Saved! (2004)

Rated PG-13 Our content rating: V-; L-; S/N-.

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.” He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?
Luke 6:37-39

“Life now is sweet and my joy is complete, For I’m Saved, saved, saved!”
From the chorus of J.P. Scholfield’s hymn “Saved, Saved!”

Saved

The students at the fictional Eagle Mountain Christian High School believe they are saved (well, most of them do), but they know little of the sweetness and joy expressed by the hymn writer. In many ways they are as wrapped up in striving for good looks, boy or girl friends, and peer popularity as the girls of Mean Girls. Mary (Jena Malone) has been dating Dean (Chad Faust), and thus becomes very upset when he shares with her his struggle for sexual identity—he thinks he is gay. He reveals this in a swimming pool game during which participants are to tell a secret underwater. Distressed by this, Mary hits her head and sees a man swimming toward her. She believes that it is Jesus, telling her to save Dean from his “toxic affliction” by giving herself to him. (Actually what she sees is the bearded swimming pool maintenance man,) Hoping that this will cure him, Mary does so. However, Dean’s parents discovering porn literature beneath his mattress, ship him off to Mercy House, a Christian rehab center for degayification (where, of course, he meets and falls for another male patient).

Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan) presides as principal over the students and greets them at morning assembly with pseudo-hip language such as “You all want to get down with Jesus.” He fails to see the contradiction in such appellations as “Jesus is the Ultimate Rebel, the Ultimate C.E.O.” He maintains the fiction that his estranged wife is away all the time because she is a missionary in South America, rather than face the unevangelical fact that their marriage is finished. He is attracted to Mary’s single-parent mother Lillian (Mary-Louise Parker), whom he takes out on dates. He has a son Patrick (Patrick Fugit), member of a Christian skateboarding team and not entirely in agreement with his father’s beliefs.

Meanwhile Mary discovers that her one-night stand with Dean has left her pregnant. When others observe her visit to Planned Parenthood, the following exchange takes place: “There’s only one reason a Christian girl comes downtown to Planned Parenthood.” “She’s planting a pipe bomb?” “Well, two reasons.” Soon a friend lets word slip out about Mary’s condition, and she becomes the school pariah. Leading the opposition is Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore), queen bee leader of The Christian Jewels, claiming to be the most pious and the most glamorous. Hillary Faye is strong on the doctrines of the Faith, but quite lacking in the compassionate part.

However, Hillary Faye’s brother Roland (Macaulay Culkin) befriends Mary. Wheelchair-bound but zealously fending off any offer of help or pity, Roland has rejected what he sees as the falseness of his family’s faith. In his rebellion he has become the boyfriend of fellow rebel Cassandra (Eva Amurri), the school’s lone Jewish student. (Her parents sent her to Eagle Mountain High as a last resort, the girl having been kicked out of so many other private schools.) Matters become more complicated when Mary begins dating Patrick

Brian Dannelly, first-time director and co-writer of SAVED!, attended a Roman Catholic elementary school, a Jewish summer camp, and a Baptist high school, so I presume that he knows what he is lampooning. The satire is good-natured, Hillary Faye coming across as the usual True Believer afraid of anything that might call her rigid beliefs into question. The final showdown reveals the humanity at her core, as well as Mary’s. Although the depiction of adults is a little better than is usual in teen films, they still are largely clueless in relating effectively with teens. Better are the portrayal of the teens themselves

Although the film could be used by liberal leaders to put down Fundamentalists and a plea for tolerance, but the film is much more than that for discerning viewers. A better use would be as a launching pad for exploring the age-old themes of faith and law, as well as faith and doubt. Maybe the questions below will help get started:

For reflection/discussion 1) Who are the “ins” and who are the cast-outs in the film? With whom do you think Jesus would have hung out the most? With whom did he associate in Palestine? Did this cause him any difficulty?

2) What do you think faith means to Mary? A matter of relationship or of rules? How does she have to play spiritual games to restore her “spiritual virginity”?

3) What seems to be Hillary’s understanding of Christianity? Compare to those criticizing Jesus in Mark 2:23-28. Why is an attempt to stick to the fundamentals of faith important? What would you say the fundamentals of Christianity are?

4) How is Pastor Skip’s attempt to communicate with his students in danger of distorting the Christian faith? Compare him to the archbishop in Kevin Smith’s Dogma. How is this also true for some of those who write hip Christian music and produce some of the books and items available in Christian bookstores?

5) Where does your church stand on the issues of abortion and gays in the church? Closer to Cassandra and Roland’s views or to Hillary Faye’s? Do you think there can ever be an accommodation between the two warring groups?

6) How is a literal interpretation of Scripture at the heart of most controversies? Where does Mary come out on this? How is her faith threatened by the literal view of school and church? What about the charge that if we stray from a literal interpretation we will lose most of the Bible, and then our faith? What was once the accepted teaching about slavery; about the size and shape of the earth and the solar system; about the place and role of women in the church? How have some Christians changed their views on the above?

7) Do you think the resolution of the story was realistic? What do you think about the plea for tolerance? What happens to Hilary Faye? What are some of the things still unresolved?