92 minutes (Rated PG-13)
Commentary by Lee Ramsey
Hilary Faye (played by Mandy Moore), the most perfect
and self-righteous teenage Christian prom queen, gets
her comeuppance in Saved!, you don’t know
whether to applaud or feel a twinge of concern. This satire of religious fundamentalism is deliciously funny, even if overdrawn.
At the same time, it cuts deeply enough into the thick skin of narrow-minded
Christian believers to inflict real, though arguably deserved, pain upon its
Set within a private Christian high school, where the school principal leads the opening assembly/pep rally for God with the bouncy exhortation to “give
it up for Jesus,” the movie exposes the religious hypocrisy of adult
and teenage believers alike. These believers have pat religious answers for
every situation, and they are zealous to “share” their own brand
of faith with anyone within earshot. Their greatest challenge is a sardonic
and rebellious Jewish student, Cassandra (Eva Amurri), who admits that faced
with a choice between home schooling and the indoctrination of a Christian
school, she figures she can handle the school more easily. Add to the mix an
unwanted teen pregnancy brought about when Mary (Jena Malone) attempts to heterosexualize
her homosexual boyfriend, toss in the help of brilliant wheelchair-bound cynic
Roland (Macaulay Culkin), and you have all the ingredients to ignite fireworks
in a school where social difference is anathema.
movie drives home one central theme: those who repeatedly
demand legalistic religious conformity cannot live up
to their own impossible standards. To be biblical about
it, such people are so busy removing the speck from others’ eyes
that they do not see the log in their own. This road
leads to humorless and destructive judgment of all whose
beliefs differ from one’s own. It’s only
a matter of time before such a misuse of faith turns
back upon the zealous believer; the sin of hypocrisy
comes home to roost.
The problem, of course, with all religious fundamentalism--in this case Christian
fundamentalism--is that life is way too messy to be contained in such narrow
channels. Most people discover that life is rarely a matter of black and white;
instead it is shades of gray. Reinhold Neibuhr, one of the 20th centuries most
influential ethicists, talked of life as being filled with “moral ambiguity.” Fundamentalists
of all stripes can attempt to hide behind dogma, but the richness of human
experience seeps through.
The movie begs us to see all manner of difference as part of the human condition,
from sexual and racial difference to various kinds of physical distinctions.
The most appealing characters of the movie are not the plastic and pious Hilary
Faye and her god-squad friends. Rather, we are
drawn to the patchwork friendships between a smart-mouthed yet tenderhearted
Jewish adolescent, her wheelchair-bound boyfriend, their gay classmate, and
the thoroughly realistic and pregnant Mary, whose “mistake” unites
them in common concern. By the end of this movie, if viewed through a Christian
lens, you can’t help but consider this unlikely cohort of teenagers,
and the adults who ultimately support them, as reminiscent of those who Jesus
of the Gospels invites to feast at God’s table: the lame, the outcast,
the sick, and the broken-hearted. When they all pose for a photograph following
the birth of Mary’s baby, their smiles radiate the true picture of Christian
faith--grace, compassion, and the joy of loving acceptance.
If the movie wants to save anyone, as the title indeed suggests, it is those
believers who are so obnoxiously self-assured of their own status before God
as to miss just how all-embracing God’s love truly is.
Dr. Lee Ramsey