This week saw the UK premiere of 'The Perfect Wave'. Starring Clint Eastwood's son Scott, Rachel Hendrix and Cheryl Ladd, it tells the incredible story of Ian McCormack, aka the 'Jellyfish Man'.
As a young man from New Zealand, Ian loved to surf but during one fatal night dive, he was stung five times by a box jellyfish. Ian told me that it is "known by the locals as the 'Invisible'. This is the second deadliest creature known to man and a sting from one means certain death."
The film tells the story of how Ian, along with his best friend, travelled throughout Australia, Southeast Asia and Africa, looking for the 'perfect wave'. It then focuses on how Ian met Annabel and abandoned his friend for 'a new quest of love and ecstasy'. But their relationship broke down through his jealousy and Ian chased her to an island to try and win her back. It is during that time that he joined some others on that fateful night dive…
After being stung, Ian struggled to get help to get him to hospital, but during that time, he described to me that as he "began to slip towards unconsciousness I heard a quiet voice say, 'Son, if you close your eyes you will never wake again.'"
Ian describes the horrific journey to hospital: "Just when I was losing all hope, and knew I had entered yet another stage of death as necrosis had begun to set into my bone marrow, my life flashed before me and I was confronted with the question 'Is there life after death?'
"I saw a picture of my mother, the only Christian in our family at the time, praying for me, saying, 'Ian, no matter how far you are from God, if you will but cry out to God from your heart, God will hear you and God will forgive you.' I later found out that right at that moment God had told my mother I was dying and that she should pray for me, which she faithfully did."
Ian did cry out to God in that moment. When he was finally taken to hospital he was pronounced dead and it was in the morgue that he 'woke' up, finding himself outside of his body. He describes that, while clinically dead, lying on a slab he found himself standing upright in the darkness:
"As I stood there I began to sense that this wasn't just a place of physical darkness but there was a pervading evil all around. I wondered where on earth I was and suddenly from my right a voice yelled, 'Shut up!' Another screamed, 'You deserve to be here!' while yet another shouted that I was 'in Hell'.
"I thought to myself, 'I thought I had prayed' and at that moment a radiant beam of light shone down through the darkness and lifted me up, translating me into a brilliant pure white light. It seemed to be coming from a circular opening above me – when I went through that I was inside a narrow tunnel. At the end I could see the source of the light. It was awesome and as I looked at it a wave broke away from the source and moved along the tunnel to greet me."
Ian goes on to describe how he was invited into heaven, but was then given a choice as to whether he wanted to come back to earth or not. Everything in him chose to be with the light, but then he was reminded of his mother, and how she would not have known that he had prayed to God to be saved before he died. So he chose to go back:
"After I had decided I wanted to return God again told me I must see things from His perspective from now on. Looking back once more I saw my family as well as thousands of other people. I asked who they were and God said that if I didn't return many of them would not get a chance to hear about Him. I said I didn't love them but loved my mother and wished to return to her but God said 'I love them, and I want them to come to know Me.' I then asked how I could return down the tunnel once again to my hospital bed. He told me to tilt my head and feel the liquid drain from my eye."
Ian was immediately back in his physical body 15 minutes after being pronounced dead and, when he moved, imagine the reaction he got from the person who discovered he was alive again! Since the experience in 1983, Ian has been in full-time ministry – simply telling his story wherever he is asked to.
The film 'The Perfect Wave' dramatically retells Ian's story and was shot in South Africa, Australia, Bali, Mauritius and New Zealand under the direction of Bruce Macdonald and Emmy Award winning producer Bryan Hickox, supported by local South African producer Craig Jones and David Selvan.
Whether you are doubtful of such death experience stories or lap them up, all those working behind the scenes of the film said they have known of other stories of people coming back from death and had no problem accepting the details of Ian's account.
Bruce Macdonald spearheaded the making of this film, and describes how it came about:
"I first heard Ian McCormack speak when I was 24 years old, his story intrigued me greatly… Years later, under some duress, I watched a Christian film called 'Fireproof'. My view of Christian films was that they were cheesy and lacked good production values. But while watching this one, I was drawn into it, and the power of the story stirred me. It created an inner spark that I believe was calling me to do a film that would impact people everywhere. But what story? How?
"Several weeks later, by chance, the name Ian McCormack was mentioned and the penny dropped: here was the idea, and this was the film to make, as it combined my love for surfing and for God. I contacted Ian, there was an instant rapport, and we started the journey that has culminated in our film 'The Perfect Wave'."
Bruce Macdonald explains how he and the writer focused on four pillars that they felt would draw a broad audience in: a mother's love, a young man's love of surfing, that man's first love and God's love.
They wanted to create a film with global appeal, so needed international stars. "I wanted mid-Atlantic American accents and I wanted to find real surfers. As I did not want to do a film with stunt doubles, every aspect needed to be authentic and believable. That made the lead actor Scott Eastwood an easy choice."
Obviously Ian has been retelling his story for years now but how did it feel to see it 'come to life' on a big screen? "It was exciting to see my testimony get to a big screen. But very weird to actually see how my story was portrayed through a director's personal lens. I was perhaps always going to be the worst critic, but I have to say God's hand is definitely upon it."
'The Perfect Wave' was shown on Monday 17 March in Harlow's Cineworld, and 220 people attended. After the movie Ian held a Q&A session, during which he made an appeal and two people responded.
Malcolm Down, from Authentic Media (who will be distributing the DVD in the UK), had this to say: 'From our (Authentic) perspective it was fabulous to see a movie that we will be distributing on the big screen. Talking to local organiser and New Frontiers church leader Ben Clark, we think this event could provide a catalyst for other churches to either put on similar events in the future or host screening events in their own churches.
"For this reason Authentic will be holding back the DVD release until August, giving churches the opportunity to host their own 'Perfect Wave movie nights' prior to the DVD release."
If your church is interested in doing this please contact Malcolm directly: firstname.lastname@example.org