‘90 Minutes in Heaven’ seems more like Purgatory

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Ron and Leigh Martel Movie Reviewers, The Friday Flyer

Ron and Leigh Martel
Movie Reviewers, The Friday Flyer

Minister Don Piper brazenly declares, “I died in 1989!” However, as we learned in “The Princess Bride,” he was just “mostly” dead.

This very somber faith-based movie is based on Piper’s experience and told in his blockbuster book that sold over seven million copies. Piper remains in demand to tell his remarkable story at hundreds of churches.

We commend Hollywood for introducing more faith-based films. This is the first produced by Family Christian Entertainment, new production company from the owner of Family Christian Stores, the largest Christian Retail Chain in the U.S. “90 Minutes in Heaven” delivers a higher production quality than many in this genre, including mainstream stars.

Piper, played by Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker in “Star Wars II-III”) suffered a horrific “wreck” (as referenced in the script) while returning home from a minister’s conference when a semi-truck and trailer hit him head on. With no pulse, the first responder quickly declared him dead. But when a passing minister prays, Piper is revived.

Unfortunately, Piper’s arm had been severed and leg barely attached to his body, forcing him to endure a long and brutal recovery, which included being bed-bound for months.

Those anxious to hear about his 90 minutes in heaven or near death experience (NDE) have a long wait. Better titled “90 Minutes in Purgatory,” the story instead agonizes through his recovery and saves an abridged version of the NDE until the very end.

Despite the support and prayers of Piper’s beloved wife Eva (Kate Bosworth “Still Alice”), their three kids and prayer pals around the globe, Piper inexplicably wallows in self-pity. Day after day, month after month, this minister rebuffs doctors and nurses who offer him the extensive treatment needed. He stonewalls long-time friends and fellow pastors. Worse yet, he rudely and crudely rejects the love and support of his wife and children.

Christensen is almost as unpleasant in this role of Piper as he was as the future Darth Vader in “Star Wars.” Just how did Piper previously minister to his flock in such situations? It’s as if he’d either forgotten his message or had never really believed. After five months of brooding, he surprisingly reveals his heavenly journey for the first time, explaining that he rejected survival because of his glimpse of a glorious paradise; oh.

We’re not saying you should disbelieve his experience, exactly, but this “miracle” is presented in such a convenient and suspicious manner, especially at the time their personal funds are drained. His eventual description of heaven is not too dissimilar from many other NDE stories, but presented here completely unchallenged by friends or family. Interestingly, Piper and his wife vouch for the movie’s depiction of their story.

Contrarily, last year’s successful “Heaven is for Real” took a very different approach. In that film, the likeable minister, played by Greg Kinnear, gently challenged the NDE of his son, and initiated many of the questions anyone else would or should ask. The entire film was more credible, intriguing and enjoyable; whether you believe in NDEs or not.

Recent articles in “Christianity Today” indicate NDE’s rarely align to scripture. They specifically caution followers about such claimed personal experiences. “Patheos,” the Christian online media company, feels “no obligation” to believe the many NDE stories, as told by Christians, Muslims, Buddhists or even those from ancient Egypt and Rome.

“90 Minutes in Heaven” is two hours and rated PG-13 for intense injury images. We are not doctors, but expected an attempt at resuscitation (defibrillator, CPR, smelling salts, anything) by the on-scene rescuers. As presented, they not only hastily gave up, but when told Piper was alive, calmly countered, “He’s dead, don’t tell us how to do our job!”

We got past the shameless product placements, but “near death experience” is a fascinating topic as medical journals are filled with conditions that mimic death. This serious case is presented in a less-than-convincing manner, and the harshest reviews are from Christian publishers. Nevertheless, after this review, our greatest hope is to just not get hit by lightning.

Ron’s Rating: F   Leigh’s Rating: F

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Ron & Leigh Martel