Monday, October 18, 2004

Movie Review: Saved! (2004)

A film by Brian Dannelly

The movie "Saved!" is a potentially controversial movie that just sort of slipped under the radar when it was released in theatres. At first glance, and without putting any thought into what the movie is actually saying, it would seem that "Saved!" is absolutely savaging the Christian community. The Christians in the film come off as hypocritical fools (at best) and the sympathetic characters are those with anti-Christian behaviors. But that is only the candy coating on "Saved!" The heart of the picture has to do with a portion of the Christian sub-culture which shows a public veneer of popular Christianity but has none of the heart or the message of what Christ taught. That is what "Saved!" is truly lampooning.

Mary (Jena Malone) is a senior at a very Christian high school in a very Christian town. Everything in her world is protected by the "Christian" label, from the music she listens to the Christian home decorators, and so on. The only thing that does not fit into her Christian world is her boyfriend Dean (Chad Faust), who has recently come out to her that he is gay. Since this is an affront to everything she knows and believes in, and she knows that God does not want him to be gay, Mary believes that Jesus wants her to sleep with him to de-gayify Chad. She does, and it doesn't. He is sent away to Mercy House, which is intended to get him the "help he needs". What comes out of this first encounter is that Mary becomes pregnant.

She does not know this at first, of course, so Mary slides into her life in high school where she is friends with the uber-Christian Hillary Faye (Mandy Moore). Hillary Faye is over the top Christian, but filled with bitterness which she takes out on her brother, Roland (Macaulay Culkin). Roland has been crippled since childhood and is wheelchair bound. When the Jewish Cassandra (Eva Amurri) begins school as the only Jew in the Christian high school, Hillary Faye makes it her personal mission to aggressively "save" Cassandra's soul.

Initially, Cassandra is the outcast in Mary's eyes but as her pregnancy becomes more pronounced she becomes closer to Cassandra because Cassandra is the only person who would not judge Mary. Funny how that works. As the movie continues we see the conflict between Hillary Faye, who has turned her back on Mary when Mary questions her attitude, and the outcasts (Mary, Roland, Cassandra). The movie builds, showing Hillary Faye's behavior to be increasingly anti-Christian with perhaps the film's signature scene having Hillary Faye angrily yell "I am filled with Christ's love" as she throws a Bible at Mary's back. Mary had questioned whether Hillary Faye knew what love was.

The ending of "Saved!" is somewhat over the top, but the portrayal of the Christian sub-culture is only somewhat exaggerated. Having gone to a Christian college I know that the characters in "Saved!" are distorted portrayals of actual people. The movie exaggerates the behavior, but these are very familiar situations and images and lines of dialogue to me. But, that is what this film is discussing, and perhaps exposing. The fakeness that some people can have when the cling so hard to the image of what a "good Christian" looks like that they lose sight of what it truly means to be a Christian and about the love that is central to the message of Christ.

"Saved!" is a movie that has a lot of heart and hopefully will find a home and a following on DVD. This is a smartly written and well acted movie (especially Mandy Moore and Macaulay Culkin), and one that is worth seeing.

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