Faith Review – To Save a Life
By Jeff Smith
Film Title: To Save A Life
Year: January 22, 2010 (limited theatres in the U.S.) – prescreening shows for pastors of youth happened November 5, 2009.
Director(s): Directed by Brian Baugh. Baugh makes his directing debut in To Save A Life, but has worked as a cinematographer on over 20 titles including, The Ultimate Gift (2006), which also deals with theological themes, that are similar to this film.
Original Release Form/Venue:
Originally released for theatres.
Current Availability and Formats:
Released onto DVD and blu-ray disc on August 3, 2010. Available on Netflix. Clips available through wingclips.com and hulu.com. The movie actually has a curriculum kit that has been put together for use in ministry settings such as churches.
Christian Drama – PG 13, 120 Minutes
The plot of this film is central to the story. Jake Taylor (Randy Wayne) has everything. He has a beautiful girl, he’s the champion in basketball and beer pong, and everyone loves him. Then, an old childhood friend, whom Jake used to be friends with, commits suicide. Jake begins to think. He wonders what he could’ve done to save his friend’s life. A youth minister (Steven Crowder) tells him that Jake needs God. So Jake becomes a Christian. However, things begin to spin out of control. His dad is cheating on his mom, his girlfriend is pregnant, and his former friends ridicule and mock him. During all this, Jake is going to realize just what it means to be a Christian and how, to save a life.
Jake is the central character of the story, and the youth pastor, Chris, becomes a strong secondary character as well as Jake’s girlfriend, Amy. Both Jake and Amy’s characters grow throughout the movie – Jake a little quicker than Amy. There are other peripheral characters in the film who are important to the plot’s development which represent two sides: Jake’s former friends who now hate his decision to become “Christian” and his new friends who appear to be the “Christian outcasts” at the school.
Film Language Elements:
The camera shots are central to this film. At the beginning of the film the shots are quickly cut and faded from the present funeral scene to the past when Jake and Roger were growing up together. These are quick and purposeful as they highlight the decisions and choices that split up their childhood friendship and forever changed Roger’s life.
The film has been edited to splice different scenes back to back in a quick speed of motion, as the intensity of certain parts of the film builds. There are moments where the speed of motion is in slow motion, flashing back in time showing what had transpired.
Music is used in this film to highlight specific moments, albeit secular music or just background tones or strings, and also intensify the moments.
Audience/Cultural Context Elements:
This film reaches out to teenagers and to Christian households. The movie was not marketed like, Letters to God, or Fireproof, but was left somewhat ambiguous so that it could attract more viewers. So it’s evangelical in nature, but its not done in a way that crams Christianity in your face. The film deals with the critical issues that all teenagers face at one point or another and is done in a way that allows the viewer to connect with a particular issues that they have struggled with. In this manner, the film acknowledges the culture that we live in and tries to call all those who watch it to a different way of life – not to get caught up in conforming to what is accepted, but to embrace a life found in God and to serve God by loving others and treating them respectfully.
This is Brian Baugh’s debut as a director, but successfully and professionally done. It is clear that his work as a cinematographer in the Ultimate Gift helped him develop a film that connects with its audience.
Theology is Found:
Theology is found explicitly in this film. Jake meets a youth pastor who challenges him subtly to check out God and His way of life. Jake is challenged to make some tough decisions, since he is the most popular person in his high school that will affect his life in more ways than one.
Theological Themes for Conversation:
Friendships – regrets
Teenage Relationships – what is love?
Choices and Consequences of our choices
Suicide, Teen Pregnancy, Underage drinking, Divorce, Sex/Infidelity, Drugs, Cutting, Abortion/Adoption
Belonging – wanting to be loved by your parents
Pressure to perform – athletically, and academically
Popular vs. Unpopular
All of life is valuable – regardless of popularity
Success vs. Happiness
Choosing God affects the whole of your life – it causes us to change for the better
Community – what is real community and what does it look like?
Why doesn’t God stop bad things from happening?
Is it okay to be angry with God?
Setting up others to look bad
Taking action to help save others from harm
Transformation in Christ
Suggested Use of Film:
This film is best used as a explanation or deepening of theological themes present in it. There are so many issues to unpack in this film, but ones that can engage lots of positive conversation.
Recommended Amount/Parts of Film to View & How to View It:
The best way to utilize this film is to watch it in its entirety and then have discussions based on it. I would even suggest that this movie be unpacked in a series of discussions. There are so many real issues in this movie that even on conversation is not enough. This is also a movie that could be used with youth (high school) and their parents to engage in conversation about all the issues that can affect teenagers and their decisions.
There is a curriculum that has been produced that does along with the film. I have not ordered it or reviewed it but I know it can be purchased and used. You can get it at: www.tosavealifegear.com
While Christian films can sometimes be cheesy, I believe this is one of the best Christian films that have been released. It deals with so many of the realities that teenagers are facing on a continual basis. While the movie can come across as a “24” T.V. Drama in the sense that it takes on so much throughout the duration of the movie, it presents so many issues and themes that are so prevalent in the life of a teen.