reaching for, but rather, it's a ground beneath the clouds, not above; it's federal ground, where politicians, not carpenters walk. To paraphrase Belinda Carlisle, government is a place on earth. Unlike "Jesus Camp", which is marred by the filmmakers' subjective approach, therefore creating a dialectic which ends up overstating the case that parents shouldn't push their children into rote worship of THEIR god, "Higher Ground" gives you the freedom to make up your own mind about the Christian world. That's because the director, a self-described liberal secularist, isn't a conservative-bashing ideologue. Unlike the alternative cinema presented by theological filmmakers, "Higher Ground" doesn't spoonfeed the gospel; it subverts the shopworn trope of a parishoner who loses his/her faith by keeping the lost soul lost to the bitter end. Without overselling the point, and without judgment, Farmiga too, shows us how children have no choice in matters concerning god, as we catch up with a young Corrine in midstream of her religious training at a Protestant church, where during a Sunday school lesson, Pastor Bud asks his kids if they want to go to heaven. It's practically a rhetorical question, a veiled threat, since the alternative, hell, isn't Corrine's idea of a good time, so she raises her hand and makes a covenant with god. It's the spiritual awakening that the mother always wanted for her girl, but a miscarriage performed the effect of secularizing this former magical thinking woman, who prior to her faith-shaking tragedy, would have been delighted that Corrine got saved. Alas, she receives the "good news" from the pastor with complete indifference. Like the protagonist in "Secret Sunshine", another grieving mother with an axe to grind against god, Kathleen seduces the pastor(the pianist goes further with her pious target), since the lord is unavailable for prurient temptation. In the Lee Chang-dong film, a celluloidal sister to "Higher Ground", the Korean mom, whose son is murdered after she fails to pay the ransom set by his kidnapper in full, drinks the kool-aid that Christians serve; the self-delusional prattling that mystifies non-believers, for instance, the pragmatist in "Rabbit Hole", who figures out that making a new angel is a far better plan than the tragedian one that god has in store for us. The mom starts to gag on the kool-aid, following a visit with her child's murderer in prison, and experiences first-hand, the lunacy of Christian dogma, which allows any sin to be forgiven, even murder, as long as you tell god you love him. (Respect Mimi Rodgers' decision in "The Rapture".) The anesthetized woman is shocked to learn that the killer prays for her. Like mother, like daughter, in "Higher Ground", the Stepford wife loses her conviction in the sacrosanct word after Annika, a good friend, stops speaking in tongues, and then stops speaking altogether, when brain tumor silences Corrine's true soulmate. She finds no grace from suffering. It doesn't make Corrine a heretic; it makes her human. Down deep inside, Corrine knows that god is a lie, but you can tell, just by looking at her face as she walks out of the church for the final time, that her feminism and intelligence are cold comforts in comparison to the warm embrace of subjugation in the patriarchal order of Christianity. Expand
  2. Sep 9, 2011
    9
    This film is a portrayal of a woman who from childhood needed to feel something. After a sudden dramatic event that followed her earlyThis film is a portrayal of a woman who from childhood needed to feel something. After a sudden dramatic event that followed her early marriage, Corinne and her husband turn toward religion. In that setting she makes friends with an earthy woman, who brings to Corinne's consciousness her unsatisfactory love life. With another unexpected event Corinne begins to waver about the "something" she had found in religion.

    The film-memoir is enacted by an outstanding ensemble of performances. Even some of the bit players are allowed to be more than cliches. I don't know who among non-believers, the somewhat religious or very religious will find this film the most interesting or disturbing. It should please anyone who believes that movies can be a form of art.

    We should be grateful to Vera Farmiga, who played the central charactor and was the director, for the excellent work.
    Expand
  3. Sep 17, 2011
    9
    This is a really good movie. Farmiga's acting and her direction provides the visual representation of the isolation one feels when one beginsThis is a really good movie. Farmiga's acting and her direction provides the visual representation of the isolation one feels when one begins to doubt the beliefs of the community. Her character experiences the soft sexism of a traditional society that holds prescribed roles for women and consequently and inadvertently discourages her personal development. The community is fundamentalist Christian, but anyone who has struggled with a belief in anything can relate to this character's alienation. Expand
  4. Oct 26, 2011
    8
    Vera Farmiga continues to impress me as much as a person as she does as an actress. Like her life, her thoughts appear meaningful, deep andVera Farmiga continues to impress me as much as a person as she does as an actress. Like her life, her thoughts appear meaningful, deep and mercifully free of chaff. You can see it in her performances, and you can see it in her first film as director, Higher Ground. Higher Ground is the story of Corinne (Farmiga), a woman who has been defined by others since childhood, beginning with her mother's statement, "She's not musical." Despite her ambivalence Corinne responds to Pastor Bud's (Bill Irwin) persuasive "altar call" to young vacation bible school captives, but the experience is all but ignored by her mother who is absorbed with her own tempestuous marriage to Corinne's father (John Hawkes). Corinne moves quietly into adolescence with her books and her writing until Ethan (John Leonard), the romantically compelling lead singer/guitarist of the Runaways, recruits her to be his songwriting collaborator and devoted fan. Shortly thereafter they become lovers in a field where the detached Corinne observes a large sow watching them while Ethan plows away. Ethan then marries his pregnant bride, but the demands of supporting a family put Ethan's music career on hold and the marriage on rocky ground. Soon, however, the young family finds solace, support and society in a newly formed Christian group, led by the charismatic Liam and his wife, where Ethan finds an outlet for his music and a framework for his life as husband and father. The group provides a cozy, extended family for them, but over time Corinne becomes increasingly aware of how the group controls and manipulates its members. Corinne's own desire to express herself results in open disapproval from the group and private reprimands from Liam's wife. As Corinne begins to pull away, Ethan grows even more controlling, and in his fear he finally resorts to violence, placing the final wedge between them. Corinne's ultimate escape to refuge and personal freedom gives her space to question her beliefs and pursue her own spiritual journey.

    This large cast has some nice surprises, including Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Mark, the spiritual brother whose closeness to Corinne raises eyebrows, and Nina Arianda as Wendy, Corinne's sister whose messy life is used as an object lesson for the flock. The casting of Taissa Farmiga as the young Corinne provides excellent continuity in the resemblance between the teen and adult Corinne, and the young Farmiga appears to have responded well to her mother's direction, giving an excellent performance. The casting, the period wardrobe and the hairstyles place the cast firmly in the 60's, and if you've ever had the surreal experience of being baptised in a river, this will be uncomfortably familiar. The soft focus cinematography is an interesting choice, which gives the film the dream-like ambiance of a reverie. I could wax on about this lovely film for hours, but what I like best about Farmiga's work here is the respectful way she approaches the subject matter. Rather than contriving a plot to pronounce judgment on Christian fundamentalist groups, she uses Christian fundamentalism as the backdrop for a woman's examination of her life as she seeks the freedom to express herself. Refreshingly, Farmiga does not use this film overtly as a soapbox, subjecting us to speeches thinly disguised as dialogue, but instead she tells an engaging story which progressively leads us to observe how easily and innocently people can turn over control of their minds and lives to others. The backdrop of this plot could just as easily have been any cohesive group that does not permit dissension within its ranks. Farmiga's performance as Corinne is both subtle and luminous, and as director, she deftly guides the cast to portray familiar types without making them into caricatures. I highly recommend you run to your nearest art house and see this movie, which I easily rate eight out of ten.

    This review also appeared at www.filmdilettante.com
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  5. Oct 2, 2011
    6
    This drama begins with the protagonist as a young girl who finds Christ at church. As she grows, she becomes a woman (Vera Farmiga), whoThis drama begins with the protagonist as a young girl who finds Christ at church. As she grows, she becomes a woman (Vera Farmiga), who struggles with her faith in a small community of conservatives that first look like hippies. As director, Vera Farmiga has filled her cast with effective, genuine performances and the story is an intelligent examination. However, there's a lack of emotional dynamics that renders the film lacking in soul. Interesting, but somewhat flat. Expand
  6. Sep 20, 2011
    4
    Higher Ground is about a woman who wants something far more than she can actually handle it. Corinne (Vera Farmiga) is so sure in herHigher Ground is about a woman who wants something far more than she can actually handle it. Corinne (Vera Farmiga) is so sure in her devoutness to God that there is never any question or doubts. She knows there are mysterious ways she will never understand and sometimes even forgets her place when she almost preaches at the learned men of the church instead of sitting in the background like women should at her church services. Then why does she still feel empty? She is inviting God in, leaves the porch light on, but sometimes he just does not show up. Corinne listens to her best friend pray for her in tongues and so wants that same energy to flow through her and speak those strange and unfamiliar words. She stares into the bathroom mirror almost begging the unseen to let the spirit flow through her and make her feel ecstatic. Alas, no holy spirit shows up. In fact, those mysterious ways show up again in forms which make Corinne start to wonder just what is pulling the strings in the world if all of her prayer goes nowhere and horrible things continue to happen and that empty feeling inside of her grows larger.

    The screenplay is based on Carolyn S. Briggsâ
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  7. Jan 26, 2012
    4
    Is this supposed to be a serious film, a mockumentary or a comedy? Ms Farmiga has many one-liners delivered like a comedian. ExtremistIs this supposed to be a serious film, a mockumentary or a comedy? Ms Farmiga has many one-liners delivered like a comedian. Extremist religion, no matter the faith is disturbing. How can so many not believe science, not believe facts, and not believe their feelings? Falling back on the common thread that an invisible, fictional, being up in the clouds determines their life. Corinne ignores everything that makes any sense, her feelings, the facts before her eyes and why? Religion will tell me it's their faith. It's actually peer pressure. It is hard to stand up to all around you and ask questions. Teach your children to question authority. No more just accepting on faith. Do you accept priest sex abuse? If a reason is not available, don't accept on faith or deny because their are no facts; go out and seek the truth! It took way to long, almost 2 hours, for Corinne to act. Thank G, well whomever, she did. There may be those who give this film high marks, perhaps because it points out the hypocrisy of religion, but it was evident early in the film, and I could not for the life of me see why Corinne didn't get it. If looked at as a satire, it's not close to Religiousity, maybe it deserves higher marks. But if it's serious, C- or 4 is barely what it deserves. Expand

See all 8 User Reviews

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