Movie Review: I Can Only Imagine

I Can Only Imagine is based on the true story behind the hit song “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me.  The movie is a gripping account of the power of forgiveness and how it transforms lives.

At an early age, Bart Milland uses music to escape from his abusive father. When he is injured in a high school football accident, Bart signs up for a music class that is the start of his musical career. After graduating, Bart joins up with the band that will become Mercy Me. Through his journey to forgive his father and come to terms with his painful childhood, we see him change from a bitter, insecure man, to one who is forever changed by God. After his reconciliation with his father, Bart writes the song that continues to inspire millions.

Since the majority of Christian films on the market today have a tacky plot and are poorly acted, the quality of this movie was a refreshing surprise. The plot was relatable and the acting was believable.

There are some familiar faces in the cast. Dennis Quaid (The Parent Trap, Soul Surfer) plays Bart’s father. The band’s manager, Scott Brickell, is played by country music singer, Trace Atkins. There are other faces from War Room, October Baby, and several other popular Christian movies.

My personal favorite was the actor who played Bart – J Michael Finley. This is his first movie, but he has played in several shows on Broadway, including “Les Miserables”. Interestingly enough, Finley grew up going to Mercy Me concerts. His voice is stunning, and he, in my opinion, does a much better job of singing “I Can Only Imagine” than Mercy Me does. I have to admit, it’s disappointing hearing their version after hearing Finley sing it.

I Can Only Imagine is rated PG for violence. Although there is little violence seen, it is talked about. Throughout the movie, we see Bart’s father pushing him to the ground, breaking a plate over Bart’s head, and throwing a gallon of milk at him. The emotional abuse is intense, and could potentially be scary for younger children or people with a background of physical and emotional abuse.

Surprisingly, there is none of the immodesty or sexual innuendo that is so common among films that are marketed as Christian. There is no language or swearing.

The film follows the real story fairly well, although there are a few discrepancies in the timeline. Bart was three when his mother left, instead of a preteen as pictured in the movie. His father died before he graduated from high school, not months afterwards. Aside from some minor details like that, the spirit of the story seems to ring true.

There are two aspects of the real story that weren’t shown in the movie that I find interesting. First is the inspiration behind the song. Although this is alluded to in the movie, it isn’t shown in much detail. At his father’s funeral, Bart’s grandmother said, “I can only imagine what your dad’s seeing now.” The phrase resonated with Bart, and he wrote it all over his journal. When he sat down to write a song one day, he flipped through his journal and noticed that there wasn’t a page without the phrase “I can only imagine.”

The second thing is that Bart’s father was not always an abusive man. He was once normal and kind. However, while at work one day, he was run down by a semi. After waking from an eight-week coma, he was a completely different person. It was after this that he became physically and emotionally abusive.

This film is one I would recommend to a variety of audiences. Aside from the mild violence, it is completely safe. The message of forgiveness is one we all need to be reminded of.

This is a film that I would love to see again. I appreciate when a movie leaves me thinking, and this one definitely falls in that category. It does well at presenting forgiveness as a choice instead of just an emotion. Often we forget that we have a choice to forgive – even when we don’t feel it. “I Can Only Imagine” challenged me to look at forgiveness in a different way.



Rhonda Mast Rhonda Mast has an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. That may be why she knows the proper fencing stance, spends countless hours on YouTube watching videos on tatting and cranberry harvesting techniques, completely covers one wall of her room with her bookshelves, understands 19th century boxing cant, reads the dictionary, knows the proper way to curtsy and tie a cravat, and has invested a small fortune in candle making supplies. It’s also why you should never ask her why algebra and ancient literature are practical classes for high schoolers. She routinely distributes vitamins, fashion advice, natural beauty products, and math tutoring to her seven siblings. She’s developed a love for adoption, foster care, and a whole host of little boys in Mexico, although she has a number of health issues that slow her down more than she likes. She is learning blind trust in God and complete surrender to His will.

2 thoughts on “Movie Review: I Can Only Imagine

  1. This definitely sounds like a movie I would enjoy! 🙂 Thanks for sharing and for your honest opinion about it. 😉


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