Lots of kids get sick. And then they get better.
And that’s exactly what happened to Annabel Beam. But how did it happen?
Anna kept throwing up every time she ate. And after multiple medical diagnoses pointing to common ailments—lactose intolerance, acid reflux—doctors realized that Anna’s problem wasn’t common at all. To the contrary, she had a deadly gastrointestinal ailment. And it was incurable, too.
Anna’s ongoing physical anguish and occasional agony made her mom, Christy, hunt harder and harder for some kind of solution. And Christy also had to hunt harder and harder to find what was left of her faith as she grew increasingly angry at the thick-headed Christians around her and the church she used to love.
It’s fair to say that she was none too pleased with the way God was letting her innocent daughter suffer.
It truly can be difficult to feel God’s love when things seem bleak and hopeless, when pain and misery are a regular part of our day. But those can also be the times when we reach out most fervently and sense God’s loving and steady presence in almost overwhelming ways.
Christy and Anna Beam knew both sides of that spiritual experience. And they had to make a choice which they were going to cling to.
The vaunted theoretical physicist Albert Einstein once said, “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
This is the Beam family’s true story … of everything being a miracle.
Miracles From Heaven focuses on Christy Beam’s tireless efforts to try to help her sick child. But in truth, every member of the Beam family gives his or her all and sacrifices a great deal to rally to Anna’s side. For instance, all of them repeatedly state their unwavering love and support. Dad works long hours and sells favorite family possessions to foot medical bills. Sisters Adelyn and Abbie even go so far as to limit their own diets to stand in solidarity with their suffering sibling (to the point where sharing a slice of cheese pizza later on is an incredible celebration). Neighbors and some friends from church do what they can, too—from babysitting to simply being there as supportive friends.
A woman named Angela, a stranger at first, goes out of her way to bring cheer to Christy and Anna when they travel to a specialized pediatrics clinic in Boston. With repeated visits, Angela becomes a beloved friend and confidant. Doctors and nurses, even the receptionist at the hospital, are seen going out of their way to help.
Questions about faith and the role it plays in our lives run throughout this story. Christy struggles mightily with her spiritual resolve, lashing out at both God and the church. But she never quite walks away, even when she cries, “I don’t have faith about anything! I can’t even pray.” In Job-like fashion, other Christians blame Anna’s illness on her family’s sin, and those callous comments contribute to driving Christy away from church. But her husband is always there to give a word of encouragement and spiritual support. And in the end, after Anna is miraculously healed, the girl’s life spared not just from a terrible fall, but also from her disease, Christy goes back to church and tells her “family” there the whole story of her journey. “Miracles are God’s way of letting us know He’s here,” she says.
Rendered unconscious after falling down the inside of a giant, hollowed-out tree, Anna later recounts going to heaven and talking with God. While showing her walking through a lush, Technicolor garden and then on top of the clouds above, the film, for its part, leaves the absolute factualness of her claims up to the determination of moviegoers. (Is it a dream? Is it real?) But it never doubts whether God’s hand was involved in the miraculous gift Anna receives.
At the Boston hospital, Anna talks with a terminally ill girl about the cross she always wears, saying it reminds her that Jesus is with her. She then gives the girl her necklace and affirms that Jesus can be with her, too. The girl’s father is irritated that Anna is filling his daughter’s head with “that sort of thing.” And he confronts Christy about it. But he later attests to the fact that his dying daughter “felt safe, she felt … God” in her waning days, thanks to that encounter.
Christy and her husband, Kevin, kiss. He strips off his shirt to change for church, showing his chiseled physique.
Anna falls 30 feet headfirst down the middle of the dead and hollowed-out tree. Rescuers worry over severe head trauma and spinal injury. And when she’s pulled out, she’s covered with bloody scrapes.
Though not technically violence, we see Anna in a great deal of physical pain and misery due to her disease. We witness vomiting, invasive medical procedures and tube feedings. In fact, we see enough of that turmoil and torture that when we get to the point of Anna saying, “I want to die … I want to go to heaven where there’s no pain,” her momentary outcry feels completely understandable.
Two or three exclamations of “oh my god.”
Angela says she’s trying to quit smoking. Anna is given drug injections through shots and IV lines. Christy lists all the many medications her daughter must take in a single day.
We see Anna in her underwear.
A few Christians in Christy’s church reject any talk of miraculous happenings, suggesting, wrongly, that Anna may have been faking illness to seek out publicity.
It can be very difficult to turn stories of faith into good movies. Our spiritual relationship and our belief in God are precious, ethereal things. They’re hard to honestly and vibrantly represent in a 90-minute motion picture. Knowing that, sometimes moviemakers try too hard to compensate, wringing out passionate feelings and gritting their cinematic smiles a tad too fiercely.
Miracles From Heaven takes a slightly different tack, trying to bring viewers into the pathos and drama of a little girl’s illness and her family’s desperation in a universally relatable way. It’s a well-acted, well-directed and earnest film: Jennifer Garner and Kylie Rogers make us want to put an arm around them as we long for some kind of help to appear on the horizon.
And it does. Coming in a way that presents an emotional testimony to suffering and miracles, with a gentle grace that even those hesitant to believe will understand and appreciate. “They’ll get there when they get there,” Anna says softly after her mom suggests that many people won’t be able to swallow the miraculous and heavenly things that the young girl claims took place. And that sums up the movie’s attitude as well.
This is a very human-feeling drama that’s still all about God’s priorities, God’s choices and God’s timing. The filmmakers quietly take on the role of dramatic chroniclers, saying, as softly as Anna does, Here’s what happened and what we believe. You think it through and come along when and if you will.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.