This is not my normal type of post. As a matter of fact I never have and may never again create a post like this. It is not my calling to do reviews or promote products but after watching the movie Healing River and being profoundly moved I had to let you know about it. Full disclosure, I have a casual friendship with the film’s Writer/director, Mitch Teemley, very casual, he is a Facebook friend and fellow blogger who I have never met in person but feel I know him a little because of these platforms. It was because of this I gave the movie a try and I did not regret it!
Make me feel what they feel.
Independent production or Hollywood blockbuster, the mark of great storytelling is to make the audience experience what the characters experience. Even big budget productions can fall flat when it comes to the ability to make the audience feel what those in the story feel. Healing River accomplished this at a level that I have rarely if ever experienced. This film is not a bunch of well-acted emotional scenes peppered throughout the movie to get you to feel the characters’ pain, this movie is the characters’ pain from start to finish. We never are allowed to ignore that the hurt and the struggle to address that hurt is always there no matter what is going on or who the main characters interact with. Let me make a slight adjustment to that last statement, we never stop feeling the pain, we never escape the deep hurt and conflict that has become the main focus of the characters’ lives. It becomes a part of us as an audience no matter what is going on or who the main characters interact with.
This is what real life looks like.
Unlike most Christian movies, this movie doesn’t just present us with the situation and hope we can find a way to connect. Healing River drops us unapologetically into the struggle and forces us to face the reality of the emotions that fight for control after someone has inflicted pain that cannot be undone. Mitch Teemley chooses to use real life language rather than try to “Christianize” the dialogue. The movie doesn’t try to cover up the fact that what we say and how we feel in times of trauma doesn’t go through the same filters that we use in other settings. Christians are no exception when it comes to expressing grief. Using real language and expressing feelings that almost of us would have had, no matter how dark and “unchristian” they may appear was so refreshing. The movie found a balance that is often missed. It limited the language so that it had impact rather than shock value and the dark feelings and emotional torment so that it was believable rather than manipulative.
Forgiveness, the action that will set you free.
Regardless of your background and your faith practice, we have all been told that forgiveness is the only way to move forward. It is easy to say and often easy to do when it comes to “spilt milk” every day occurrences. Healing River explores the pain of having to forgive something that seems unforgiveable and, just as painful, having to accept that forgiveness and forgive yourself. As much as you know where the film is going, or at least you think it should go, Healing River is not a movie that creates a straight line from pain inflicted to forgiveness nor does it support the illusion that everyone can easily forgive even suggesting that some may never be able to forgive. I found myself riding the waves of emotion that the characters experienced which tossed me around leading me to suspend my preconceived “this is how a Christian movie should go” and “this is how a Christian person should react” and just feel what they were feeling. I believe this is why Healing River works so well. We know we need to forgive to move forward in life but the movie makes us feel what we would really feel if we were in the character’s shoes. This is all because of great writing, directing/production and a great cast.
Every movie review needs a negative to be believed.
I had tears in my eyes from about 12 minutes in until the end. Being able introduce this level of emotion continually throughout a movie is a great accomplishment however there is a downside. Due to COVID19 I could not cover up my response with a fake cough or it would be assumed that I might be infected so I just sat and let the tears roll slowly down my face. That’s okay, Healing River is a movie that I am not embarrassed to say touched me deeply, so deeply that I could not cover it up, pandemic or not!