Holy Spirit raises family, community from depths of despair in ‘Breakthrough’ movie

by Jerry Circelli

North Texas Catholic


Marcel Ruiz and Chrissy Metz star in a scene from the movie "Breakthrough." (CNS photo/Fox) 

There are not many Hollywood movies in which the Holy Spirit plays a central role, but a new film release, “Breakthrough,” is one of them.

“Breakthrough” is the true story of a 14-year-old boy who fell through frozen Lake Sainte Louise in eastern Missouri on Jan. 19, 2015, and was submerged for 15 minutes before being rescued by a local fire department. For nearly an hour, the boy had no heartbeat. Doctors told his family there was nothing more that they could do. Enter the third divine person in the Holy Trinity.

In the Twentieth Century Fox presentation, we see the heart-wrenching scene. A mother stands over a trauma room gurney, on which her son lies cold, motionless, and pale. He has no breath and no heartbeat. Overcome with grief, she struggles to voice one last prayerful plea, “Please God, send your Holy Spirit to save my son.”

How many times have you heard the Holy Spirit mentioned in a Hollywood movie? Likely, this will be the first.

The next thing we witness is an audible beep and visible flatline that spikes upwards on a heart monitor, indicating a beat and a glimmer of hope for life.

What unfolds from this point forward in the movie is nothing short of what his doctor, a leading expert in dealing with water accident victims, termed “a bona fide miracle.”

The movie gives us a life lesson on perseverance, the power of prayer, and what can happen when an entire community comes together to enlist God’s help. We witness conflict, weaknesses that can surface in us all when we are under pressure, and enormous strength that can be found only through God in the most dire circumstances.

“Breakthrough” is much more than a story of survival. It is a life lesson on how we can draw extraordinary strength through God. It may be among the best lessons from Philippians 4:13 — I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.       

From the producers of “Miracles from Heaven,” released in 2016, the new “Breakthrough” film lives up to the name of the successful faith-based production that came before it. The movie is also a testament that in Hollywood circles — where so many movies with no moral standards are produced — wholesome Christian films still exist, are popular, and can succeed.

The movie poster for "Breakthrough"

On the surface, “Breakthrough” seems exaggerated, to the point of being unbelievable. How can a child possibly be revived after drowning in icy waters, submerged for nearly 15 minutes and no heartbeat for nearly an hour? Even his name, John Smith, seems contrived.

In reality, it’s all verifiably documented. Research on the topic reveals countless accounts of exactly what happened after the teen fell through the ice.

The “bona fide miracle” statement in the movie by Dr. Jeremy Garrett comes directly from the real doctor’s quote in a Feb. 4, 2015, USA Today newspaper story, headlined “Mom prays, dead comes back to life.”

On Feb. 5, 2015, NBC News reported “Missouri Teen in Icy Lake for 15 Minutes Makes ‘Miracle’ Recovery.” The national news cited prayers by the boy’s mother and a reference by the drowning victim, himself, who said, “I knew there were a lot of people in my corner praying for me.”

The Feb. 9, 2005, New York Daily News headlined its story “Missouri boy miraculously recovers after heart stops while submerged in icy waters.” The newspaper reported that the boy’s heart “did not start again until his mother Joyce entered the emergency room and began to loudly pray…”

That same day, the Today Show reported “‘God wanted me to live’: Missouri teen’s ‘miracle’ recovery after under water for 15 minutes.” It, too, detailed prayers by the mother and “miracle” results expressed by medical teams attending to John.

The list of news accounts goes on and on. Outside of the religion pages, God, prayer, and miracles have never been cited as much as they were during the news cycle when the Missouri boy’s story was reported in early 2015.

Well documented, but unexplainable, the movie about John Smith and his family in “Breakthrough” underscores the mysterious ways in which God works in our lives.

The movie is based on a book written in 2017 by the boy’s mother, Joyce Smith, titled The Impossible: The Miraculous Story of a Mother’s Faith and Her Child’s Resurrection

Joyce Smith is a stellar example of a great evangelizer. Single-handedly, she mobilized an entire community to pray for her son. Her book, and now this movie, should take her godly work to a new level.

“Breakthrough” will be the first feature film involving the NBA’s Golden State Warrior superstar Stephen Curry, who served as executive producer of the movie. His involvement is certain to give the film a boost. Curry is a six-time NBA All Star, a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player, and he helped his Golden State Warriors win three NBA championships. He is a master of the 3-point shot and ranks third on the NBA’s all-time 3-pointers list.

Producers said “Breakthrough” fits in perfectly with Curry’s foray into TV and film. His focus will be on three other points — faith, family, and sports — all three characterized in the new movie.

DeVon Franklin, producer of “Breakthrough” and “Miracles from Heaven,” told the North Texas Catholic that he approached Curry with the script on the latest film.

“He read it, he liked it, he said, ‘Do it. I’m in. I love this story,’” Franklin said.

“His involvement helps amplify and bring even more awareness to an already incredible story,” Franklin added. 

Breakthrough, a Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation presentation and Franklin Entertainment Production, opens Wednesday, April 17, just ahead of Easter weekend.


The North Texas Catholic caught up with John Smith, the young man who miraculously survived drowning in an icy Missouri lake in 2015, as portrayed in the new movie “Breakthrough.” At a recent red-carpet event and screening at Highland Park Village Theatre in Dallas, the survivor talked about the presence of the Holy Spirit in his hospital room and the reason he thinks he is still alive. Watch the interview:

Also, see the North Texas Catholic interview with faith-based film producer DeVon Franklin, who brought two “miracle” films to the big screen — “Miracles from Heaven” in 2016 and now “Breakthrough.” He talks about “making the case for God,” and his latest involvement in the film with NBA star Stephen Curry. This video also includes a discussion with actress Chrissy Metz, who gives a compelling performance as John Smith’s mother in “Breakthrough.”

Watch the interviews:

In his third interview, NTC contributor Jerry Circelli talks with Pastor Jason Noble about the most important thing in ministering to those in need.

There are not many Hollywood movies in which the Holy Spirit plays a central role, but a new film release, “Breakthrough,” is one of them.