As the eastern coast of the United States gears up for a big storm due to hit on Sunday, many are stocking water, batteries, whatever in case they can't make it to "higher ground." Coincidentally a beautiful, graceful film called Higher Ground, directed by Vera Farmiga who also stars, opened Friday, about a woman's spiritual progression initiated by a near death experience.
"I always admired men and women of great faith," said Farmiga of her attraction to the 2002 Carolyn S. Briggs memoir in an interview last April. "Yes, this is a story about a woman in a fundamentalist community but it is so much more than her experience of god. I feel this is a woman who is yearning for passion and a good sense of self. I wanted to make a film about believers and non-believers without judging either. No character comes out of this film more enlightened than another."
As the grown-up Corinne, Farmiga experiences doubt in her community, a strongly patriarchal world in which the pastor, played by the fine Norbert Leo Butz (who just won a Tony Award for his Catch Me If You Can role) is too shallow to be challenged. On the secular side, Corinne's sister played by Nina Arianda (Tony nominated for her role in the recent revival of Born Yesterday), is a non-believer who acts as a foil offering a vision of the troubled free spirit Corinne might have been, brought up in the same family with divorced parents played by John Hawkes and Donna Murphy. This list of excellent theater actors should indicate that for her directorial debut, Vera Farmiga has assembled a great cast, many of whom joined her to celebrate at chef Todd English's CrossBar for last week's premiere.
In the end, Higher Ground works well as a feminist piece. Most challenging to Corinne's faith is the demise of her friend Annika (Dagmara Dominczyk) who is able to talk in tongues and offer sexual advice with ease. When she falls ill, you can feel the hole in Corinne's heart. That she is enabled to build on this friendship and find a higher ground in her own voice is this film's ultimate blessing.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.