Friday, July 29, 2005

Can't Quite Pinpoint...

A while back, I saw the movie Saved! for the first time. In case you aren't familiar with this film, it's about a group of kids going through life at the fictional American Eagle High School, a private Christian school. Over the course of the movie, topics such as homosexuality, premarital sex and teen pregnancy, divorce, Christianity's relationship with other faiths, and God's relationship to the world are touched on, among other things. Mandy Moore plays Hillary Faye, ever attempting to maintain the facade of 'model' Christian, who gives us gems of wisdom such as 'Of course [Jesus] was white,' and 'You're not born a gay, you're born again!' Jena Malone plays her sidekick, Mary, who tries to 'save' her boyfriend from being gay by sleeping with him and winding up pregnant. The pastor of the school attempts to speak in slang. A top-selling Christian band plays at their prom. The resident rebel (who also happens to be Jewish) goes out of her way at every opportunity to foil Hillary Faye's attempts to 'save' others. Some have cried 'generalizing' and 'demonizing,' almost exclusively from Evangelical Christian circles. I bought this before viewing it, expecting it to be a satirical commentary on more 'conservative' Christian practice (much like what Dogma was for Catholics), and pieces of it were. But ever since I saw it the first time, I couldn't help but think, 'There's something about this movie that really bothers me.'

I don't think I'm going to solve what exactly 'it' was in this entry, but I am typing after just watching the movie a second time as if 'it' would be any more clear. Hillary Faye goes about her personal crusades with an earnest desire to serve Jesus is bothersome, though I'm unable to pinpoint if it's her earnestness or her crusades that are most troubling. She is sincere in her approach (a few scenes feature her passionately raising her arms, eyes closed, pleading for God's will to be revealed to her so that she knows what to do next), though her alienation of others in Jesus' name doesn't seem to bother her too much.

Upon the initial realization that she is being betrayed and her ex-boyfriend judged, Mary does not move to a more moderate version of Christian faith. She flat out rejects it. One scene features her attempt to find a new religion by exploring healing crystals. In the world of Saved! the ones who end up getting it 'right' aren't Christian with one exception: the pastor's son (woohoo!) Patrick, who does make numerous arguments for grey areas. All the other most sympathetic characters are non-Christians who are constantly at odds with Hillary Faye and the brand of faith that she peddles.

There is participation in Christian subculture at American Eagle. Besides the afforementioned prom performance by a Christian artist, Patrick has recently returned from participation in a Christian skateboarding tour (prompting the resident rebel to ask, 'Isn't anything sacred to you people?'). Mary's mother receives an award for Best Christian Home Decorator. The school has an abstinence-only sex education course, and it is mentioned that they only offer a course at all after the state required them to offer one. Mary's boyfriend is sent to Mercy House, a place where homosexuals go to be 'cured.' These last two probably fit in their own category, but they at least stem from certain beliefs within the subculture.

What is the point of this analysis? Good question. There is some combination of these things that caused the movie to raise such an unsuspected reaction within me. Why I found Dogma such an enjoyable romp and Saved! such a discomforting labor is still a partial mystery to me. I say partial because I see truth in the character (caricature?) of Hillary Faye, I yearn for more sympathetic 'progressive' Christians in film, and I'm quite familiar with (and even sympathetic to certain parts of) the subculture. Maybe the movie wants to beat on Hillary Faye a little too much. Maybe the earnest judgmentalism is a little too realistic. Maybe the existence of places like Mercy House just makes me mad.

I don't need the proposed funny moments explained to me. I guess I just need someone to explain why I should laugh.

9 comments:

Woodenpurse said...

I felt a lot of the same points that you felt in the movie.

Jeff said...

Welcome, Woodenpurse. Glad I'm not alone. Hope you'll stop by again.

HarryTick™ said...

I think you pointed out exactly what your problem with the movie was:

"In the world of Saved! the ones who end up getting it 'right' aren't Christian with one exception: the pastor's son (woohoo!) Patrick, who does make numerous arguments for grey areas. All the other most sympathetic characters are non-Christians who are constantly at odds with Hillary Faye and the brand of faith that she peddles."

What glue to stick a label on with?

Jeff said...

Welcome, Harry. Due to the grammar in your question, I'm not completely sure of its aim. But I'll give it a shot anyway.

First, I'm aware that you're not fond of the label 'Christian' due to its stigma and its misuse. Rather than attempt to clear away all the baggage associated with the term, I'll simply state that for the purposes of this entry I only mean 'a self-identified follower of Jesus.'

Hillary Faye's brother says he is not a Christian. The resident rebel identifies as Jewish. Mary, as I have mentioned, seeks another religion and at one point even proclaims that 'Jesus isn't listening.' Patrick is the sole Christian representative of a faith more open to ambiguity and question. I state later in the entry that I wish there were more like him in film. Portraying someone like Hillary Faye is easy. She's two-dimensional until her breakdown at the end.

The one implication that I most hope was not meant in your question (and I didn't intend to make in my entry) was that it would have been better if all sympathetic characters in Saved! had identified as 'Christian,' or that one is not capable of being close to truth unless one identifies as 'Christian' (and I think, I hope, that you know me better than that).

The final possibility is close to what Karl Rahner calls 'anonymous Christians,' that is, those who by their actions are following Jesus' teachings but aren't consciously doing so. Perhaps Mary and Company are acting more in the spirit of Jesus than Hillary Faye even if they don't say that they're aspiring to such a thing. I would agree with that, if that's your intent.

HarryTick™ said...

What I saw was the disparity with who you identified. You say that Hillary Faye was earnest and yet you call her two-dimensional. The ones you accuse most of Christ-like behavior are those who don't claim a steadfast belief in him. Isn't that a problem, that they portrayed the non-christians as the ones who get it, when you, a self-identified follower of Christ, gets it as well? Shouldn't self-identified believers all get it?

"What glue to stick a label on with?"

Now, if you know my penchant for throwing "Christian" around as a disposable label, you'd surely know that I would NOT say that only those who choose to be known by it were possessors of the truth. I'd sooner say that only those who wear "WWJD" bracelets are capable of acting in a thoroughly christlike manner.

Jesus finds us in many locations and conditions. Only brands of Christianity feel that it should look and sound and feel like something they've decided. For many others it will feel like something "different", and they won't call it Christ, but they will confess him as surely as if they had spoken the name Jesus in a prayer...and I'm not even speaking ecumenically.

I don't know if that clarifies anything or not. I've been known to cloud already muddied waters with my explanations. What can I say? Obtuse is an artform for me!! ;)

Jeff said...

I see what you're saying, Harry, and yes, it is a problem that I had with the film. 75% of the characters who oppose Hillary Faye's brand of faith do not consciously profess a faith at all. It doesn't have to be Hillary's Way or Nothing. That's why I like Patrick. He represents a third option.

Jesus finds us in many locations and conditions. Only brands of Christianity feel that it should look and sound and feel like something they've decided. For many others it will feel like something "different", and they won't call it Christ, but they will confess him as surely as if they had spoken the name Jesus in a prayer...and I'm not even speaking ecumenically.

Anonymous Christians.:)

HarryTick™ said...

Well, I was gonna say something about the seeming relation to your Karl Rahner connection, but I see Christians in that same boat as the "anonymous Christians" he's speaking of. To me, it really has nothing to do with what anyone consciously does to follow Jesus. Something more along the lines of "Jesus is as Jesus does." to borrow from the movie and character Forrest Gump.

Thanks for letting me clarify, and I appreciate the good discussion and your thoughts!!

Jeff said...

Me too, Harry. Feel free to stop by any time!

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