March 4, 2007 -- I've been hearing about the movie “Saved!” ever since it was released in 2004, but hadn't managed to see it until recently. The film's release was accompanied by the usual hoopla that surrounds any film about Christianity, complete with people ranting about how good, or evil, the film is without ever having seen it. I think the hype on both sides of this issue was overblown. This film is essentially the same as scores of other movies about teenagers in high school. It has all of the well-worn character types. It is very much like “Mean Girls” with a religious spin. If you are looking for any meaningful insights into what it means to be a Christian in the 21st Century, you won't find them here. All you'll find in this movie is the same view of Evangelical Christians as you'll find in most Hollywood movies: they are narrow-minded bigots.
The setting of “Saved!” is in a Christian school, American Eagle Christian High School. The main character is a naive girl, Mary (played by Jena Malone of “Pride and Prejudice”) who is trying her best to do God's will. When her boyfriend tells her that he has discovered he is gay, Mary decides to try to straighten him out. She has a vision that she should have sex with her boyfriend. She ends up pregnant, and her boyfriend is sent off to one of those Christian camps where they try to reform homosexuals. Mary becomes an outcast at school. She begins to question her faith. Mary joins the other school outcasts, including the school's lone Jew, Cassandra (Eva Amurri of “The Banger Sisters”), wheelchair-bound Roland (Macaulay Culkin of “Party Monster”) and a minister's skateboarding son, Patrick (Patrick Fugit of “Almost Famous”).
The outcasts are tormented by the school's queen bitch, Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore of “A Walk to Remember”) who lords it over everyone at school. Hilary Faye is pretty, popular, and rules the school with an iron fist. She also happens to be an avowed born-again Christian. Despite this, she has no compassion for most people, especially those she views as low-life sinners, including gay people and girls who get pregnant outside of marriage. Hilary Faye, of course, is a sinner like everyone else, but feels she's nonetheless better than everyone else. Hilary Faye, minus the religion, is the type of person you find in most films about high school. There is probably one in just about every school at any given time.
The movie makes the argument that even though a person believes in Christianity, they may behave worse than people who don't believe in any religion. This is, unfortunately, true, and so is the opposite. Hilary Faye represents a type of true believer who uses their faith as a club to beat up other people. These kinds of people, and there are a lot of them, will even go so far as to use Christianity as a political tool to deny whole groups of people equal rights, such as the right to marry. They can do this with a clear conscience because they think they are better than the people they are beating down. The same kinds of people used Christianity to justify slavery, segregation and even killing people. Yeah, but those aren't real Christians, you say? It depends on which Christian experts you want to believe.
This movie taps into a particular type of Evangelical Christianity which places a peculiar emphasis on the evils of homosexuality, making this a cornerstone of faith. This is very strange, considering the Bible mentions homosexuality in only seven passages, most of them in the Old Testament dealing with homosexual rape and the Leviticus cleanliness codes that are not followed by the vast majority Christians. Compare this to the 300 or so Bible passages related to social justice and helping the poor. Passing laws against same-sex marriage seems to have become a defining social cause in the 21st century for the Christian Right, along with passing anti-abortion laws. This movie taps into both of those hot-button issues.
Another aspect of this belief system is that many Evangelical Christians deny that homosexuals actually exist. They view it as a lifestyle choice rather than a state of being, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. This is probably because if homosexuals were born that way, then that would sort of make God the author of sin on a massive scale. Since it is troubling to think about that, it is much easier to simply deny the existence of homosexuality as a human condition. That is the implicit belief of most of the Christians in the movie. They think that gay people of faith can simply be cured with a little brainwashing. It doesn't work that way in the real world, not for people who are a six on the Kinsey sexual scale. Sexual orientation, and choice, are different for each person. It is a logical fallacy to base rules governing everyone on a foundation of mere anectodal evidence.
Most people are heterosexual. That is what makes this particular package of beliefs in this movie so attractive, so seductive. It gives a degree of comfort to heterosexual Christians to think they can achieve moral superiorority to homosexuals through no effort of their own, simply because they are born with the right God-given sexual preference. This is a bit like thinking you are morally superior to black people because you happen to have white skin, a belief quite common in America until the last 60 years or so. Any belief system that justifies existing cultural prejudices against any group of people is going to attract a big following. It's like being born into a royal family, or being one of the chosen people. It's a power trip. It makes one feel so special, and without all the effort of trying to follow a difficult Biblical guideline like the Golden Rule (which, by the way, has never been a basis of government).
The trouble with targeting this particular set of beliefs is that it is way too easy, particularly if you aren't going to do justice to the complexity of the belief system being attacked. Making the antagonist, Hilary Faye such a one-dimensional, arrogant, mean-spirited person is yet another sign that the moviemakers are setting up a straw man just to knock it down. This is an unsophisticated and one-sided portrayal of these beliefs and believers. It is not really incisive or penetrating social commentary. For it to reach that level it would need to reveal more character depth, particularly in the antogonists, and demonstrate a better understanding of Evangelical beliefs and believers. As a superficial treatment of this important subject, it has its moments. There are some laughs, but many more missed opportunities. This film rates a C.
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