To kick off the last full day of Ebertfest, we began with Higher Ground. Contrary to what the title may lead you to believe, Higher Ground is not a teenage stoner comedy, it’s actually based on the memoir of the same title by Carolyn Briggs. Carolyn also came to speak with us about the process of the novel, some artistic liberties the movie took, and her story in general.
Higher Ground is, at its most basic, the story of a woman growing up. Corine (Vera Farmiga, who also directed the feature) finds religion and tries so desperately to make religion fit in her life but she is left feeling empty despite her truly best efforts. She gets married and starts a family at a very young age (the teenage Corinne is actually played by Vera Farmiga’s younger sister, Taissa) and joins, what could easily be described as a Christian cult. Religion and Jesus takes such a large portion of her life but ultimately for all the love and time she gives she gets little in return.
I have never been religious in even the slightest sense but the story really rang true for me. Religion could very easily be the butt of the joke for the film, but it is not. It is treated with utmost care and while some of the Christian practices were very strange, they are not mocked. I really can’t explain why, but Higher Ground really hit me and it was the last movie I was expecting to even remotely like from the entire festival. Vera Farmiga does such a stunning job both acting and behind the camera, she is such a tremendous talent.
When Carolyn Briggs came back out to talk to the audience she had some funny stories about the screening of Higher Ground. One screening was done for a Christian university, or something of the sort and she was very worried that it would be received negatively since it does involve a woman losing most of her faith. That audience was able to overlook that, it seems, which is a very important thing to note about the film. When asked what box for religion she would check in a survey about herself, she thought for quite some time before saying she would probably just skip the question and leave the box blank. That sums up Higher Ground perfectly. Though it does meander a bit aimlessly a bit, so does life.
I give it 4 out of 5.
Some interesting Ebertfest links: