"The only real freedom is in surrender to Christ."
- Randall Wallace
Director Randall Wallace Believes Heaven Is For Real
By Hannah Goodwyn
- Heaven Is For Real isn't just a cinematic retelling of the extraordinary events surrounding four-year-old Colton Burpo's heavenly experience. Director Randall Wallace's new film, based on The New York Times best-seller, examines Colton's story from a very personal and honest perspective.
Wallace tells the unbelievable story of a small town family as they grapple with life and death, faith and doubt. It's a provoking portrayal of how God interacts with the everyday ups and downs of life.
Having brought us such epic stories as Braveheart, Pearl Harbor and We Were Soldiers, Wallace used his directorial and writing talents (he co-penned the script with Christopher Parker) to pull this incredible story from the pages of the beloved book to the big screen.
The Oscar-nominated filmmaker recently spoke with CBN.com, sharing about his personal faith in Christ, working with Greg Kinnear again, why he dislikes the label "faith-based films" and the road that led him to making Heaven Is For Real.
What did you think of the Burpo family when you first heard this story? Was there any skeptical questioning in your own heart about it?
Randall Wallace: There was a lot of it.
How'd you work through that?
Wallace: Well, I got to know Todd. There are some people who are just so honest and down to earth that you have trouble believing they're for real.... The people that get me the most are the ones that really don't care what you think of them.
It really struck me that Todd was just a genuine guy. I loved that he worked so many jobs and that he wasn't depending on the church. He wasn't a guy that said, "Well, if the church won't pay me enough to do this, then I won't be a pastor." That was impressive to me.
What about the casting? Greg Kinnear is such a perfect fit.
Wallace: Isn't he?
Did you build it around him?
Wallace: Yeah, I did. Greg popped immediately to mind, because I've worked with him before [on We Were Soldiers]. I knew his history with his family. I knew he's a father of three incredible daughters, absolutely loves his wife, totally faithful. We're friends. I knew he was the right guy.
Kinnear quoted you as saying, "'faith-based movies' is a lazy term." Can you speak to that?
Wallace: Yeah. I think that outside the Christian community, people have these incredibly prejudicial and even ignorant notions of what Christians are, that they think that to be a Christian means to stop having doubts and to stop asking questions. In fact, it means that faith is a courage you have in the presence of doubts....
So the thought, well, the church people are the only ones that ask these questions is also leaving out all of the people who don't go to church but who are really grappling with the issues of faith. What I mean by [faith-based movies] being a lazy term is every human being is concerned with the ultimate questions of life and death, so we need not to limit the notion to, oh, these Christians are the only ones that think that way.
How do the three classic values common to all Randall Wallace stories, love, honor and courage, come into play in Heaven Is For Real?
Randall Wallace: Well, I think the love part you'll see is the first and last of it all. It's the father loves his son; and in loving his son, he has transferred as much belief as he knows how. But he comes to a time when his son is actually giving him back more than he ever expected. That's the miraculous part of it.
Honor and courage are tied in with each other in that this pastor not only has the issue of what he thinks about it, that he's trying to wrestle with the truth with coming to an understanding of what his son is telling him, and he's forced to make a choice about the defense of what his son has said before he's ready to. Like, "I don't know what to make of this, but I can't sit here on the fence forever." And that creates a requirement for courage.
The issue of the honor part is the deeper one. C.S. Lewis says that pride is the deepest and most corrosive of things. Todd has sense that he wants to be a great lion of the faith, and he'll never give that up, and he'll hold strong. But the minute he thinks God is going to take his son, then all the bets are off. One of the things I got from the real Todd was he said his favorite line and the one he's mentioned to me was when they're in the cemetery, and this is a line that's not in the book, but he said it was the very essence of the story to him was. He says to the Nancy character, "You don't ever have to apologize to me for any broken part you carry." That a part of him was broken from realizing that he believed that God could take his son, and if that happened, would he be able to have faith? That question sort of exposed the Achilles heel with this, that all of his faith was an allusion, was a shell. That's a pretty big deal.
Brokenness can be the avenue that leads to strength. Have you seen that in your own life?
Wallace: Yeah. I think there's no other way to it. Even in the likes of the whole life and death. The ultimate question is that no matter how strong you are, no matter how good your habits, no matter how many push-ups you do and miles you run, and anything else, that you reach a time where you can't, through force of will, keep your body going. So we are constructed in such a way that we have to confront of the issue of we are not God, and that's the thing that makes most of us really angry.
Toward the end, there's a line Kinnear says, something to the effect of, "Crush my pride and my heart to love." Do you find that personally true, that when you let go of pride, you open yourself up to new revelation?
Wallace: You know it's funny, I'm working on a new home, and I want to put "freedom" over the fireplace. The only real freedom is in surrender to Christ... that you find freedom there, and it's in the opposite place that you think. You've got to let go of your pride, like C.S. Lewis said, "Pride's the worst of the sins." It's the one I have in spades and to think that when you can let that go, suddenly forgiveness is possible, forgiveness of yourself is possible, the joy is possible....
Todd was broken by his pride, his desire that "I can fix everything. What do you mean I can't fix this woman's grief? I should be able to because I'm a pastor of God. But I can't because I'm not God."
I love the way Margo [Martindale's character] comes and goes, "You don't have to save the world. I think that's already been done." I don't think there's any other actor on the face of this planet that could've said that and been so powerful.
Was it divine providence that this movie came to you?
Wallace: Yeah. But you know, I think God's hands are at work with everybody. I don't mean to put that as God just had a special exalting of me, but I think God certainly did me a solid.
Do you think your time at seminary years ago helped pave the way to this moment?
Wallace: I don't know that I could have done this without it. I could have done it, but I don't think I could have made the same movie. For one thing, there were some assaults I had and I'm getting some of them now, today. Some people who have felt that the movie wasn't in line with their own personal dogma; and so they want the movie to express their dogma. They want the movie to say, "Unless it says this, then it's not in the line with Christianity."
I'm all for Christianity. I'm all in on Christianity, but I don't worship my own understanding. That's a fine and dangerous line. I admit. That's a dangerous line. The only one I know to say is that there are two big commandments: you love God; you love your neighbor. If I do those, then I feel that God will take care of the rest.
So having a seminary background... I know it broadened my horizons, but I didn't go to broaden my horizons. I was just fascinated by it. Still am. The same guy that went to seminary is the guy that says that, "Hey, I really want to do this Heaven Is For Real thing."
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Hannah Goodwyn serves as the resident movie critic and Entertainment producer for CBN.com. For more articles and information, visit Hannah's bio page.
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