‘Saved’ asks viewers to think beliefs through

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 27, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Why do we worship God?

Sure, ask any even remotely Christian person that question and they’ll probably come up with an answer pretty fast. But let’s rephrase it a bit:

Email newsletter signup

Why should we worship God?

Think about this for a minute. So many of us put our trust in the Lord, and believe that the Bible is the ultimate code. But what did the Lord do to build such huge credibility with us? Does the fact that his words are written in a book automatically make them true?

So many of us are told that whatever happens is God’s plan, and we’re not to question it. But is it possible that maybe, just maybe, we’re swallowing religion at whole face value and not really taking the time to fully consider what we believe – and why?

Those are the questions explored by the recent Brian Dannelly film &uot;Saved,&uot; the story of a group of students at American Eagle Christian High School, the most devout of the devoutest (even though all the girls wear shorts short enough to be bikini bottoms and there’s a shooting range right off campus).

Jena Malone, who rose to stardom beginning with the 1999 Julia Roberts/Susan Sarandon vehicle &uot;Stepmom,&uot; is Mary, who believes that God’s always in safe cruise control, even when he took her father a few years ago. After her boyfriend confesses his attraction to those with both X and Y chromosomes, Mary tries to save him through make-outs, copping feels and, eventually, becoming the No-Longer-Virgin Mary. But guess what? They don’t use protection, she ends up with a conception far below immaculate, and he’s shuffled off to the Mercy Hall, a nearby asylum that supposed to cleanse people of &uot;spiritually toxic affliction,&uot; as Mary so delicately puts it. Mary’s mom (Mary-Louise Parker) is having an affair with school principal Pastor Skip (Martin Donovan), who’s got the guts to relate to kids just what a &uot;phat dude&uot; God truly is. Eventually, Skip’s boy-band look-alike son (Patrick Fugit) shows up and shows Mary a new sort of affection.

Meanwhile, her friends in the Christian Jewels band, led by Hillary Faye (Mandy Moore, who makes a bigger claim for the transition from pop start to screen star than anyone in her generation) remain convinced that, well, those who believe in God and obey his word are just plain better than everyone else. On the other side, there’s Hillary’s wheelchair-bound brother Roland (Macauley Culkin) and free-spirited, wolf-in-schoolgirl’s-clothing Cassandra (Sarandon’s daughter Eva Ammuri), the sole Jew of American Eagle, who naturally becomes the devil to Hilary’s &uot;savior-ette.&uot;

Moore’s performance truly exposes the theory of over-zealousness that religion too often instills. Hillary Faye’s way is God’s way, and no one’s going to so much as breathe forth a disagreement (though she, like most of the devout, tends to forget that little bit about &uot;Judge not, lest ye be judged.&uot;). On the other hand, viewers can’t help but get the feeling that all she needs is a good make-out session of her own to break into heathenism. Roland, in perhaps Culkin’s best performance, sardonically wears her down with his own deadpan humor, while Cassandra plays Hillary’s emotions like a flute for the enjoyment of all.

The film’s smart enough not to condemn, or even really demean Christianity, nor does it make it seem as though another religion is the way to go. It doesn’t out and out say that God’s not a great guy – it just makes us wonder whether any one particular person, belief, or idealism really has all the answers.

&uot;Saved&uot; looks all the Bible-thumpers in the eye and says &uot;Hey dude, chill out!&uot; And it also shows that, though we all should be sincere in what we believe and what we don’t, maybe we take religion a bit too seriously. Sure, we believe that our beliefs are right, but maybe they’re not right for everyone, and there’s a time and a place to keep our beliefs, our emotions, and our opinions to ourselves. As Mary pleads in the last reel, &uot;Why would God make us all so different if he wanted us to be the same?&uot; (take that, you anti-gay marriage whiners)

So the next time we’re ready to start thumping some books and hurling some scripture at people who are, in our opinion, breaking the Code, disobeying the Word, or demeaning the Book, maybe we should think about what we’re really saying – and whether God’s the type of fellow we’re making him out to be.

Grade: B+