Reel Dad: I Can Only Imagine explores fathers and sons

No two people discover who they are at the same pace. For some, life may come together easily; for others, struggle seems to follow struggle; most of the rest of us fall somewhere in between. We are all works in progress. And we progress at different speeds.

The new drama I Can Only Imagine invites us into the lives of a father and son who desperately need to adjust their rhythms of life. One is trapped in a cycle of self-destruction without hope for a better tomorrow. Another is imprisoned in a disappointing search for professional success and personal calm. The movie explores how they try to heal the hurt in their relationship. The drama emerges because they are members of the same family who fall into patterns of getting into each other’s way.

This quirky, quiet and endearing film wanders its way through these complicated lives without complying with standard Hollywood conventions. Few scenes resort to “standard confrontations” that fill many dramas about families. Instead tension becomes visually suggested as much as it is discussed. Nor does the film resolve conflicts by cooking up calculated conclusions. Rather we simply get to know these two people, father and son, the love they share, the traditions they follow, the hurt they embrace. These men do not bring anything extraordinary to the lives they want to expand. And that’s what makes them so meaningful to experience.

As the film opens, a young Bart finds himself at summer church camp, learning about spiritual options as well as pursuing new friendships. When he returns home, he finds a house in turmoil as his mother leaves. Suddenly the boy, so happy in the love-filled environment of camp finds himself the target of his father’s anger. As years pass, the son never lets himself feel worthy of his dreams, blaming a father who spends his life undermining the boy’s potential. Only when the son leaves home to pursue a career in music does he dare to discover his own voice.

Inspired by the song I Can Only Imagine, and the true story of its composer Bart Millard, the film finds its rhythm early, as it carefully navigates the specifics of the father-son relationship without judging the participants. Never do we feel that filmmakers Andrew and Jon Erwin take sides in this conflict; instead they find opportunities for each character to confront and grow. While the movie risks becoming too sentimental, the Erwins refuse to let the film become too maudlin. They fill the screen with enough humanity to ground the narrative.

For Dennis Quaid, I Can Only Imagine offers a chance to showcase what a strong character actor he can be. No matter how a scene may be written, Quaid reaches beyond the page to make us believe in this man’s grief, the hope he can’t forget, and truth he dares to confront. J. Michael Finley, as well, registers as a son who tries to find love for a father who struggles to bring his best to his family. While movie theaters today fill their screens with movies filled with visual effects, I Can Only Imagine delivers a strong movie experience by simply focusing on how people fail to connect.

Film Nutritional Value: I Can Only Imagine

  • Content: Medium. The characters are interesting, and the situations engaging, in a film that doesn’t resist sharing its heart.
  • Entertainment: High. The dynamics of father and son fill the screen with tension as two people try to find middle ground to share.
  • Message: Medium. Filmmakers Andrew and Jon Erwin offer a moral that makes us think without overwhelming the rhythm of the film’s relationships.
  • Relevance: Medium. Any opportunity to look at a family on film, and then look at our own, can refresh.
  • Opportunity for Dialogue: Medium. We can learn from how these people search for resolution and react when they reach dead ends.

I Can Only Imagine is rated PG for thematic elements including violence. 3.5 Popcorn Buckets. The film runs one hour, 50 minutes, and is showing in area theaters. For more about movies featuring fathers and sons, check out the Reel Dad in Arts and Leisure online, at arts.hersamacorn.com.

Field of Dreams celebrates the hopes of fathers and sons

As we experience in I Can Only Imagine, fathers and sons share common experiences that create lasting connections.

No matter the setting, and regardless of our age, every man hungers for the attention that we never received from our fathers. For many, the magic of baseball illustrates the experiences we long to share with our dads. On a baseball diamond, we are always kids looking for guidance; forever the child waiting for the old man to hit us some grounders or take us through batting process. We forever dream of playing catch at sunset on a fresh baseball field even though, in some families, the love for game can disguise emotional discord beneath.

Field of Dreams dares to examine the reasons for disconnection between fathers and sons within a framework of a sport we love. By using baseball as a foundation, we find ourselves in the magical experience this sport creates as we begin to understand why we look for fantasies to hide painful truths. While the specifics of what happens in the Iowa cornfields may be difficult to logically accept, the emotional feelings they address are timeless. Fathers and sons crave each other’s attention even if they don’t know how to express the emotions. Some languages are difficult to learn.

In this relationship, the son is an Iowa farmer who, one night, hears voices from the stalks of corn that encourage him to convert part of his farm into a baseball diamond. We learn that, as an angry young man, let his hurt feelings disconnect his father, leaving a lifetime of unfinished business to address. Is this baseball field magical enough to reconnect these two lost souls? And can this game connect the most disconnected of relationships?

What’s not included in the Field of Dreams recipe is logic. Any of us can reason why what happens could never happen. But who cares? We so want to believe it could all happen that we willingly absorb the action, characters and meaning. If an exaggerated situation reminds us of the importance of fathers and sons, a daring movie maker considers what a story can make people feel without feeling compelled to objectively report what the characters experience.

After watching Field of Dreams you may be inspired to reach out to those close to you, perhaps a parent, realizing that once opportunity is missed it may never happen again. That is, of course, unless you happen to find yourself in a magical baseball diamond in a cornfield in the middle of Iowa.

While the relationships between fathers and sons are universal, the specifics of baseball are purely American. Once, as I watched this film on an airplane, an Australian man sitting next to me asked, “why is it every time I see you Americans watch this movie, I witness grown men crying?” I tried to explain the thing about dads, baseball gloves and missed opportunities but I quickly realized how illogical it sounded. I suggested he simply believe and think about it tomorrow.

Field of Dreams, from 1989, is rated PG. The film – available online and On Demand – runs 1 hour, 47 minutes.