Published: October 5, 2011
Directed by Vera Farmiga
Vera Farmiga’s directing debut is as intriguing as her acting and unconventional good looks. Higher Ground, a thoughtful and questioning film, looks like a photo from the ’70s, with everyone and everything cast in a warm light of yellow and faint orange. Farmiga plays the central character, Corinne, a woman born in the ’50s, whose faith in God is a constant challenge to her observant and curious ways.
Growing up on a farm with passionate parents (Donna Murphy and John Hawkes) and older sister Wendy (Taylor Schwencke), young Corinne raises her hand during children’s church group to let God into her heart but doesn’t really know what that means. As she gets older (played by Taissa Farmigs, Vera’s younger sister) she writes, falls in love with boy-with-a-guitar Ethan (Boyd Holbrooke, later Joshua Leonard), and marries him at what looks like eight months pregnant. A car crash reawakens the young couple’s faith, and when we catch up to them a few years later, they are part of a small evangelical Christian community and getting baptized in a river.
Long flowing dresses and beards, small wooden crosses on leather rope necklaces, lentils, and songs characterize a ’70s lifestyle of men’s groups and dominance, women’s groups and servitude, and what feels to Corinne like an unwavering faith that she can’t maintain. When her best friend Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk) is suddenly stricken with a frightening medical condition, Corinne’s life changes too.
Following a woman for decades of her life, many hours of which are spent in religious study and commune, offers a focus in which to tell a much larger story. Corinne is fascinating in her beliefs and determination to believe while being aware that her faith is not absolute, and Taissa Farmiga’s talent to bring what’s inside of Corinne to life illuminates the whole film.
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