2018 / 110 minutes
This is the life story of MercyMe singer Bart Millard, or, more specifically, it’s the story of what drove him to write what might be the most popular Christian song of the modern era, I Can Only Imagine.
It begins with 12-year-old Bart in 1985, listening to ELO tunes on his Sony Walkman, and crafting a cardboard Star Wars fighter helmet. He’s a creative dreamer, but his home life is a nightmare. When he gets home that evening his father burns his helmet, and when Bart heads to bed early his Walkman only partially drowns out his parents’ yelling.
So is this a story about a man succeeding despite a difficult childhood? It’s more than that. The focus isn’t as much on Bart’s transformation from troubled kid to successful singer, as it is about God transforming his abusive father. As Bart tells Amy Grant:
“My dad was a monster. I mean that’s the only word for it. And I saw God transform him from a man I hated into the man I wanted to become. Into my best friend….I guess I didn’t realize God could do that. And so I wrote this song.”
That’s the central story, and added in the mix is the sweet but certainly not simple story of Bart and his childhood sweetheart.
Millard’s father is abusive, both physically, which we mostly don’t see, and verbally, which we do. While the violence takes place primarily off-screen there are a few brief moments that are scary because the viewer has no reason to presume they are going to be just brief. One example: Millard’s father breaks a plate over his head. It’s shocking; however, it doesn’t escalate. There’s nothing here that would scare an adult, but these early scenes of Millard’s family life are one reason this film, despite its PG rating, is not appropriate for children.
Another reason? Not only is Millard’s father abusive, his mother abandons him. Abuse and abandonment aren’t thoughts we want our children worrying about.
This is a remarkable film and a good part of it is J. Michael Finley, a good actor, and an absolutely fantastic singer whose version of I Can Only Imagine got me looking for the film’s soundtrack.
But every movie has a message, and it’s the moral of this story that makes it so special. In Romans 8 the apostle Paul tells us that God works all things out for the good of those who love Him. But so often we have to take that on faith. When a loved one gets cancer, or we lose our job, we’re left wondering, “How is God going to turn this to good?” In Millard’s story we get a glimpse, almost a look behind the scenes, to see how God can do it and is doing it. We still don’t know how He’s going to work it all out in our own lives, but this glimpse helps us imagine.
While the film is quite true to Millard’s story, some dramatic license has been taken in the climactic singing scene. If, after watching the film, you want to know how it really happened, click here and here. Jon Dykstra also blogs on movies at ReelConservative.com.