The loss of passion for something we love is a deeply disturbing journey to travel. Unfortunately, we often become burned out doing the things that are most meaningful to us so that we just can’t seem to continue any longer. As It Is in Heaven takes us on one man’s journey to recover his lost joy.
Daniel Dareus (Michael Nyqvist) is a famous orchestral conductor who has always dreamed of opening people’s hearts with music. Daniel experiences a heart attack, physically and spiritually, and he retires to his childhood town in the far north of Sweden where he was bullied as a child. He buys the old school house and sets up his home.
The small town has a church choir made up of the usual motley normality of people. When they discover that Daniel has arrived, they immediately invite him along to hear their choir - just to listen and maybe offer some helpful advice. Daniel visits and it becomes obvious that the choir wants a bit more from him - they’d like him to be their director and conductor.
Daniel accepts the challenge and, as he entices the group to create music that speaks to the heart, he rediscovers the joy of music that he has lost. This joy comes at a price. As he develops relationships with the people in the choir, one of whom becomes a love interest, he has to deal with those who misunderstand his intentions - the priest whose power is challenged; members who falsely accuse him of trying to use the choir for his own "evil" purposes; issues of choir members whose personal struggles spill over into choir practice; the oppression of "true" religion. And most of all, Daniel struggles with his own heart as he is confronted by the grace he experiences from the people he comes to know and love.
As It Is in Heaven is an absolutely wonderful, moving, heart-changing, inspiring story that was nominated for Best Foreign Film at the 77th Academy Awards. When the film ran in Australia at the independent Cremorn Orpheum cinema in Sydney, it became the longest running film in Australia. I understand that it ran in Sweden for 52 weeks! The films success has been primarily by word of mouth.
The title of the film, As It Is in Heaven, is a fascinating one which I have mulled over since seeing the movie. Obviously, it is a reference to the phrase in the Lord’s prayer, ’Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’. The challenge is to tease out the reason for this title for this story.
Heaven as a place is never really mentioned in the film. Daniel’s journey towards the healing of his "heart" is full of pain, mistakes, difficult relationships, and emotional hurt. The same is true of every one of the people in the choir - they are struggling with hurt, abuse from those they love, oppressive religious "righteousness", misunderstandings. But when the grace of unconditional love and acceptance grips them, inspired by the transcendence experienced as they enter fully into singing and music, they are transformed - not from the outside in, but from the inside out.
The choir is a metaphor for heaven. Made up of flawed people who accept one another for who they are, the commit themselves to loving each other and lovingly serving others by sharing their passion for music. As they perform they transform the lives of others - not by imposing a false religiosity; not by demanding that certain rules be kept - but by allowing the grace they have experienced to flow through their lives and wrap itself around those who hear them. By experiencing their full humanity and the grace of others who accept them as they are they can’t help but pass this on to others - unforced, inspiring, and life-changing.
What is it like to have heaven on earth? Heaven is not about bringing about some pure, perfect, idyllic state where nothing "bad" happens and where we all behave perfectly. Heaven is about grace through and through. Heaven occurs wherever real people, who struggle with what it means to be truly human, experience the gracious, unconditional acceptance of the God who has reconciled himself to all people whoever we are, whatever we are.
The priest in the film is an arrogant, self-righteous, puritanical, controlling goody-goody. In a climactic clash between him and his wife who is a member of the choir the priest tells his wife to ask for God’s forgiveness. In one of the most powerful and memorable lines in the movie, his wife shoots back the line, "God doesn’t forgive; He has never condemned.’ The director, Pollak, has said that, to understand the film, we need to realise that the entire message of the movie is in this one line - "The idea that absolute, complete love doesn’t condemn." (quoted by Amanda Wilson, Sydney Morning Herald) Now, that really reframes God’s love! And when this love is experienced it transforms our lives and we truly experience heaven on earth.
Don’t miss this movie. Turn your video stores inside out to find it. Then watch it and let it work its gracious power on you - let God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven - God’s deep desire to love you unconditionally and for you to be transformed to love God and others, no matter how flawed, in the way that God has loves us.
At the end of the movie, one of the characters in the story sings a solo. One of the lines is ’I want to feel that I have lived my life.’ This, surely, is the yearning that most of us have. Grace is the only way to feel as though we have lived our lives.
Steve Parker reviews movies and books and comments on things of interest to Christians who are thoughtful about their faith on his blog, Thinking Christian, where this review was first published. He writes from Adelaide, Australia.
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