Promised A Miracle (1988) is a made for television adaptation of Larry Parker’s cautionary memoir We Let Our Son Die. The film was directed by veteran television provocateur Stephen Gyllenhaal who brings those tragic events of 1973 to life with a compassionate eye. Promised A Miracle stars Judge Reinhold and Rosanna Arquette as Larry and “Lucky” Parker with Giovanni Ribisi as their doomed ten year old son Wes.
The film, like Parker’s memoir, positions itself as a cautionary tale regarding the practice and belief in “faith healing”. In 1973 the Parker family believed that the eldest child, Wes, had been cured of his diabetes by divine intervention when he was blessed during a service. The power of faith was what would cure Wes so the Parkers abandoned all traditional medicines in favor of prayer, exorcists, and signs from God.
The thing that is immediately striking about Promised A Miracle is that the Parker’s fundamentalist Church is treated as not only culpable in Wes’ death, but functions very much like a cult. In Gyllenhaal’s hands the Church applies enormous pressure on the Parkers to trust in “faith healing” in the form of coercion, manipulation and deceit. When Promised A Miracle was made “satanic panic” was just beginning to subside, so painting any Christian organization as cult-like was very controversial.
Reinhold is surprisingly affecting in a dramatic role while Arquette gives a powerfully vulnerable performance. The acting in Promised A Miracle is top notch but that doesn’t negate some of the clunky dialogue that tends to creep in. Television films of this era all seem to suffer from an overabundance of expositional dialogue that, when viewed without the original commercial breaks, grows rather infuriating.
Gyllenhaal directs his actors with a real sympathy for the characters, opting not to condemn them or their faith. Gyllenhaal’s target is the institution that directs the Parkers’ faith. To this end, many of the interiors of the church are shot with wide lenses which give the sermons a sense of intimidation and theatricality, juxtaposing the close two-shots of the domestic spaces that Reinhold and Arquette usually occupy. It’s a simple trick but it does wonders to negate vilifying the Parkers who are themselves victims after a fashion.
Promised A Miracle is available to stream for free on YouTube but acquiring a copy of the film is another matter. Collectors will be disappointed to learn that this above average television classic has only ever been released on home video once on the VHS format. There has never been an official DVD or Blu-Ray release of Promised A Miracle which is a pity because it is a good little movie that could benefit from a restoration.