1 STAR - DISTURBING
Satire by its very purpose is disrespectful of its subject. So to criticize Brian Dannelly’s film “Saved!” for being disrespectful of conservative Christianity is to miss the point of his work. Based on his own experience of being raised in a Christian high school that would not allow dancing and therefore had a puppet show instead of a prom, Dannelly wants to expose the many faults of such a legalistic form of Christian faith. But he does so without grace or charm. Like the legalists he is ridiculing, his work lacks the humility and grace that could have made it an effective instrument for change.
For satire to be truly effective, it cannot manipulate the characters in such a way that they are all caricatures of the agenda of the author. This technique not only offends the conservative Christians he is portraying, but it also undermines whatever understanding others might have gained about this largest demographic group of people in the United States. With 42% of Americans claiming to be Evangelical Christians and 82% having experienced a “born again” moment, understanding both the strengths and weaknesses of this group is a worthy goal of any author or filmmaker. But this is not accomplished in “Saved!”
Instead, what is shown is a Christian high school in which there is no admirable, mature, thoughtful or affirming Christian adult impacting the lives of any student. The students are on their own. Just as in William Golding’s novel “Lord of the Flies,” where the children had no adult to guide them in understanding and confronting their immaturity, competition, cruelty and fears, the teenagers of “American Eagle Christian High School” have no one watching over their lives. Like sheep without a shepherd, their many sorrows are caused by their lack of any authentic Christian examples in their adults.
Trying to find their way in this sea of inauthentic and hypocritical Christianity, the “heroes” of the film, predictably reject this counterfeit faith and turn instead to an authentic rebellion that resonates with any one faced with such an off-balanced choice.
One such heroine is Cassandra (Eva Amurri) who is the only Jewish person in the school. Although in her alone moments she chokes on her cigarette, obviously feeling its unhealthy effects, she nevertheless engages in this rebellion and encourages others to join her. This is indicative of the problem with choosing to simply rebel against what is wrong with Christian faith. Though correct in rebelling against the inauthenticity, Cassandra doesn’t have the wisdom to know how to engage in mature confrontation rather than self-harming rebellion. Confirming the old adage that she is “right in what she opposes, but wrong in what she proposes,” she needs a mature, thoughtful, authentic teacher, coach, principal or pastor to guide her.
Instead, the Pastor/Principal of the school, Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan) is a troubled, adulterous and immature person whose theology is simplistic and who lacks any wisdom or gifting to help others. Superficially caring for a whole school of vulnerable and trusting students, this pastor is reprehensible as a role model and unlike the mature Christian leaders in the vast majority of our schools and churches.
There is much that needs to be confronted in the lives of those who represent Jesus Christ in education today. To do so with humility and grace, “speaking the truth in love,” is a responsibility that requires mature faith and compassionate role models in teachers. When done with such preparation and love it will challenge and help us all to become the persons we were meant to be.
- When Jesus came, he confronted the conservative, legalistic religious people of his day and said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are!” What do you believe Jesus would say to Pastor Skip?
- It is obvious that Mary’s (Jena Malone) understanding of both sexual morality and sexual identity was inaccurate as well as incomplete when she thought having sex with Dean (Chad Faust) would change his homosexuality. What would you suggest the ideal sex-education class would teach – and at what age?
- When Mary becomes pregnant and listens to the reading of the Christmas story, she muses about the possibility that Jesus’ mother Mary could have “made up” the virgin birth story. Since Joseph himself thought this might be true, it took an angel coming to him and assuring him of its veracity for him to accept it. What has convinced you of the truthfulness of Mary’s testimony?
- The nature of all subcultures is that they create ways of talking and thinking which have a tendency to be superficial in understanding. How have the terms “Saved” and “Born Again” become misunderstood in both conservative Christian and non-Christian subgroups?