To Save A Life: Film Resonates with Teenage Audience

27 January 2010

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

The film To Save a Life debuted last Friday to impressive numbers. reports that the film grossed approximately 1.5 million dollars over opening weekend.

The film centers on an all-star high school athlete who must come to grips with the direction his life has taken, and the film features a realistic portrayal of the kinds of things today’s teenagers struggle with, including suicide, sexuality, depression and self-mutilation.

And these subjects are handled from an understated, spiritual perspective, and on screen the lead character must wrestle with the Christian faith. The film is produced by New Song Pictures, a division of New Song Ministries in Oceanside, and Jim Britts, one of the films producers, is himself a youth pastor in Oceanside.

In an interview with Plugged in Online (a division of Focus on the Family), Jim Britts and Brian Baugh, the creative minds behind the film state that they

“…never really set out to make a Christian film. We said we wanted to make a film for teenagers that would never set foot in a church but would go to the movies—something that would reach them. Obviously youth group kids love this film like crazy, but that was not my first thought.”

Box office numbers suggest that they succeeded in reaching beyond the usual “Christian” audience. Part of that is that the film was designed to deal with these issues realistically, rather than the plastic caricatures that often dominate other faith-based films. Britts and Baugh said that

“One of our core values [in making the film] was for sure, cheesiness equals sin, and we said this thing has got to be very real. There are so many films out there for teenagers and most of them deal with the tough issues—even the non-faith-based ones—[but they have] real shallow characters and they laugh at some of these issues that we really dealt with seriously. We wanted to make a movie that mattered.”

To that end the film deals with subjects in a very real, raw manner, and yes to all the uptight parents, there is swearing in the film, which the filmmakers wisely included as not to detract from the realism.

Yet Britt and Baugh emphasize that their ultimate intention was pointing to the validity and relevance of faith: “we really wanted to convey that what God can do in someone’s life is so much better. People have no idea that it can get so much better than that.”

And they also wanted to avoid glossing over the hard issues, saying:

“I’ve seen it a hundred times, where a student accepts Christ and then their world falls apart and then they blame it on God. If we’ve given them a faith where they believe that accepting Christ means everything is going to go great, then we’ve turned them away from God for the rest of their lives because God didn’t deliver. And so I really wanted to paint that picture that [faith] is about trusting God, no matter what. The truth is that probably bad things will still happen, and are you going to trust God through that and do what’s right anyway?”

So far, the film’s reviews have generally been positive, though an NPR review criticized the film for “two-dimensional” characterization and for not dealing realistically with the issues and their solutions.

At the same time, the film seems to be reaching young people in significant ways.

An L.A. Times review said that the film has “more in common with Fox’s “Glee” than it does with previous Christian films,” and the film’s Facebook page has been swarming with activity from teenagers who had seen the film and see their own lives reflected in the characters.

PR Newswire collects some of these responses in their review. I’ll highlight a few:

Missy – I cried when I saw the movie, because I want real life to be like that. I never had anyone to turn to when I was depressed, and I still don’t. I don’t cut myself and I don’t try to hurt anymore, I’ve made a few friends but none of them have seen me hurt. I hide it all in a mask of shame, but I’m going to take off the mask, finally I’m gonna start and I’m gonna help other people, I’m gonna help myself too. No longer will I just be [Missy], I’m going to be known to save a life. Because of this movie. You inspired me.

Mel – I just got home from watching “To Save A Life” and immediately I came on the computer to Google information. I haven’t even taken my jacket off yet. I was so touched by this movie its indescribable; I cried all the way home. I want to make a difference in someone’s life. I notice things from the movie that happen around me in school, but it never hit me till now. This movie made me sad, emotional, but most importantly it made me realize that I have the opportunity to help someone. I’m a college student and I cant wait for classes to start Monday cause I already know what I’m going to do. Save a Life.

Having not seen the film, I am suspending my own judgment for the time being, though I salute the filmmakers for their determination to make an honest yet affirming film that should appeal to younger generations.

I admit that the whole thing sounds like a glorified after-school special. But it clearly is making an impact on those who see it, and may be a valuable resource for those involved in youth ministries.

27 January 2010

Christopher J Wiles

writer | speaker | servant

Chris is a writer and speaker from the Charlottesville area. He regularly serves as a research writer for Docent Research Group in addition to doing some guest speaking.

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