Directed by Brian Dannelly
Starring Mandy Moore, Jena Malone and Macaulay Culkin
The tagline for this film is “Heaven Help Us!” I agree . . . but I’m not sure the film does.
I don’t think the creators of “Saved” intended to poke fun at Christianity . . . just at Christians. But can we blame them? Gandhi himself looked into Christianity and concluded, “I like their Christ, but I don’t like their Christians.” The sad truth about the movie “Saved” is, the film doesn’t represent Christ at all, but it very accurately represents America’s perception of Christians.
It’s interesting to see the polarized reactions to this film. In general, people outside the Christian community seem to be amused by the film. “I sent my kid to one of those Christian schools and it was just like that,” one reviewer contended. “That’s exactly the way those Jesus lovers are, condescending and hypocritical.”
The Christian community, in general, is not amused. I guess the joke isn’t so funny when the joke’s on us.
The film’s setting is an almost all-white Baptist high school where an elite group of self-righteous Bible-thumpers is the popular crowd, and a handful of “sinners” are the outcasts. Our introduction to the school is its opening rally introducing us to Pastor Skip, whose hokey gangsta approach, “Are you down with the G.O.D.!” works on this group of Jesus freaks. I wish I could say this mockery of a Jesus pep rally was ludicrous, if I hadn’t witnessed actual events like this myself numerous times.
The “good guys” in the film are the rebels who don’t buy into the whole Jesus thing. Mary (Jena Malone) has a vision from Jesus to “do anything” to save her friend Dean from being gay. So Mary has sex with him, hoping to cure him from his gayness, only to find herself pregnant and feeling very alone. But she is befriended by two “non-believers,” Cassandra, a Jew, alienated for her rebellious attitude and unbelief, and Roland (Macaulay Culkin), the handicapped brother of the head Jesus freak Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore).
The “bad guys” are – you guessed it—the people who are supposedly completely sold-out to Jesus. Tammy Faye . . . I mean, Hilary Faye is the leader of the self-righteous cliché of Jesus freaks. She parades the halls talking about Jesus loudly, prays publicly for the less fortunate, and condemns sinners, constantly reminding them of their need to accept Jesus into their heart.
So is the film anti-Christian or not?
We would gain a little insight if we started watching the film from the ending credits. In the credits, we’d see the special thanks to George H. Smith for his book, “Atheism: The Case Against God.” Ironically, the film isn’t “anti-God.” It’s just anti “Jesus-freak.” The film actually ends with the main character Mary concluding, “Life is not this random. There had to be a God or something out there. Something inside. You just had to find it.” The film seems to convey that there is something or someone out there watching out for us, but it’s probably not anything that these Bible Thumping Baptists push on you. “You just have to find it” yourself, a popular notion in the new millennium. “God is okay—but just don’t tell me I have to go to a certain church, read the Bible or give up sleeping with my boyfriend.” Mandy Moore summarized it well when she talked about her role in the film. “I have faith. It only becomes cultish when people start to think that their way is the only way. I feel bad for Hilary Faye—her whole identity is her relationship with Jesus.” (Mandy Moore, Teen Vogue, May 2004, p. 118.)
I think the main reason I disliked the film was the absence of even one redeeming Christian character. Everyone in the film who was “committed to Jesus” was self-righteous and a hypocrite, something Jesus himself didn’t stand for. The only likable characters in the film were those who didn’t buy into the whole Jesus thing. Even Pastor Skip, who had a few good moments, lacked integrity in crucial scenes of the film. Not only was he in an inappropriate relationship with Mary’s mother, he cast judgment on others who were sinners just like him. One such moment was when a group of gay students tried to come to the prom and Pastor Skip didn’t allow them in. “There’s no room for moral ambiguity here,” he declared, living a secret life that was just as morally ambiguous.
In addition, this film bearing the title “Saved” lacked any glimpses of anyone truly becoming saved. The rally in the beginning of the film had a moment where Pastor Skip simply asks, “Does anyone need to be saved?” No Gospel message, no sign of a changed heart or a changed life, but “do you want to come forward and be saved . . .” whatever that means.
I guess if I had to choose something positive about the film, it would be that it was a great modern-day picture of the Pharisee’s. Hilary was always quick to announce someone’s need for Jesus. When told to show compassion to Mary, she engaged in a drive-by exorcism, trying to remove the evil from her. Earlier in the film Hilary publicized Dean’s homosexuality on fliers throughout the school, calling a “prayer meeting” for him, a front for her own self glorification. And at the end of the film, she was so mad at the group of “sinners” that were ruining her school, she secretly vandalized the school attempting to get Mary and the others in trouble, perhaps like the Biblical account of the religious leaders who framed the adulteress woman in John chapter 8.
Despite strong performances and decent filmmaking, I can’t say I enjoyed the film. I wouldn’t show it to my kids, and I wouldn’t recommend that youth workers show it to their students. The films poor generalizations and inappropriate content outweigh any redeeming lessons on “how not to act.”
But it is probably a film youth workers should see, just to see how we, as youth leaders and Christians, are perceived.
Three Simple Questions (with Answers You May Be Looking for):
- What are some of the messages or themes you observed in this movie?
- How do you suppose we—as serious Christ-followers—should react to this movie?
- How can we move from healthy, Bible-based opinions about this movie to actually living out those opinions?
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.