To Save a Life

Posted on: 09/15/09 11:16 PM | by Jonathan McKee

I’m going to be completely honest. Don’t get mad at me for saying this… but I’m not a big fan of most Christian movies.

Trust me, it’s not because they’re Christian. Heck, I’m a believer. I would love for Christian films to be good. My distaste exists simply because many Christian films have been put together by people with great hearts, but not a lot of skill in the area of film making. (just because a restaurant is owned by a Christian, does that necessarily mean the food tastes good?)

WIth that in mind… I recently screened a Christian film written by a youth pastor, a film that I actually liked!  So I wanted to pass my two cents on to all of you. The film is called To Save a Life and will be in theatres this January. But the film makers are doing screenings for youth pastors and churches all over the country (see a list of screenings here) now. You’ll definitely want to catch one of these screenings (see a youth pastor promo video of the film here).

My two cents:

When the filmmakers asked me if I would screen their film, inside I thought, “Oh man. I hope this isn’t another Extreme Days or Left Behind. But I didn’t want to be closed minded, so I gave it a shot. I figured, I’d give it 15 minutes. If it stunk by then… I’d hit eject.

So I gave it a shot.

Not only did I not eject the film after 15 minutes… I don’t think I looked at my watch once.

The cinematography was surprisingly good. It only took me about 90 seconds to realize that. In addition, the story really captured me as a youth worker. I think you’ll find To Save a Life an authentic glimpse into the thoughts of many unbelievers.

The synopsis:

Ever since Jake Taylor was a kid, he was the type of guy you couldn’t help but like. For Jake, life is good. He has friends, fame, a basketball scholarship, a future and the hottest girl in the school. Not much to get down about, right?

Enter Roger Dawson. He’s Jake’s childhood best friend before Jake’s popularity goes into high gear. Miserable and mad over being on the outside of Jake’s, or anybody’s inner circle, he’s tired of being pushed aside by everyone. He walks onto campus with a gun in his pocket and pain in his heart, and makes a tragic move.

Jake is devastated at what Roger has done. And something in him changes. In seeking answers in his own life, one question plagues him the most… Could I have saved him? He is now deeply compelled to reach out to the students who are on the fringe of acceptability by the school’s upper crust. But he finds reaching out to the undesirable threatens his world. He may lose his own friends, his scholarship, his dreams and even his reputation to do it.

Let me not lead you astray, this isn’t the best movie I’ve seen. The film has its flaws (at times I wondered if they tried to cover too many issues in the film—I fear that some might call it preachy). But I thoroughly enjoyed the storyline, especially the raw look at the typical American youth group. All too real.

As the story unfolded, I really grew to like the lead, Jake. He was very real. Audiences saw the conflict between just having compassion and acting on it. It’s a real struggle that kids experience.

The youth group scenes were REALLY good. In my Do They Run When They See You Coming? book I gave a similar glimpse of a youth ministry through the eyes of an “unchurched” kid. I’ve used these kinds of stories for years in my student evangelism workshops. This film does the same thing, really capturing that moment through the eyes of the “visitor.”

And a funny side note: the writer made the pastor’s kid the evil nemesis. Classic! (Since he and I are both PKs) Probably not too far from the truth. The writer really understands youth ministry today, revealing both the good and the bad. You’ll meet a couple very real committed kids, and then you’ll meet plenty of “stagnant” kids. A great snapshot of today’s youth groups.

When I finished screening the film, I immediately wanted to see how Christian teenagers would respond to this call to compassion. The message of reaching out on campus is inescapable.

I gathered a group of teens and tweens in my living room and screened it again, this time following the film up with questions. The sheltered kids in the group were a little surprised by some of the raw elements of the film (nothing profane, just the fact that a Christian film showed kids partying and doing what high school students do at parties). They all were really challenged by the film’s authenticity and call to reach out to people outside our normal comfort circles.

So from a youth worker’s perspective… the film was brilliant.

I just trained a group of student leaders on this very subject a few months ago. We specifically talked about what happens when “people walk in the door to our youth room.” Then we talked about the student that will never “walk in our door.” How do we reach out to them? I think this film showed that struggle, and the balanced approach youth ministries need. The film isn’t all about “coming to youth group.” We see believers inviting kids to church, but we also see a Christian who has the guts to walk up to people where they were (a kid at the lunch table, at his house playing video games, etc.)

Keep your eyes out for this film. It probably won’t be winning any awards… but it well worth seeing. Furthermore, it will be a great discussion piece for your Christian students.

14 Replies to “To Save a Life”

  1. Just saw a screening of this movie last night and echo similar thoughts and responses as you from watching it. Very real, very insightful, and a lot to think through.

    Took 2 of my h.s. guys with me to get their take on it. One of them has experience in film/arts and he was very impressed with the cinematography and storyline as well, since it was a ‘Christian’ movie. He has a keen eye for tacky transitions, cheesy lines, etc. and found only one transition that was a bit awkward (and it was minor).

    The movie made a great presentation of life in h.s. right now, and the struggles going on. Wonder how many parents will check this movie out and be amazed/surprised to see how real this is in the public school setting or will they be offended by some of the content that is portrayed on the screen? Hmm…

    Overall, me and my 2 guys had some great follow up discussion and conversations about it in the car afterwards. We left reflecting on a lot of themes the movie communicated, and I left considering how we could incorporate this movie into an event for my students when it comes out in January.

  2. Jon, you’re so wrong! All Christian restaurants are delicious. Ever have Chik-fil-a. Isn’t papa John a monk or something? and the guy that owns outback must at least check out Hillsong sometimes. Get your facts straight buddy. ttyl i’m watching “Theif in the Night.”

  3. Saw it with my students at DCLA – half my group saw it the first showing, and made the rest of us see it the second time with them!

    Good film, worth seeing. I’d love to collaborate, rent the theater, and challenge students to bring a friend.

    Thanks J for your continued insights. Love the stuff with Chris Radloff – know him from back in the day!

  4. Where was Jesus mentioned once in this movie? And 3 curse words, one used twice. It is watered down, diluted faith and I can’t believe youth pastors are all thinking this is great. I took my 17 year old daughter to the movie and she thinks they went to far with the language and sensuality as well. Implied would have worked. Would you eat a 9×13 inch pan of delicious looking and smelling brownies if I told you it had 95% pure ingredients (finest chocolate, flour, an sugar you could buy) but had 5% dog poop in it? I would not eat it and I will not take my teens to see this movie!

    I’m more in tune with this guys review…

  5. Dennis… when the Bible tells the story of David and Bathsheba, do you think it was necessary for the Biblical authors to include the fact that they slept together? Or how about in Genesis 38 when Onan “lay with his brother’s wife” and “spilled his semen on the ground” … that’s pretty sensual. In the book of Judges, chapter 19… that part where the men came to the door and pounded on it saying, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.” But instead the owner instead offered his virgin daughter and concubine. Next thing we know the concubine was raped throughout the whole night and left for dead at daybreak. The Bible probably should have edited those parts out, huh?

    Is there sensuality at school? Is there cussing at school? Is the story in that movie “reality?”

    The question you bring up Dennis is, how can we tell a story that’s true, without showing content that is “gratuitous” and unnecessary? In other words, how can we share a real story, but not distract kids with tempting sidebars that would distract kids from hearing the message of a story?

    “To Save a Life” is a film that shows a glimpse of teenage life today that is real, but in no way gratuitous. I don’t know a single kid that would “stumble” watching that film (no kid is going to start cussing because they heard the word “damn” in the film). On the contrary, I think kids will appreciate the realism and be challenged by the film’s message to love others and reach out to them like Jesus did.

    Side note: is this blog now in need of editing? Because I just used the words “semen” and “damn?”

  6. Jonathan,

    While the Bible mentions that they slept together it does not go into ever torrid detail of their lovemaking. WE get the picture, it happened. Do you have to show them on film actually having sex, full nudity because that is the way it really happened? How far do you take it to enjoy hollywood realism? Are you doing this for man or God?

    And after David did this he was punished, while our main character can curse in front of the youth group and the youth pastor says it is the coolest thing he ever saw?

    Fireproof did not have to compromise to become a huge ministry tool!

    You say, “the film’s message to love others and reach out to them like Jesus did.” But did you hear any one mention Jesus’ name once in the movie? I sure didn’t.

    And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Rom. 12:2

  7. Dennis… sigh. I’m not sure what film you saw. Because To Save a Life didn’t show any nudity or “torrid detail” of lovemaking. Not even close.

    As for the use of damn… the youth leader was impressed with the boy’s honesty and insight, not his use of “damn.”

    We don’t always need to stop and correct. Did Jesus stop and lecture the short guy in the tree about stealing? Did he lecture the woman at the well about her adultery? (John 4)Did he condemn the woman caught in the very act of adultery? (John 8) No… he simply reached out to them. He didn’t compromise in any way, he didn’t judge them for their past… but he cared deeply about their future (“go and sin no more.”)

    I hope youth workers can have the same Christ-like authenticity in their ministry, showing grace, and balancing that with purity.

    Sorry we disagree. I think this film is a great tool to talk about real issues with kids.

    That’s the last I’m gonna chime in on this.

  8. Ephesians 5:4 would cover the cursing. To your point Jonathan above go and sin no more would be saying “what you have been doing was wrong”.

  9. I watch the screening of this movie not to long ago and as a teenager myself i was able to see to point you were trying to make and felt it was an excellent discription of high school life in relationship to my churches youth group. It was inspirational and I am going to be urging my fellow friends (christian and other) to see this movie. We are also excited to be getting to experience the lessons you gave as a add on to this movie. God Bless.

  10. I cannot wait to see this movie and will be taking my teens. I am a born-again believer that had been lied by satan to believe that all the cursing and sen/sex-uality going on around me is so aweful. Well, yes after Jesus all that is aweful, but before Jesus some of us were blinded and believed otherwise. So a word of wisdom, without being spotted by the world. In order for born-again believers to impact the world and bring others to Christ we must not forget where we come from and what the Lord delivered us from. We were killing ourselves with our lifestyles. We need to show the world that the Father sent Jesus by how we live our lives, not just merely by what we say. We are in this world but we are no longer part of it, and remembering how we were will help us a lot with the people that are in that dark place…we must have compassion and not become selfrighteous.

  11. Took my students last night, Every single one of them came out and said, THAT MOVIE WAS AWESOME. I look forward to our next time together to take some time and to talk about some key points brought out in the movie. Hope people take this to heart and LOVE people as Christ Loved us.

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