WHAT TO SEE: I Can Only Imagine
Starring J. Michael Finley, Dennis Quaid, Trace Adkins, Priscilla Shirer
Run time: 110 min
Bart Millard, lead singer of the popular Christian band Mercy Me, took just minutes to write the hit song “I Can Only Imagine,” but its inspiration was years in the making. This film of the same name provides a back story based largely on events from Millard’s formative years.
Growing up in Texas, Bart (J. Michael Finley) regularly suffers physical and emotional abuse from his father (Dennis Quaid). His mother leaves home, and in time so does Bart, who has discovered a talent for music and begins touring with an upstart Christian group. Returning home, he finds his father has changed: he’s cleaned up his act, found faith, and wants to make amends. Bart, however, is reluctant to forgive – until he learns his dad has terminal cancer.
Their reconciliation and his father’s death later inspires Bart’s breakthrough song, which prayerfully imagines what heaven will be like.
The script takes significant liberties with the actual timeline: The real-life Bart was “best friends” with his dad for the five years he battled cancer and only began his music career after his dad died when Bart was a freshman in college – but the key themes of redemption and mercy are served well in this retelling.
Bart’s portrayal is strikingly honest in depicting how he, although a professed Christian, harbors resentment toward his father and resists forgiving him. There is also a lesson on evangelization when Mercy Me’s manager, Scott Brickell (Trace Adkins), offers advice on songwriting and performing: We reach people more effectively when we share our own stories and pain, speaking from the heart.
That’s something Millard accomplishes with the title song, which wonders: “Will I stand in your presence / Or to my knees will I fall / Will I sing Hallelujah / Will I be able to speak at all?”
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.