Higher Ground could easily be mistaken for a movie preaching Christian values, but the reality is quite different. In her directorial debut, Vera Farmiga has taken the sensitive subject of the Christian faith to Hollywood without being overly optimistic, banal, or clichéd.
Based on Carolyn S. Briggs’ memoir This Dark World, Higher Ground tells the story of Corinne (played by Farmiga herself), a woman trying to reconcile her faith with her experiences in the world. As a child, Corinne decides to give her life over to Jesus, only to see her pastor noticing her mother’s body, and to witness the breakup of her parents’ marriage firsthand.
Vera Farmiga’s sister Taissa Farmiga plays a young Corinne, and delivers a stunningly convincing performance of a teenager unsure of her identity. Corinne eventually falls in love with melancholic musician Ethan (Joshua Leonard). They fall pregnant and marry young, and Corrine ends up following Ethan and his band-mates around for gigs with her newborn in tow. After a tragic accident where Corinne and Ethan nearly lose their baby and Corinne cries out to God in anguish, they both decide to look into the Christian faith.
Fast forward a few years and Corinne and Ethan have a growing family. They are almost picture-perfect, the faultlessness of their lives only undermined by little things that practically escape notice. Yet Farmiga does a fantastic job of portraying the conflicts many woman may feel in their duties as wife, mother and daughter with tender, slightly wavering emotion.
Conflict arises when Corinne’s sister Wendy (Nina Arianda) arrives at their home, bringing with her physical and emotional baggage from her past. When Corinne’s children discover drugs which Wendy has brought along with her, Corinne puts Wendy between a rock and a hard place: to get right with God, or to live alone with no family support.
Eventually, Corinne finds another sisterly influence in her life in Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk), who becomes one of her closest confidantes. Nothing is taboo to them, from talking about the Holy Spirit to their sex lives. But when tragedy strikes, Corinne is left to face the fact that some things can’t stay the same, testing her belief that God knows best in the midst of such heartbreak.
Parts of the movie get a little draggy, but the good scenes overshadow these flaws. Vera Farmiga is stunning as Corinne, displaying the depth of emotion needed as the teller of this story. The premise of Higher Ground is something most would be able to identify with – what we believe in, and actually placing our faith in the right place when things get hard. Corinne’s realisation that she does not have to force herself to sing It Is Well With My Soul when it isn’t – and that she may just be able to find her way to higher ground anyway – is one that transcends the boundaries of faith.
Higher Ground is now showing at cinemas, including Nova Cinemas, Lygon Court, Carlton.