Today, continuing this month’s “Defining the Christian Movie” series, I’ve decided to talk about a movie that finds itself in the middle of the spectrum. What I mean by that is, it’s not completely a straightforwardly Christian film, but it’s not too subtle so that a broader audience might want to see it. Today’s movie might not even be called a movie. I don’t even see it as much a movie as it is a tool for ministry. And believe me, this movie is definitely a tool for ministry.
“To Save a Life” is apparently another movie made by a church, this church being in California. I went to see it at the beginning of 2010 with my youth group in Ohio, and I know that my youth group was an audience that this movie was aimed at. “To Save a Life” is one of the only movies I’ve ever heard of—if not the only movie—that focuses on youth ministry. The main characters are high school students (even if they are played by actors who are slightly older… what can you do), and they are all struggling with issues that high school students face: relationship issues, family problems, cutting, teen pregnancy, suicide. Many people might say, as I’m tempted to say, that there are so many emotional situations in this movie, from a teen suicide at a high school to a girl getting drunk and pregnant at a party, that the movie is overdramatic. But to me, these are the kinds of issues that a “Christian movie” needs. But more on that later—now, I better talk about the movie.
Randy Wayne, a real actor who I guess is actually a non-Christian, plays Jake Taylor, a senior in high school living in California ready to graduate and play basketball for the University of Louisville. (And once I started college in Kentucky, I realized very quickly that he pronounces “Louisville” wrong throughout the movie. Just saying.) Through a series of flashbacks, we see Jake as a boy and his friendship with Roger, who as a child pushed Jake out of the way of a car, saving his life but hurting his own leg, causing Roger to limp all the way through teenage years. But at the start of high school, Jake becomes busy with basketball and meets Amy (Deja Kreutzberg, who I am informed is also a probably non-Christian real actress… who was even on “As the World Turns”? Whatever), and the two of them start a relationship that breaks off Jake and Roger’s friendship. And years later, Roger has had enough of the loneliness. He brings a gun into school, and before Jake can convince him to drop the gun, Roger shoots himself. This event leads Jake to question himself and what he could have done differently to prevent his best friend’s death.
Eventually, he meets up with a youth pastor named Chris (Joshua Weigel, who may or may not be a youth pastor in real life… I can’t remember), who welcomes Jake into his youth group. Jake meets some students there that are passionate about Jesus and about sharing their faith—but he meets more students there that are totally apathetic. Even the senior pastor’s son hates being at youth group and would rather be with his friends doing drugs (literally, there’s a scene where Jake sees him with his friends doing drugs). But Jake wants so badly to change and to find out what he’s missing, he stays. And he brings Amy—who, being the popular girlfriend of the jock basketball star, immediately is looked at differently by the others in the youth group, in a way that she doesn’t like. She ends up leaving in tears, and when Jake can’t stand it anymore while students are whispering to each other during Chris’ message, he stands up and tells them:
JAKE: My girlfriend came here today, and she left because she felt judged. And no one even noticed! Roger walked into school and started shooting. I knew him. He wasn’t crazy. And did anyone ever stop and ask why? I mean, how did it get to the point where his only option was to shoot himself? There are people killing themselves, and you’re chugging soda through a sock!
That last line will only make sense if you watch the movie, by the way. But Jake goes on to ask them, “What’s the point of all this if you’re not going to let this change you?” And this is something that I think every student in a church youth group should ask themselves. I’ve seen it, and so have many of my friends. Students will come to youth group, go to Sunday school, even attend a youth conference or a mission trip! But something goes wrong—that student becomes busy with school or relationships, distractions come up, or the fire dies down inside a student’s heart—and the student that was on fire for the Lord no longer even cares. It’s not rare that I go visit my youth group again after coming back from college, and there are still students that sit there and whisper among themselves, like they don’t even want to be there.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Jake starts making a difference at school, reaching out to lonely students, having lunch with others from youth group at school, and even becoming a Christian himself and getting baptized (in the Pacific, no less, which I think is awesome). But throughout the movie, Satan attacks Jake: his parents’ marriage falls apart after it is revealed that Jake’s father had an affair; it turns out that Jake got Amy pregnant at a party; and all of Jake’s former friends are rejecting him now that he has started going to church. Jake starts questioning God, becoming angry, and building up hatred for his father. But it’s only by the grace of God that he is able to stop Amy, right before she walks into the abortion clinic, and sacrifice his future at college for her and the baby.
As you can see, this movie gets pretty dark. And Jake’s not the only one with problems. Two of the characters are struggling or have struggled with self-abuse and cutting. There are a few scenes where Jake and his friends are getting drunk at parties to the point of vomiting. And at the end of the movie, the pastor’s kid accuses a student he dislikes of calling a bomb threat into school, which almost leads to that student overdosing on drugs. (It doesn’t. How? Watch the movie.) This is a very different “church movie” than “Fireproof”. It’s very dark, very edgy, and very emotional. But to me, this is the kind of “church movie” that the world needs to see. I know that some people assume that Christians are always putting on a happy face, ignorant of the world’s problems—and their own problems. But there’s something very unique that this film does, and it’s even something that “Fireproof” does as well. There is no single character in the film that has a picture-perfect life. Even Chris opens up to Jake and says he has regrets—he had a chance at his youth group to say hi to Roger before his suicide, but he didn’t. And I think if non-Christians see this in a “Christian movie”, they will realize that even though not all Christians are honest, none of us are perfect, and there’s only One who we can turn to.
Matthew 11:15: “Whoever has ears, let them hear.”