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Sunrise in Heaven

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Sunrise in Heaven Movie Poster Image
Lifelong love story with tragic events is rooted in faith.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 85 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Strong Christian messages about miracles, God's infinite power, the comfort and value of prayer. Promotes family, integrity, perseverance, and acceptance of death. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Well-intentioned characters make some mistakes (lying, abandoning faith), then learn important lessons about hope, integrity, compassion, acceptance of death of a loved one, power of prayer.

Violence

A car accident and its aftermath, with bloody wounds. Man is severely injured, near death for much of the film -- he's paralyzed and injuries are apparent. A scene in which the presence of a gun feels threatening.

Sex

Kissing.

Language

"Pee."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Sunrise in Heaven, a drama with romance, recounts the real-life tale of Jan and Steve Hurst, beginning with their young romance in the 1960s, then integrates significant events that changed their lives more than 40 years later. Based on Jan Hurst's book His Sunrise, My Sunset, the movie tackles complex moral issues -- end of life decisions, deception, a domineering parent, and the changing relationships between men and women over decades. An auto accident and its bloody aftermath are shown. Scenes in a hospital deal with a man's severe injuries and the family's fight for his survival. The Hurst's journey is anchored by faith. Religious principles and their relationship with God and Jesus provide comfort, wisdom, and acceptance of life's challenges during difficult times. Best for faith-based audiences. 

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What's the story?

SUNRISE IN HEAVEN introduces Jan Nichols (Caylee Cowan) and Steve Hurst (Travis Burns) as teens in love in 1964. Steve is stationed at Vandenberg Air Force base, where Jan's dad, Jim Nichols (Corbin Bersen), is an officer. Jim, rigid and overbearing, has strong objections to his young daughter dating a military man. Jan's and Steve's early romance as well as their battle with her dad at a time when women were "obedient" is intercut throughout with the aftermath of a tragedy that happens more than four decades later (the adult Jan and Steve played by Bonnie Burroughs and Randy Crowder). Still very much in love with Jan, Steve suffers a spinal cord injury in an auto accident. Jan and their two grown daughters (Erin Bethea) and (Jenn Gotzon Chandler) must confront the reality of Steve's paralysis and his reliance on life support. Over the years, when having to make critical decisions, the family is guided by Robert, a wise pastor (played by Aaron D. Alexander as a young man and Alex Morris as the older Robert). The two time periods portrayed in the life of one couple reflect their faith in God and their enduring love. 

Is it any good?

The Hurst's story reveals a deep commitment to family and spirituality, but despite its earnest messages, there's no escaping the predictability and inherent melodrama. Sunrise in Heaven is an unambiguously religious movie; prayers are offered in many scenes, and most characters are true believers. Corbin Bernsen does his best to bring a one-dimensional bully to life, but the resolution of his story is unbelievable and far too easy. The many solid performances lose their impact when the actors work alongside others who are unpolished or overwrought. Still, the movie should appeal to faith-based audiences and reinforce their heartfelt values.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can discuss the changing roles of women as portrayed in Sunrise in Heaven. How is Jan a reminder of the evolution of women after her teen years? Would it surprise you to learn that Jan Hurst earned a PhD as her daughters grew up?

  • Was it easy to accommodate the frequent transitions in the movie from 1964 to present day? How did the filmmakers assist in those transitions? Think about music, colors used, settings. Find out the meaning of "establishing shot." How does this help the viewer move from time period to time period?

  • How is the idea of faith explored in the film? Do you think this movie is specifically Christian in its messages, or in what ways might it have resonance for other religions as well?

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