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                         I CAN ONLY IMAGINE

Movie Review by Guest Reviewer Judge Jesse Caldwell

“I Can Only Imagine” is a good flick. A very good flick. Unlike many films, it doesn’t try to cram too many convoluted and confusing mega themes and sub- plot lines twixt the opening scene and closing credits. And unlike a lot of contemporary faith-based films, it is not smarmy or preachy, nor does it try to club you over the head with its message. Though the movie deals with complex issues of family dysfunction and abuse, forgiveness, and faith, it is a film that shares the story of God’s redemption and grace in an inspirational but simple way, respecting the mystery of the depth of these gifts of God. Sometimes “simple” is deeper than “deep”. It is almost always better.

The vehicle for the story is the best-selling Christian song, “I Can Only Imagine”, by Bart Millard, lead singer of the band MercyMe. Millard wrote the song for his father, perfectly played by Dennis Quaid. Quaid is the epitome of every disgusting, overbearing and abusive father I have ever seen in my life. Bart, played by J. Michael Finley, is physically and emotionally pummeled by this jerk of a dad at every step of the way as a child and young man. But God puts people in Bart’s path who throw him lifelines that ever so slowly pull him to safety and success: the owner of a record store; a Christian camp youth leader; fellow campers, including Shannon, the girl who becomes his life’s love; his high school glee club teacher; music guru and band manager Scott Brickell; even popular Christian singers Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant. Like me, it you may remind you of those encouraging people God placed in your path as you pursued your own dream.

Bart uses his God given gifts of singing and writing music to share his faith journey and his life story. Much like wicked slave trader John Newton, who told his life’s story through “Amazing Grace”, Bart uses his own song, “I Can Only Imagine” to share his life’s pain and redemption. It is no coincidence that Bart and his father, who later comes to know the Lord, talk about John Newton as the father prepares to be baptized. Nor is it happenstance that “Amazing Grace” is sung at his father’s funeral.

This movie is a beautiful portrayal of how to faithfully use your gifts to share God’s love and to follow your dream. And it is a precious portrait of the joy of salvation and reconciliation. My favorite part of the film is the lesson it teaches about the importance of giving away something precious to you for a higher purpose. This happens when Bart “gives” his song “I Can Only Imagine” away to Amy Grant, who he says can do greater things with it for the Kingdom than he can. The scenes that follow are a magnificent commentary on the scriptures, “Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33), and “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.” (Ecclesiastes 11:1).

The performances of the actors are skilled and strong. This is especially true of those playing the supporting roles, including Madeline Carroll as Shannon, Trace Adams as Brickell, and Nicole DuPort as Amy Grant. There is wonderful chemistry among this ensemble cast. The music, beautiful cinematography, and pace are bonus reasons to go see “I Can Only Imagine.”

I like the movie very much. I guess you can tell.

Do yourself a favor. God see “I Can Only Imagine”.

You’ll be glad you did.