In the musician biopic I CAN ONLY IMAGINE For a long time it’s just about the creation of a song. But the more you look into it, the more you notice the filmmakers’ need to emphasize the protagonist’s belief in God. Until things go wrong. We reveal more about this in our review.
The Plot Summary
Bart Millard grew up on a farm in Texas. His choleric father Arthur (Dennis Quaid) has nothing left for his sensitive son. When his mother leaves the family, Bart is left alone with his violent father. After a serious accident while playing football, he has to find a new elective and ends up in the school choir. The teacher encourages his talent, but Bart (J. Michael Finley) only receives ridicule from his father. Immediately after graduating from school, he ran away and traveled through the States with the band MercyMe. He hopes for a record deal, but the breakthrough is a long time coming. Only when Bart finally faces the past and sees his father again can he write the song that becomes a sensation: “I Can Only Imagine”.
Movie explanation of the ending
The ballad “I Can Only Imagine,” also known as the “MercyMe Song,” is the most successful Christian pop song of all time. It achieved triple platinum status in the USA; At the start of the accompanying film story, the song jumped back into pole position among the “Billboard Christian Songs”. But this one is simply too good to be true. Because the artist and songwriter Bart Millard didn’t just write “I Can Only Imagine” and then perform it. There is a kind of confession of faith in the song, as it is addressed to Millard’s father and explains why faith in God brought the choleric man and his son together once again in his old age. Forgiveness is already a theme in Christian cinema, with which an entire story – be it fictional or true – often stands or falls. We only remember the almost unbearable drama “The Hut – A Weekend with God” at the end of which a father had the emotional gun pressed on his chest until he finally reconciled with his daughter’s murderer (!). “I Can Only Imagine” isn’t quite that manipulative, because if you take away all the intrusive church kitsch, the film is largely appealingly staged, especially in the first half; as an enjoyable rags-to-riches story about a man who follows his destiny to become a musician. In the second half and especially in the last ten minutes, you not only have to close your eyes, but you also have to clench your teeth tightly in order to somehow be able to bear the theatrical Christianity.
Bart (J. Michael Finley) can fully develop at the piano.
One thing is certain, that’s why we’ll mention it again here: Nothing, absolutely nothing, is wrong with films of all genres having a religious reference. But for a few years now, a cinematic trend has been developing, particularly in the USA, that is aimed primarily at strictly religious Christians: productions such as “Heavenly Child”, the aforementioned “The Hut” and now “I Can Only Imagine” are positioned close to this Christian propaganda, which is why it is hardly surprising that at the end of the film there is a reference to the domain of a religious website before the song’s huge success is once again explained in white and black terms. Now you have to give credit to the surprisingly average ballad for being really successful. And the path to its creation also justifies the staging of a hundred-minute drama. Especially since in the initial phase the topic of God and faith is only approached so marginally that the hope that the directing duo of Jon and Andrew Erwin, known as the “Erwin Brothers”, would have it quite well, the topic of faith, which is so central to many people, is anything but intrusive in the film, persists well into the second half. There’s nothing at all wrong with Christians (who also like to actively practice their faith) as protagonists.
The very experienced J. Michael Finley, for whom the role in “I Can Only Imagine” represents his very first acting role, embodies Bart Millard as a victim of the circumstances into which he was born. Although a little clichéd with a blustering, violent father (Dennis Quaid has to be careful that he is not gradually reduced to just this one type of character) and a mother who eventually flees, between whose fronts Bart eventually can no longer stand it, he goes through all the stages of the outsider gradually gains respect from those around him through a special talent – in this case singing – and finally sees light on the horizon again. Finley pulls out what is probably the biggest ace up the creators’ sleeve after just a few minutes: This man simply has an amazing voice! And the fact that you only hear this in the finale together with the song of the title creates a kind of suspense that the Erwin brothers exploit very cleverly; Ultimately, the disillusionment is all the greater when, from a musical perspective alone, there are no goosebumps, since apart from the lyrics, “I Can Only Imagine” is just one of many pop songs. Far more interesting – also from a musical perspective – are the insights into previous performances by the not yet successful band MercyMe. This is far from original, because the stages that Bart and his crew have to go through in the course of the film are familiar from various related films. It still works – if it weren’t for that completely messed up final act.
Bart and his father (Dennis Quaid) reconcile at their bedside.
In the final third, the Erwin Brothers counteract the praise expressed earlier regarding the almost reserved approach to the topic of faith and religion with such courage for unintentional comedy that you only have two options: Either you jump for them anyway A Christian who is receptive to the topic jumps on the bandwagon and allows himself to be lulled by the artificial words that appeal to the fact that the most important thing is not dealing with bad things, but only reconciliation. Or you just feel embarrassed, because with their message the makers are not just appealing to a friendly atmosphere in a de-escalating manner, but are also hitting the viewer in the skull with a crowbar, which they also support on an audiovisual level. By the time Bart Millard, after his very first performance of “I Can Only Imagine,” spies his now dead father in the audience, taking on an almost angelic figure under the bright spotlight, the drama no longer has anything to do with a religion-tinged biopic , but penetrates into staged spheres that, in their penetrance, no longer allow any other opinion than belief in God and his power to help people. In the end, you basically only have two options: Either you enter the church directly (again), or you even leave it.
Conclusion: For a long time, “I Can Only Imagine” is a not particularly innovative, but charming and pleasantly staged “rags to riches” story about a man who realizes his dream of being a musician. But in the last half hour the unrestrained fear of God invades the film – and then things get embarrassing!
“I Can Only Imagine” can be seen in selected USA cinemas from September 27th.