Somehow the movie To Save a Life ended up in my family’s Netflix queue. I don’t know if I put it there based on the gushing review that Movieguide gave it or if we heard about it from somewhere else. I think our family of five would be in total agreement that this was the worst movie we have seen all year.
Movieguide, which purports to be Christian guide to movies and entertainment, had this to say about To Save a Life:
Very strong Christian worldview with several evangelistic altar call moments…a powerful, profound and inspiring movie…every aspect of it builds the case for faith in Jesus Christ and Christianity…one of the best-made movies ever…Written by a seasoned youth pastor…MOVIEGUIDE® commends this movie.
After reading Movieguide’s review I thought, “Did they watch the same movie I did?”
To Save a Life could have been a good movie. The main premise was good which was the sanctity of human life. The problem was that the story brought up many good questions but never gave a definitive answer to any of them.
Movieguide maintains that there were many ‘altar call’ moments and salvation through Christ was portrayed clearly. I somehow missed all those alter call moments in the movie. I never once even heard the name of Jesus mentioned. It could have been mentioned but no one in my family of five heard it. At best, the movie offered a watered down message of ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. It put forth the message of: treat others nice and we’ll get through this life safely and in one piece.
The movie touched on several very tough themes: suicide, racism, bullying, cutting, adultery, divorce, teenage drinking, drug use, teen pregnancy, abortion, and probably a lot more that I cannot recall. There were so many tough themes that none of them were treated with any of the depth they deserved.
Once again I got the idea that the movie was implying that if you just treat others nice these tough issues will either disappear or seem less severe as we all pull together in peaceful harmony.
Sin is never fully treated as the root cause of all of these issues. The lines are blurred between Christian behavior and non-Christian behavior. The main character/hero, Jake Taylor, is a non-Christian who puts a tentative toe-in-the-water by attending a church youth group. He sees a lot of hypocrisy within the youth group and mentions it to the youth leader who has no real answer to give him other than just keep trying to do the right thing in your own life.
In another scene a “Christian” girl goes out on a date with a deeply troubled non-Christian teen. Apparently the writer sees no problem with a Christian entering into a potentially romantic relationship with a non-Christian. To muddy the waters further the hero, Jake, coaches the deeply troubled teen on how to woo the girl and make her become ’putty in his hands’. This seems to give a green light to promiscuous behavior among teens.
I think the writer wanted to close his film with an action packed climax to his story and so the following scene ensues which pushes the envelope of reality and once again blurs the lines between right and wrong. Just before the climactic ending scene a bomb threat is called in by someone(a pot-smoking preacher’s kid no-less) who has stolen the troubled kid’s cell phone. The troubled teen is led away to a police car to be questioned further at the police station. To set the scene the writer wants his audience to believe that the troubled teen is desperate enough to take a handful of prescription pills to end his life on the way to the police station. Then the viewer is expected to believe that the hero Jake somehow knows the troubled teen will attempt to end his life on the way to the police station. In order to save the life of the troubled teen, Jake asks his pregnant girlfriend, Amy (Perhaps I should mention that Jake, in an earlier scene, had also heroically arrived at an abortion clinic just in time to stop Amy from having an abortion.) to fake being sick from her pregnancy in an attempt to distract the teachers who are on duty. He then makes a break from the crowd of students, runs swiftly to catch the police car, and valiantly throws himself in front of the car just seconds before the troubled teen swallows the pills.
This film is deeply troubled. The overarching theme is: just try to be nice and considerate of everyone’s feelings and God will help you a bit as you wade through your muddled life. The youth pastor is portrayed as a nice guy who just seems perplexed by the youth he would like to minister to. He has nothing to say about sin and holiness.
Jake, the main character whom I suppose we are to believe is a new convert to Christianity, has more to say to his peers about their lack of Christian attitudes and desires than does the nice but perplexed youth pastor.
The pastor of the church is on the periphery throughout the whole movie. His only contribution is a drug-taking, mean-spirited son and a scene toward the end where he finds out that Jake’s girlfriend is pregnant which makes his church look bad, giving the idea that his attitude is ‘we don’t want any of their kind around here’. Overall, the pastor is shown to be just another hypocrite.
The church and youth group are portrayed as hopelessly flawed, hypocritical, devoid of any helpful truths. Sadly, this is a fairly accurate portrayal of the church in our society today. But is this true of every church? Thankfully, no. But wouldn’t a portrayal of a church which is not steeped in sin and hypocrisy give a more helpful and hopeful view of Christianity? I’m not saying that any church is perfect but there are churches which boldly proclaim the gospel and do not side-step these tough issues with platitudes of ‘just do your best at living a moral life’. Severely lacking in this film was the Spirit and transforming power of God.
Jake, toward the end of the movie, is shown to be starting his own suicide hotline of sorts on an internet social website. He is portrayed to have saved many lives. At the close of the story he hugs family and friends, including his tearful girlfriend who has just given up their child for adoption, as he drives off with his newly divorced father to embark on a new phase of his life in college.
Missing from this movie is a true view of salvation. It is commendable to save the physical lives of humans but the saving of both the spiritual and physical eternal life of an individual is lacking in this movie.
If I had never read the Bible and never knew that Jesus is the only way of salvation I would come away from this movie thinking that if I just live a relatively moral life that tries to minimize the pain in others lives around me, I will eventually get to go to heaven. In essence this is the same message that many of the world’s religions teach: Do good works=get to go to heaven. Or I might come away with the notion: Do good works in a Christian context(such as a youth group or church)=get to go to heaven. Or I might not get either of those messages at all and just chalk it up to being a weird movie.
Irregardless of which of those three notions I would come away with, I would be severely led astray. I would not have an accurate portrayal of sin and how it separates an individual from God and brings a penalty of eternity in hell. I wouldn’t have known from this film anything about Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for the sins of those who He is calling to salvation. This film says nothing about God’s grace and mercy toward repentant sinners, sinners turning away from those sins, and the work of God’s Holy Spirit producing fruits of righteousness in a true Christian’s life. This was the good news that the movie To Save a Life needed to tell, but it just did not say anything about it.