While walking into the dark movie theater, I decided to have a clear mind, a blank slate if you will, as I viewed the film. I wanted to leave all my preconceived and predisposed assumptions at the door and view the movie as unbiased as possible. I had been to a release party the week prior to seeing the movie and had watched an extended trailer, as well as listened to a question and answer forum given by one of the actors, so my familiarity with the content of the film was hard to set aside. I deeply wanted the movie to do well, but was concerned that once again, small budgets would result in a mediocre production. I also wanted to see the film through the eyes of one who might not readily believe or accept the message of the movie. I wanted to take it in, as unadulterated as possible, so that my review would reflect the content and art of the film.
Impossible. As the movie began, the characters brought to life the grief of an untimely and inexplicable death. The suicide of a teen is at the heart of the movie To Save A Life and the lives that are dramatically affected by it, are followed through out the two hour film. The lead character, Jake Taylor, played by Randy Wayne, of Dukes of Hazard fame, is a senior in high school, with the world as his oyster. The handsome star has the beautiful girl, the letter of intent to his dream university and popularity stemming from his basketball career. But his life is shattered when his childhood friend kills himself in the high school hallway. He begins his search for answers and carries around the “what-ifs” that haunt him.
The movie deals with the raw makings of a high school campus. The popular kids get invited to the parties, the loners get mocked, and one day, a lonely boy has had enough, and takes his life. There is nothing sugar coated in this Christian film, but a reality based look at what teens across this nation deal with as they walk out their front doors. Topics like suicide, cutting, drinking, sex, pregnancy, and divorce are not what one would expect from a Christian film, yet they are dealt with in a manner that will in fact save a life.
Not only are the harsh realities of the secular world explored, but also the realities of Christian hypocrisy found in the youth group of the church that Jake Taylor seeks answers and solace. He boldly stands up, during a youth event and asks the teens in the youth group if they really give a “damn” or if they are going through the motions. He is convinced that there has to have been something he could have done to stop his friend Roger from taking his life. He begins to live for others, specifically reaching out to the loners on campus, in spite of the hostility he gets from his former friends.
I, at this point, must admit, that I was a very proud, card carrying Christian. The movie was living up to what the trailer had enticingly promised and doing an artful job as well. But perhaps the most authentic aspect of the film is found in the end, when the star isn’t found riding off into the sunset living happily ever after, but is shown living with the consequences of pre-marital sex and an un-planned pregnancy. His dreams are sacrificially laid aside for his girlfriend, as he stands by her side through the pregnancy, delivery and adoption of their baby. This is where real life meets real Christianity.
The producer and writer of the To Save a Life is Jim Britts, a pastor at New Song Community Church in Oceanside, California and a film major from Biola University. He states in an interview for Biola Magazine,
“It only came from this real experience of working with teens,” Britts says, “Looking back on it, I think He (God) had a plan for me being a screen-writing major and to get a heart for that and then to go into ministry and get a heart for that….The two really connected. I don’t think I could have written the script if I didn’t do both.” Brittany McComb
Britt’s love for God, for teens and his passion to see lives saved through the acceptance of God’s love during incomprehensible pain is deeply portrayed in this film. As much as I tried to remain set apart and unbiased, I was unable to remain unmoved. The God that is so boldly proclaimed in the movie, is the God that has boldly showed His love for this world by sending His Son Jesus Christ to die for sinful man. This fact alone moved me to tears and cheers at the end of the showing.
The reviews may be mixed, but the Miami Herald said, “It features good acting, excellent production values and even a solidly eclectic musical score that ranges from rap to alternative. Gary Goldstein wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “…appealing, poignant and inspiring in ways that are gentle and quite real…. not only potentially healing and elevating, but also kind of cool…. deftly acted, generally absorbing cautionary tale…” Others were not as generous, Andy Webster wrote in the New York Times, “Teenage martyrdom — the piety of it all…. But forget the lame performances and arch, preachy sentiment; the movie’s sham hip-hop and spurious alternative music alone should keep teenagers away. Thank goodness.”
The most important reviews however don’t come from news men sitting alone in a dark theater, but rather from those lives that are truly changed. One girl stated on the To Save a Life website,
Rachel – Posted on January 31, 2010 “Just saw this movie yesterday, and I cried so hard! I am somewhat depressed, and have considered suicide in the past. This movie expressed how I felt…alone, like no one cared. I loved the part where Jake is in the youth group and starts telling the kids not to be judgemental! I felt like it was so true. Thanks for impacting my life! Thanks to God and His redeeming love! Save a life!”
Another young man shared,
Geoff (Name changed for privacy) – Posted on January 31, 2010 “I am 17 years old and I am a recovering cutter. For the longest time I relied on cutting as a crutch to keep me going; even though I was slowly killing myself along the way. Without all of the prayers, my scars would mean nothing but a sign of hatred and depression. But today, I see that they’re trophies that say God can help anyone through anything. Even a sexually confused, depressed, 17 year old outcast like me. God Bless.”
Finally, a young girl’s decision to not settle, but to live a changed Christian life,
Camille – Posted on January 30, 2010 “I saw this movie with my youth group, and was litterally bawling by the end. This movie absolutely changed my life. Ya, I thought I was a good Christian before, but after seeing this, I know I can’t settle. There is always something more to do that will help in this world. The part that moved me the most was when Jake is in the youth group, and everyone is whispering and Jake stands to say something. My absolute favorite part of the movie is when he says, “What’s the point of all this if you’re not gonna let it change you?” and to me it is totally true. I also love the part when Jake brakes free from the security guard saying, “I have to make things right!”. These quotes inspire me. Don’t pass up the chance to make a difference. By tomorrow, it may be too late.”
These are the reviews that truly matter, because these are the ones who heard the message of the movie and decided to let it save a life. Don’t let poor press keep you from taking a teen to this film; it will, in fact, impact your life.