To Save a Life (2010)

Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic elements involving teen suicide, teen drinking, some drug content, disturbing images and sexuality.
Length: 120 minutes
Grade: BCAC=B+
Budget: $500,000
Box Office: $3.7 million

Written by: Jim Britts (First Script)
Directed by: Brian Baugh (First movie, but he directed the photography on The Ultimate Gift and An American Carol.)
Starring: Randy Wayne, Deja Kreutzberg, and Joshua Weigel

An all-star basketball player feels remorse when his boyhood best friend kills himself in school. Dealing with this, he comes in contact with a youth pastor, starts taking Christianity seriously, and befriends outcasts at the expense of his jock buddies and cheerleader girlfriend.

Entertainment Value: B
First things first, any movie you make for half a million dollars isn’t likely to have super-high production value. Nevertheless, lots of the contributors here volunteered their time once they saw the script, and the production value for a church-made movie is pretty good. Yes, the characters are drawn a bit thin, but there’s still a sense of real people being represented by these semi-stereotypes. This is an unabashedly Christian movie, however, unlike Facing the Giants or Fireproof, there is no explicit presentation of the Gospel or even Jesus Christ particularly. It’s a movie critics will hate (whether for being Christian or for feeling at times like an after-school special), but ordinary people and particularly Christians will like or love. As confirmation of this fact, Rotten Tomatoes has it at 33% favorable for the critics, but the audiences give it 82%.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol C-, Sex/Nudity C, Violence C, Language C
This is definitely a content-heavy movie and not for younger kids. However, the makers always shied away from indulging in any of it, and it’s obvious that the bad things are portrayed as bad things. Nevertheless, there is alcohol and drunkenness at some teenage parties, marijuana use, teenage sex, teen pregnancy, a number of semi-provocatively dressed young girls, suicide, and cutting. This is definitely PG-13, but I think teenagers not just can but probably should see this. And it’s PG-13 precisely because of what it wants to help people understand and solve, not because of the lurid things it wants to tempt them with.

Significant Content: A
The essence of Christ’s message is to befriend people who don’t deserve it, to positively do something to help instead of hiding behind the idea that it’s not your responsibility, and to have patience with people no matter how bad they are. Love is shown by personal sacrifice for someone else’s benefit. And it’s something that will be emulated by some and mocked by others. But don’t give up, even some of the scoffers may come around eventually.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
As I mentioned before, it would be easy to dislike this movie because of the feel and tone of it all. Nevertheless, just when it seems like a movie that falls over into the category of “crummy Christian art,” either the plot or the actors themselves seem to prevent that from happening. Also, one thing I appreciated was the refusal to portray the youth group or the church itself as a pure and wonderful collection of good people. That the most evil person in the movie was the pastor’s kid is a wonderful reminder of how incongruous the real world often is.

Discussion Questions:
~In this movie, who are you prone to despise? Why is it so important to the Gospel that we should want to see them redeemed every bit as much as the outsiders and unpopular kids?
~What are some of the characteristics that distinguish Jake after his conversion from Jake prior to that?
~One of the crisis moments for Jake comes when he talks with Chris about how his life has gotten significantly worse since becoming a Christian. What perspective does Chris give him. Have you ever felt like it was unfair that your life wasn’t roses and lollipops when you felt like you were doing everything you were supposed to do? What is the Christian perspective on this error?
~Negative responsibility is the idea that I am only responsible for making things worse. Positive responsibility is the idea that anything I could have made better is something I’m responsible for if I didn’t. Which one of these is Biblical? Which one does Jake internalize? What sort of society do you want to live in: one where others believe only in negative responsibility, or one in which they also believe in positive responsibility?
~There are many moments in Chris’s relationship with Jake where Chris could have felt the need to do or say more than he did. What gave him the patience to have such restraint and calm? What is the theological error at the heart of our sense of aggressive urgency with other people and their growth?
~Idoltary is what the Bible calls it when we put any goal or source of identity or satisfaction ahead of God or His way of doing things. Considering each of the characters, can you identify their idols and how overcoming them was a major transition for them?
~Is it enough for a movie to tell people to treat others better without really explaining why Christians are so intensely motivated to do this? Would this movie have been more effective if it had left out some of the issues but instead brought in a presentation of the Gospel and connected it with what motivates us to love difficult people?
~Given that this is a PG-13 movie, would you want to show it to a teenage youth group? How does the Bible deal with difficult topics and content?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~Jake betraying Roger for a night out with Amy.
~Leaving the beer pong game.
~Jake confronting the youth group.
~Starting the lunchtime get together spot.
~Jake pondering his future at Louisville.
Overall Grade: B+
The sort of movie I’m really glad exists and would be excellent discussion material for a youth group. It’s not great art, but it is an excellent vehicle for showing the basic social implications of the Christian Gospel even without much talk of Jesus or His atonement.

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