Movie Review: “I Can Only Imagine”

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We don’t often provide reviews for movies. But since our organization is all about using film to spread the gospel it just makes sense that from time to time we’d encourage you to see a movie that helps people see Jesus. After all, we’re not the only folks out there doing this.

The movie, “I Can Only Imagine” (recently in theaters) tells the story behind the 2001 hit song by MercyMe.

I have to say, the Erwin brothers (Directors for “Mom’s Night Out,” “Woodlawn” and “October Baby”) have done it again. It’s the emotionally-charged life story, so far, of the MercyMe’s front man, Bart Millard, and how he came to eventually write the tune about heaven.

The film opens in 1985, when the young, carefree Bart Millard lives on a Texas farm with his parents. But we quickly see his dad Arthur is not a nice guy. He does some pretty rotten things that hurt Bart. Hollywood veteran, Dennis Quaid (“Vantage Point,” “Frequency,” “The Parent Trap” and “Soul Surfer”) portrays the dad and does a great job making us dislike him.

Bart goes to church camp and becomes a Christian, where he meets Shannon, a girl who obviously likes him. Although Bart returns home spiritually renewed, he finds his mother has left. No way! So this is what she was planning all along…for Bart to be gone when she packed up and abandoned the family?

Left with his abusive father, the young dreamer continues trying to earn his father’s approval by joining the high school football team. But during a game, when an accident breaks both of Bart’s legs, he’s told he can never play again.

So much for pleasing Dad.

In the months that follow, Bart discovers he can sing. Who knew? And… he likes to write songs.

Eventually Bart forms a band, MercyMe. But when he returns home one day to confront his father, he finds a different man there. That’s all I can say without spoilers.

Bart (played by newcomer J. Michael Finley) has a lot of faults and he’s a little pushy (prideful?) about his talent. But I’ve always heard your protagonist should be flawed if viewers are to like him…so there you go. Many characters model patience and grace toward Bart, especially his girlfriend (whom he dumps) and his band’s manager.

I love the spiritual content of this film. Faith, fear and eventually forgiveness intertwine as we follow Bart’s journey to overcome the deep damage caused by his mom and dad.

We see Bart with a Bible, singing in church, practicing forgiveness, helping the less fortunate (a.k.a. his dad) and other signs of fruit.

While obviously a Christian film, “I Can Only Imagine” is rated PG, so parents will want to be careful if your kids are sensitive to some of the following images:

  • Bart’s parents have a fight and we hear screams and breaking glass off camera.
  • His dad stands outside his room holding a belt.
  • His father throws things when angry, breaking windows and dishes, even breaking plate over Bart’s head. There is blood.
  • He throws a gallon of milk at Bart’s head another time.
  • You’ll hear the crunch of bones when Bart breaks his legs and the X-ray might be graphic to some viewers.
  • Also, Bart’s dad is ill at one point and screams while clutching his stomach.

But that aside, there’s no sex, no alcohol, drugs or cussing. Still, “I Can Only Imagine” is about pain and redemption, brokenness and forgiveness. I think they portray this beautifully and realistically.

All of us have broken places inside in need of redemption. Fans of MercyMe will love it. If you like our film “JESUS,” you may want to add this one to your collection as well.