I Can Only Imagine Is a Faith-Based Film Everyone Should See

Still from 2018's 'I Can Only Imagine' showing J. Michael Finley as Bart Millard

Written by Tristan Olav Torgersen I Can Only Imagine
Photos courtesy of IMDB

“I can only imagine what it will be like when I walk, by your side…I can only imagine.”

The opening line to the hit song “I Can Only Imagine” elicits an emotional response each time I hear it. Perhaps it’s because I needed this song in my life right now. Perhaps it’s because I know the impact it has had on a worldwide audience. Yet, perhaps it is because I now know the story behind the song and one man’s experience that shaped those lyrics. Bart Millard is a seemingly ordinary man with an extraordinary voice and talent brought to life through a story as heartfelt and real as the song he penned.

Let me share a quick personal story before you watch the trailer.

I went to see this on a Sunday afternoon after church. I was in my Sunday best, knitted tie and all, and was getting some odd looks as I walked towards the theater in Santa Monica, CA. This lady who had been with me on the way up from the parking garage decided to start a little conversation as we neared the doors. I told her I’d got done with church, and I was here to see I Can Only Imagine. She then asks about the film, and I gave her my fifteen second pitch for the film, and added, “It’s a true story too.”

At that, she lit up, and bought a ticket and joined me for the film. Bart, I did my part then, and I hope I’m doing it now with this article too.

The film opens with a young Bart Millard sporting his newly fashioned cardboard box Rebel Pilot helmet. To see Bart was a Star Wars fan instantly won me over. A man after my own heart. Bart’s father, played by Dennis Quaid, was not a fan of such imaginative playing and games, and he quickly makes ash out of art. This set the stage for the story of Bart’s childhood growing up in Greenville, TX.

What follows is the childhood story of a young kid that many can relate to. A rough home life, an angry father’s expectations, physical abuse, rebukes and reproach, and a mother who leaves her husband and son in the midst of it all. It made me thankful for the family and life I enjoyed and knew, and my heart reached out to everyone who could personally relate to Bart’s story.

A few curveballs later, and Bart found himself in the limelight at his high school. Much to his father’s chagrin, it was theatre and not touchdowns which utilized his talents best. Soon his life is focused on musical discovery, honing his craft, and performing on the road. That comes to a halt when a band manager, played by country star Trace Adkins, tells the young singer to face his pain and find it in himself to forgive.

I won’t spoil the rest, but you best bring your tissues folks. That’s all I’m gonna say.

Dennis Quaid in I Can Only Imagine
Mr. Quaid would like to respectfully invite you to watch the film. And he’s made breakfast.

Now, why was this film so successful? Variety was quick to report their amazement that it made $17.1 million in its opening weekend, compared to estimates of a $2 to $8 million opening. It opened at #3 behind the massive budget Marvel flick, Black Panther, and similarly big-budget action-adventure film Tomb Raider.

For the record, let’s note that the film didn’t slow down either. Box Office Mojo reports as of May 3rd, 2018, the film has grossed $81,468,867. The budget for this film was $7 million. Now, I’m no mathematician, but the numbers don’t lie. There is a need for inspirational films and films of faith in the world today.

In a box office full of superheroes fighting faceless armies, models and musclemen pulling off outrageous heists, car chase films that have doomsday scenarios as a subplot, and horror films based on playground games, one wonders if there is place for a real story of redemption and overcoming the hardships of a normal life. To me, I Can Only Imagine proves that we need more heartfelt films and less explosions grandeur.

Now, I am little biased. A little.

I first got interested in the film after a concert I went to in Nashville. I made the decision it was time to pursue my dreams, and I packed up my car in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and started my trek to Los Angeles. That is over 2,400 miles to drive solo. To make matters more interesting, I had no job lined up, very little cash, and a couple couches and guest beds to bounce between when I arrived there. I was scared. I was excited. I couldn’t decide which feeling was winning.

I arrived in Nashville to stay with my dad as his work took him there as our house gets listed and sold. We decided to pop around Nashville on Sunday, March 4th, 2018, and see Broadway in the evening. My dad asked if I’d like to see a show at the Ryman Auditorium (the former site of the Grand Ole Opry). He told me it was Tim Timmons, 10th Avenue North, and MercyMe.

I’m gonna be straight with you, I wasn’t much in the mood for a Christian concert. Let’s just say God and I hadn’t been seeing eye to eye on many things, and I was apprehensive about my drive ahead of me. Yet, as we checked at the ticket counter, there were two great seats on the upper balcony still available. Fate has a way of lining things up.

The show was going great, Tim Timmons and 10th Avenue North were fantastic. Then, on walks a band I didn’t recognize. At least, not until the singer talked to the audience. That was Dennis Quaid and the Sharks!

Dennis Quaid and his band at the Ryman
Excuse the phone photo, but you can see D.Q. himself playing a Strat and rockin’ the mic!
March 4th, 2018 – The Ryman

Bart Millard came on stage after Quaid’s set, and they talked about the film. They discussed the emotions, the filming, and what they hoped the movie would do for audiences. Then they showed the trailer, and I knew I had to see the movie.

Dennis Quaid and Bart Millard
Bart Millard and Dennis Quaid are seen here on the set of I Can Only Imagine
Photo courtesy of IMDB

As MercyMe took the stage and played a phenomenal show, they explained a little behind their songs, their albums, and about their lives too. They’ve got families, they still have struggles, their faith is not perfect (as no one’s can be), and they need grace to get through each day. It spoke to me. I was changed. It gave me the extra push I needed to put my big boy pants on, take a deep breath, and continue on my own journey.

Now, I’ve written too much and who knows how much you’ve read.

What you should know is, the film is powerful. The song went double platinum, and sold over 2.5 million copies, and the reason is clear as day. The man that wrote those lyrics lived a life in search of peace, in search of love. Bart’s father was the source of so much pain, and yet he was transformed by grace.

Forgiveness. Redemption. Hope. Love. Change.
The world needs these messages more than ever, and they are found in a film like I Can Only Imagine. Do yourself a favor, go see it. You’ll thank me later.

Poster for I Can Only Imagine (2018)
I Can Only Imagine; poster provided courtesy of IMDB

Ok, you made it this far? Well, how about a few more videos and some links for more info?

Check out: The I Can Only Imagine Official Website
and I Can Only Imagine Facebook Page
and MercyMe’s Twitter
and Bart Millard’s Twitter
and Bart Millard’s Instagram
and MercyMe’s Instagram
and MercyMe’s Facebook Page.

Linked out?

Watch Dennis Quaid on the Today Show:

Here’s Bart Millard’s interview on The Blaze:

Alright, now go see the movie! And if you’ve already seen it, see it again!