June Issue 2019

By | Cinema | Published 3 months ago

The film Breakthrough follows actual events that took place in St. Charles Missouri in the US, and falls in the genre of inspirational life-after-death movies. The focus of the film is Joyce Smith (Chrissy Metz) and her unshakeable faith when she was confronted with an incident that left her and her husband totally shattered. She later co-authored a book on the entire ordeal on which the film is based.

The story unfolds in early 2015, when Joyce, a devout middle-class mother, is raising her son John Smith (Marcel Ruiz), a 14-year-old teenager and school basketball star, with her husband Brian (Josh Lucas).  John shows more interest in his father, his friends and his games, rather than in Joyce. In fact he is almost resentful of her no matter how hard she tries to convince him that his life matters to her and that he is loved. John skirts around a school oral project on his personal family history, until categorically told that he won’t be allowed to play the next basketball match unless he turns in his assignment. John is forced to face up to the task and tell his class that he is originally from Guatemala and is the adopted son of his parents. He was just nine months old when he was adopted by his foster parents while they were on a church mission, and he had never known his biological mother.

Soon after, on Martin Luther King Jr’s Day on January 19, 2015, while playing with a couple of his school chums on Lake Sainte Louise’s frozen surface, the ice suddenly cracks open, and all three are submerged in its icy waters. John’s friends manage to reach the surface, but he sinks to the bottom of the lake. By the time the rescue services fish him out, he has been under water and without any oxygen for 15 minutes – he is pulled out by firefighter Tommy Shine (Mike Colter), an atheist, who says he heard a voice guiding him regarding where to locate John.

Despite prolonged resuscitation at the hospital, John with a body temperature of 88 degrees remains without a heartbeat for at least another 45 minutes, and he is finally pronounced dead. Joyce is not willing to come to terms with the loss of her only son and instead of saying her last good-byes, she cries out to God to breath life back into him. Within an instant John’s heart starts to beat again. He is then rushed to another hospital that has a drowning specialist (Dennis Haysbert) on the staff, who tries to prepare Joyce and Brian for the worst – either John will not survive the long ordeal or in the worst-case scenario, he will leave the hospital brain-damaged. Joyce, on the other hand, never doubts even for a minute that God will answer her prayers for her son’s recovery. She forcefully instructs the medical staff in attendance, not to utter anything negative about his prognosis. The rest of the film is an uphill battle for John and his parents.

Another key character in the film is the new local church pastor, John Nobel (Topher Grace), whom Joyce dislikes mainly because of the fade-pompadour haircut that he sports and the modern church music he has introduced during Sunday mass. However, Nobel never leaves her side, or her son’s, and takes over as the family’s spokesperson to rally the townspeople for their prayers.

There is little suspense in the outcome of the film as John battles for recovery. The story, albeit simple as in all faith-based films, is certain to resonate with local audiences. Despite the evangelical sermonising on healing through faith and love, Breakthrough begs the all too familiar question: why do some people continue to survive by some inexplicable miracle, while others die, despite being similarly loved and prayed for?  Something that even medical science cannot answer…

The writer is a documentary filmmaker and activist. She is working with the Newsline as editorial assistant.