Missing the Mark

What makes a good satire? Well, for a start, satire has to be grounded in reality, so that the intended audience recognizes what's being satirized and is able to laugh a little bit at itself -- and perhaps even learn something about itself in the process. Also, it's more effective if the satire takes a subtle approach to its subject rather than going overboard. By those standards, the new movie Saved! fails dismally. It's supposed to be a sharp, but ultimately sympathetic satire of Christian schools. Instead, it comes off as a heavy-handed attack. The film follows a Christian high school student Mary whose boyfriend confesses he's gay. To save him from himself, Mary seduces him, trusting that God will restore her "spiritual virginity." The plan backfires when her boyfriend is sent to a treatment center for what the movie calls "de-gayification" and Mary herself ends up pregnant, ostracized by her Christian friends, and questioning her faith. But she's accepted by a group of fellow outsiders, and together they bring down the popular clique in the school and its leader, the sanctimonious Hilary Faye. Now, it's quite true that a Christian setting is hardly a shield against hypocrisy, backbiting, and loneliness. Anyone who thinks the kind of alienation Mary faces couldn't happen in a Christian school doesn't understand human nature. But while getting that point right, Saved! gets almost everything else wrong: like the way the kids talk -- when was the last time you heard a Christian teenager discuss "savages" and "heathens," or try to perform an exorcism? And it gets the most basic Christian doctrines wrong. The main problem is that Saved! is peopled with teenagers and adults who don't know the first thing about the faith that is supposedly the most important part of their lives. They rarely pray for guidance (and when they do, things only get worse). And when Hilary throws a Bible at Mary, that's about the only time anyone uses it for anything. Instead, they all scurry around trying to carry out some arbitrary idea of what they think Jesus wants them to do. With such confusion among the Christians, it's no wonder that, as Christianity Today points out, "The movie almost exclusively shows two kinds of people -- hypocritical, judgmental Christians who cause problems, and loving, accepting non-Christians who make things right." Though Hilary's pride is skewered, the movie's message isn't that humility is better than pride; it's that all beliefs and ways of life must be unquestioningly accepted, and that, consequently, Christian evangelism is rooted in intolerance. I won't say there's no place for Christian satire. As Matt Labash points out in the Weekly Standard, "From Jonathan Swift to Evelyn Waugh, there is a healthy . . . tradition of Christian satire -- the theory being that if God didn't want us to laugh at His creation, He wouldn't have made so much of it laughable." In a world where we're all fallen creatures, it doesn't hurt us to learn to be a little less thin-skinned. But if you're going to satirize something, you should at least know what you're satirizing. And it doesn't hurt to extend a little tolerance to the people you're accusing of not having any. Save us from Saved! And, oh yes, when it comes your way, save yourself -- the price of admission, that is. For further reading and information: Matt Labash, "False Witness," Daily Standard, 19 May 2004. Todd Hertz, review of Saved!Christianity Today, 28 May 2004. Stefan and Jeanne Ulstein, "Mixed Reactions," Christianity Today, 24 May 2004. (An interview with Brian Dannelly, writer/director of Saved!) Jeffrey Overstreet, review of Saved!Looking Closer, May 2004. Christian film critic Overstreet provides a more positive but still mixed review of the film. (Contains a little rough language.) Allison Benedikt, review of Saved!Chicago Tribune, 27 May 2004 (reprinted at James Berardinelli, review of Saved!ReelViews, May 2004.
  1. Y. Siu, "'Subversive' Saved!?Critical Essays, 31 May 2004.
Lisa Rose, "Satire can't be 'Saved'," Sun Herald (Mississippi), 27 May 2004. See BreakPoint's recommended films list. Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston, Finding God in the Movies (Baker, 2004). Available in August. Call 1-877-322-5527 to preorder.


Chuck Colson


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