Movie Review – I can only Imagine

PLAYING TO AN EMPTY HALL: Bart Millard, played by J Michael Finley, strokes the ivories in anticipation of finding that one song that will launch his band, MercyMe, into the Christian rock stratosphere in the movie, ‘I Can Only Imagine’ 

Message of forgiveness inspires popular Christian song

I Can Only Imagine, with Dennis Quaid, J Michael Finlay, Brody Rose and Madeline Carroll, directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin as the Erwin Brothers.


A CHRISTIAN-THEMED film with virtually unknown actors did not exactly motivate me to visit the movies but, after watching I Can Only Imagine I felt differently.

For those who do not know (I would be included among them) I Can Only Imagine is also the best-selling Christian song by American band MercyMe.

The story revolves around the Millard family who have had severe problems since the father, Arthur (Dennis Quaid), stopped playing American football following a traffic accident. In his bitterness he teaches his son, Bart (Brody Rose as the young Bart and J Michael Finley as the adult Bart) not to dream but to do things “that pay the bills”.

After one particularly torrid evening Bart is taken by his mother, Adele (Tanya Clarke), to a Christian summer camp where the young boy meets Shannon (Taegen Burns as the young Shannon and Madeline Carroll as the adult Shannon) and the two become fast friends. When he returns from camp his mother has left the family home and Bart now has to contend alone with his father.

Trying to appease his father Bart tries out for football but, following a ferocious tackle, suffers an injury and is told he cannot play football again. Needing an elective subject at college, although very interested in pop music, Bart only reluctantly takes up choir, as this is not the style of music he enjoys. He is assigned the job of soundman, but while singing alone at the sound desk, his teacher hears Bart’s voice and gives him the leading role in the college’s production of Oklahoma.

His performance is applauded and Bart finds his calling. His relationship with Shannon also blossoms and he starts attending church.

But after another violent encounter with his father, Bart decides he cannot tolerate his father’s abusive behaviour any longer, and so leaves home and ends up with a band that has limited success as a touring Christian rock band. After many attempts, Bart also finally persuades a respected music producer to watch them perform. He spends time with them on tour but eventually tells Bart they haven’t yet found their sound.

Estranged from Shannon and despondent about any future in a music career, Bart returns home but is unsure why he bothered when all the old resentment comes flooding back.

However, when he discovers his father has cancer Bart’s opinions change, and the act of forgiveness, although difficult, becomes his focus and I Can Only Imagine is the result.

This is a truly beautiful movie that should have you phoning your father for a quick chat, especially if you have not spoken for a long time.

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