Higher Ground

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves... And the point is to live everything. Live the questions.”

Higher Ground is a movie about individuals who never stop asking questions, who wonder if they have taken the right path or if their beliefs make as much sense as they once did. How many individuals do you know who live a life of such questioning?

On the surface the film depicts the gradual erosion of a woman’s faith in the religion she was born into. We first see her as a young child, then a teenager, and then for most of the film an adult, around 40, who is born again with a full immersion in the midst of her friends and eventual husband.

Vera Farmiga directed the film and also plays the role of the adult (Corrine), while her sister is the teenager and a young look-alike is the child. Farmiga brings the film alive as she did in Up in the Air. She has deep-set eyes and an expressive face that reflects skepticism and uncertainty at every turn without uttering a word.

Little by little she begins to have doubts, her religion lets her down, doesn't answer her questions, and cannot explain the tragedies she sees and experiences. She prays, implores, almost pleads again and again for evidence, anything would do, but nothing is forthcoming.

It is all done so subtly, without the usual rancor or dispute. You see Corrine’s gradual changes in her expressions and behavior exclusively.

Beyond the story of how a woman grows in and out of religion, I also viewed the movie more generally, the way people gradually loose their faith in something that once meant a great deal to them—their profession, marriage, fundamental beliefs. There are some who simply put these doubts aside, others grow to accept them, while some act upon them.

In writing about this film, Roger Ebert comments, “…a person who suffers great misfortune is unlikely to be comforted by the assurance that God’s will has been done. (In the case of my own misfortune I prefer to think that God’s will had nothing to do with it. People who tell me it did are singularly tactless.)”

Ebert has undergone several operations to control his thyroid cancer and has recently lost his voice and lower jaw. He communicates using text-to-speech software that produces a robot-like voice that takes his written words and translates them into sound. Regardless of this debilitating condition, he continues to write with as much energy and insight as ever.

Corrine did something about her doubts and the absence of evidence. Acting on your doubts is not always easy and sometimes takes considerable courage and hard work. It is an exceptional person who alters their fundamental beliefs when the evidence for them is sparse or even contradictory.