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The Other Side of Heaven is a 2001 American adventure drama film written and directed by Mitch Davis, based on John H. Groberg's non-fiction book In the Eye of the Storm. The film stars Christopher Gorham as Groberg and Anne Hathaway as Jean Groberg (née Sabin).[2][3]

The Other Side of Heaven
DVD cover
Directed by Mitch Davis
Produced by
Screenplay by Mitch Davis
Based on In the Eye of the Storm
by John H. Groberg
Music by Kevin Kiner
Cinematography Brian J. Breheny
Edited by Steven Ramirez
  • 3Mark Entertainment
  • Molen/Garbett Productions
Distributed by Excel Entertainment Group
Release date
  • December 14, 2001 (2001-12-14)
Running time
113 minutes
Country United States
  • English
  • Tongan
Budget $7 million
Box office $4.8 million[1]

The film is about Groberg's experiences as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) in the Tongan islands in the 1950s and is based on the book that he wrote about his real experiences, In the Eye of the Storm. The film focuses on Groberg's adventurous experiences and trials while he serves as a missionary in the South Pacific. While portraying these events, the film discusses little LDS theology and focuses instead on the Mormon missionary experience.



During the 1950s, John Groberg, (Christopher Gorham) who grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho, is called on a mission to Tonga. There, he will spend three years as Elder Groberg teaching about the LDS Church. His first adventures are just getting there, including a short time in a jail in Fiji.

When Elder Groberg gets to Tonga, he is sent to a group of remote islands 800 miles from the mission's headquarters. Before he leaves on this last leg he is partnered with a Tongan, Feki (Joe Falau), who speaks English. However, Elder Groberg finds that what he has learned of the Tongan language is severely deficient and so he studies intensely to become proficient. He also learns the culture.

Throughout the film, he has conversations by letters with his fiancé, Jean (Anne Hathaway). Each of them speaks the letters so that the audience knows what they are saying to each other. Another man at home is trying to propose to Jean but the special "deal" they have is very much part of their conversation.

Not long afterward, successes become evident among the people, and Elder Groberg sleeps one night without protection on his feet. It is a painful reminder that he must listen when he is instructed himself. Elder Groberg tells his fiancé that she should send her suitor to him for the same lesson.

The island's minister tells the people not to listen to the missionaries. Later, he even sends three men to beat up the missionaries. However, one of them, Tomasi, had been baptized a Mormon and so Elder Groberg and Feki were spared. Tomasi later begins coming to the meetings and is chosen by Elder Groberg to be one of his counselors to the local congregations.

A local young woman, at the behest of her family, attempts to seduce Elder Groberg. She wants "a half-white baby." She eventually relents because he is saving himself for Jean, the young woman he left back home and communicates to him by letters.

While traveling at sea, Elder Groberg and his two counselors are caught in a large storm. He is washed overboard and fears for his life. He is later rescued and returned to Fiji.

A hurricane hits the island. Many trees are stripped bare, homes are destroyed, and many people are killed. The remaining leaders have people gather up what food and fresh water is available so that rationing can begin. However, the supply boat takes much longer than anticipated. The inhabitants of the island begin dying of starvation and dehydration. Elder Groberg is himself close to death when the island's minister gives him the last of his food because the minister is old and Elder Groberg is young. When the supply boat does arrive, the minister is found to have died and is given an honorable funeral.

Elder Groberg returns one day to his hut to find that his mission president has come to visit the island. He finds the president and introduces himself. The president is not very happy because he has never heard from Elder Groberg. When Elder Groberg mentions some of the things that are going on, the president is shocked to find out there are branches, leaders and even meeting places built for the Latter-day Saints]. After giving Elder Groberg a strong lecture about the discipline of the church, which is a "House of Order," he leaves to spend the night in the village and leaves the next day.

Elder Groberg and his counselors spend the entire night filling out the forms the president stressed the day before should be done. In the morning, Elder Groberg runs to the beach where the president is about to get on a boat and hands him a large batch of hand-typed files with all that had been accomplished on the island and the other outer islands. Neither of them had gotten much sleep. Elder Groberg is assigned to send in the paperwork for a new chapel and then adds, "Since it will be built with bricks, we should probably purchase the land."

The president tries to have Elder Groberg's mission extended, but the request is denied. A telegram soon arrives, telling Elder Groberg to leave the island as soon as possible and then go to New Zealand to receive transportation back to Idaho. Soon, the departure of Elder Groberg occurs and is depicted. He has made an impact on most of the islanders, and they come to see him off.

His trip home is less eventful than the trip to get to Tonga. He finally shows up at home in Idaho. He and Jean get married and then spend their honeymoon on an island of their own.




The Other Side of Heaven is based on John Groberg's book entitled In the Eye of the Storm. Deseret Book, who owned the rights to the book, was hesitant to sell the rights for a movie due to concerns about how the LDS Church would be portrayed in the film. The fact that the producer, the director, and many of the filming crew were Latter-day Saints alleviated this concern. Deseret Book eventually sold the rights to the book allowing the film to be made.

Gerald R. Molen, the producer, had worked on several notable films, including The Color Purple, Rain Man, Schindler's List, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. He won an Academy Award for his work in Schindler's List and is a Latter-day Saint. Mitch Davis, the director, had worked on several Disney films before this film. He won a CAMIE Award for this film, which was shared with Gerald R. Molen and several film crew members. He is a Latter-day Saint.


The title of the film was changed from In the Eye of the Storm to The Other Side of Heaven to avoid confusion with The Perfect Storm, which had been released a year earlier.


Gorham was cast as Groberg because of his ability to balance the seriousness of the role with lighter, more comedic moments. He learned how to speak the Tongan parts with a flawless accent.[citation needed]

Hathaway was cast as Jean Groberg (née Sabin) in the film, her parts being shot towards the end of the production. She immediately began working on The Princess Diaries after completing work on this film. The film was shot on location in New Zealand, even the opening scenes set at Brigham Young University.

Polynesian actors were used for most of the roles. The less experienced ones relied heavily on the more experienced ones. The cast and crew enjoyed a great amount of cooperation from locals. When the film crew arrived on the Island of Rarotonga (capital of the Cook Islands), the Prime Minister welcomed them by gathering all of the religious ministers of the community for a prayer meeting. They prayed that the film crew would be blessed with good weather. The photographs in the opening scenes are of the actual people portrayed in the film, provided by Groberg.

The real Groberg, his wife Jean, one of his grandsons, and one of his daughters with her husband can be seen at the very end during the wedding scene. As the camera pans from right to left, his daughter, then her husband, then the grandson, then Groberg are taking a picture of the couple, and his wife is next to him clapping.


During the opening dance scene, extras were hired from almost every swing club in New Zealand. Gorham and Hathaway did most of their own dancing. Hathaway was kicked in the head in one of the takes and was nearly knocked out.

The scenes where Groberg learns the Tongan language were altered slightly for dramatic effect. He did isolate himself and study the Bible in both English and Tongan and went without food and water for several days. However, he spent time in a bush, rather than on a beach.[citation needed]

Groberg and Feki's hut was recreated from photographs, an authentic replica of the one that they actually lived in.

Groberg really did have rats eat the soles of his feet while he slept. When he awoke that morning, they split open, and the members of the branch helped treat his feet. He spent time outside with his feet pointed up at the sun in order to sear the soles of his feet with the heat from the sun. Later in life, he was diagnosed with skin cancer on the soles of his feet due to exposure to the sun. His doctor was puzzled about how he could have exposed the soles of his feet to the sun. Groberg responded to his doctor, "Have I got a story to tell you..."

A boy really did fall from a mango tree. He was on his way to a church meeting on Tuesday. He climbed the tree because it had very good mangoes. He fell out of the tree and was knocked out. When he awoke on Thursday after being treated by Groberg, he was worried that he was late to his church meeting.[citation needed]

The real Feki's father was not a drinking man, nor did he beat his wife. Liberties were taken in order to combine several characters. This particular alteration was done with the permission of the real Feki's children.[citation needed]


The first cut of the film was 135 minutes and the final one was 113 minutes.[4]


The film's release was delayed for the release of the other Disney film, The Princess Diaries, also starring Hathaway. It was hoped that the success of that film would garner a following for Hathaway and bring in extra earnings for this film. Disney took part only in the DVD release, which was distributed by Excel Entertainment Group.

Box officeEdit

The Other Side of Heaven opened theatrically on December 14, 2001 in two venues, earning $55,765 in its opening weekend, ranking number 41 in the domestic box office.[5] By the end of its run, almost a year later, on December 2, 2002, the film grossed $4,720,371 domestically and $39,643 overseas for a worldwide total of $4,760,014.[1]

Critical receptionEdit

The film received negative reviews from critics. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports a 29% rating based on 42 reviews, with an average rating of 4.6 out of 10. The site's consensus states: "The Other Side of Heaven preaches to the converted; others will likely consider it simplistic, even offensive, propaganda."[6] On Metacritic, the film has a 38 out of 100 rating based on 16 critics, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews."[7]


External linksEdit