Dannelly walked out of Gibson’s The Passion of the
Christ. It was, for him, all too silly.
now says Saved!, his directorial debut, is a cross
between “Mean Girls” and “The
Passion of the Christ”. Well, at least the part
of Passion he saw before he skedaddled. Why would
he say this if Gibson’s film is silly?
of the success of Passion. Dannelly believes that
Saved! will appeal to the same audience.
theory is being tested this week in 20 theatres. A massive
publicity effort has made the filmmakers and actors available
for both print and media interviews. Macaulay Culkin (who
plays Roland, the wheelchair bound likeable smart-mouthed
Roland) was recently on Larry King Live confessing
he would have worked on the film for no money. It was so smart
and perceptive he couldn’t say no.
the growing controversy surrounding Saved!, Mandy
Moore (who plays the Bible-thumping, hate-spewing Hillary
Faye) told Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America that
she thinks most of the criticism comes from people who have
not seen the film. She thinks those who see the film will
conclude that it is "really very sweet".
I went out and saw the film.
and Culkin and Moore could not be more wrong. Saved!
is a vicious attack on traditional Christianity that is anything
Christians working on the film quit in production. A Christian
rock band that was to perform during prom scenes pulled out.
So did a church that was to be used for some shots. Funding
for Saved! was cut three times during production.
is a subversive teen comedy set at American Eagle Christian
High School. As the opening titles roll a bold line crosses
the exclamation point at the end of Saved! turning
even punctuation into commentary. Dannelly doesn’t let
any opportunity to skewer triumphalistic Christians slip by.
film’s protagonist is Mary. Gee, I wonder why Dannelly
picked that name? She opens the film telling secrets underwater
with her ice-skating boyfriend, Dean. When he bubbles out
that he is gay, she comes up for air only to hit her head.
The pool boy rescues her. Mary, half unconscious, thinks he
is Jesus telling her that Dean needs her now and she must
do all she can to help him.
decides she will save Dean from his “spiritually toxic
affliction” by having sex with him. After all, “what
would Jesus do?”
Dean’s parents discover his not so secret secret and
send him to Mercy House, a treatment facility for alcoholism,
unwed mothers, drug addicts, and “de-gayification”.
a spiritual pep rally we are introduced to Pastor Skip who
opens his talk with “Let’s kick it Christian style!”,
“Let’s get our Christ on!” and “Who’s
down with the G! O! D!”
Pastor Skip does an altar call we see close ups of several
students and hear their personal prayers, each one silly and
also meet Cassandra (Eva Amurri; daughter of Susan Sarandon).
She is the only Jew in the school. She goes to American Eagle
because, “After I got expelled from the last school
it was either here or home schooling. I figured I could deal
with these freaks better than my parents.”
the rally she feigns speaking in tongues as she rips at her
blouse. The boys get excited because they think she is going
to tear it off. Finally Hillary tells everyone what Cassandra
is saying in pig Latin. It is not the only time the film mixes
explicitly sexual content with sacred material.
told a Christian web site that he loves “the whole ‘Jesus
Rocks’ movement. I found the experience of people of
all ages and from all walks of life coming together to celebrate
their beliefs deeply moving and inspiring.”
Dannelly or his movie is lying.
decides to save Cassandra. This gives Dannelly the opportunity
to make his case that orthodox Christianity is anti-Semitic.
here on out Hillary is the “good” girl with the
evil heart. Cassandra, her nemesis, is the exact opposite.
In fact, throughout the film there is an absolute corollary
between being a Christian and being cruel. Each time someone
declares that they’re no longer a Christian or are very
angry with God then they become human and acceptable. They
are welcomed into the real-people club.
character’s transformational arc is the same, making
the director’s message unquestionable. Religious belief
gets in the way of you becoming who you are. It makes you
rude, spiritually arrogant, judgmental, hypocritical and stupid.
We all know each one of us is capable of any one of these
traits. In Saved!, ALL the Christians have ALL of
them ALL of the time. Christianity gets in the way of how
you relate with others. And it stays a problem until you jettison
finds out she is pregnant. She defiantly swears under a cross
to show her disgust at God for telling her to sleep with Dean.
holds a prayer meeting to pray for Dean, whom she calls “the
all, “Prayer works, it’s been medically proven!”
Half of the audience laughs. There are no benefits to traditional
Christianity whatsoever. Vague faith- maybe. Orthodox belief-
tells Hillary at the prayer meeting that she hopes she knows
this is all a waste of time. Mary recites what Dannelly now
reports in interviews to be the film’s primary message,
“I am trying to find a new religion or a new God. They
can’t all be right but they can’t all be wrong.”
obviously what our culture needs! More mutilated Rousseauian
ideology of the self.
does an intervention on Mary. She and her friends kidnap Mary
and take her into the woods where they attempt an exorcism
to get rid of the evil in her. Hillary screams, “You
have become a maggot for sin. You’re backsliding into
hell. Mary, turn away from Satan.”
Mary turns to walk away the Bible-thumping, Bible-bashing
Hillary actually throws her Bible at her as she yells, “I
am filled with Christ’s love and you’re jealous
of my success in the Lord!”
this point I had to remind myself that I know hundreds, even
thousands of Christians. Not one of them is like this; not
on the Christian right or the Christian left. In fact, with
the exception of Patrick (Pastor Skip’s son who has
a crush on Mary) and Roland, every person in this film is
a thoughtless stereotype.
starts to despise his father, Pastor Skip. He knows that his
parent’s marriage is a farce. When his dad tells him
that divorce is not part of God’s plan, Patrick tells
him he needs a new plan.
message is persistent and clear.
Skip has dinner out in public with Mary’s mom. She tells
him that she doesn’t care if what they are doing is
wrong. “Skip, I feel good when I’m with you and
I think you feel good when I’m with you. Why would God
give us these feelings of happiness if it is wrong?”
cut to the most sacrilegious moment in the film. Patrick plays
Jesus nailed on the cross during the last scene of the school’s
rendition of Jesus Christ Superstar. As Patrick moans
and writhes in pain, Cassandra and Mary translate it into
sexual ecstasy. Cassandra tells Mary, “that’s
what I call hung on a cross!”
reports it was never his intent to offend. Oh really.
film reminds us that there are many exclusive secularists
in our culture who reject traditional Christian belief as
not only a huge waste of time, but a force for evil. Whatever
it takes it must be stopped. Their brief history of Christianity
goes something like this:
Jesus was a good moral leader. But it was Paul who Hellenized
his teachings, making Jesus not just the Son of Man, but
the Son of God. Paul’s universalization of the faith
to the gentiles set Christianity up as a real alternative
to Roman paganism, but his high stakes religious gamble
paid off only after he and the other Gospel authors turned
their back on their Judaism, setting up centuries of anti-Semitic
persecution in exchange for the possible control of the
Constantine and Charlemagne further radicalized Paul’s
Christianity by using it to subdue warring pagan cultures
into the unified military hegemony known today as the Holy
Roman Empire, which for centuries oppressed nearly all human
life visa vie the Crusades, the Inquisition, and world-wide
colonialization, outweighing all positive benefits of the
Today this tradition remains alive in American evangelicalism
and fundamentalism. The most extremist arm is the Southern
Baptist Convention. Traditional Catholics who dare to adhere
to the doctrines of their church run a close second.
Christian orthodoxy is still used by a powerful few to manipulate
the ignorant many. A radical rebirth is needed to free us
from this belief system that remains a hideous cancer on
our culture and on our personal lives.
promotes this myopic reading of history. Dannelly wants Christians
to see Saved! so he can sell them tickets AND his
vandals spray anti-Christian vulgarity all over the campus
Pastor Skip expels Cassandra. But it is Hillary who is exposed
as the graffiti vandal after publicly swearing to God at the
prom that she didn’t do it. Now even Hillary is shamed
by the untenable moral code she so stridently defended. She
runs from the gymnasium just as a busload of Mercy Home kids
show up to crash the prom. When Pastor Skip tells Dean and
his boyfriend they can’t go in because this is an issue
of right vs. wrong, Dean shouts back, “It’s ALL
a gray area!”
agrees. “So everything that doesn’t fit into some
stupid idea of what God wants you try to get rid off. No one
fits in 100% of the time. Not even you.”
knows he has been having an affair with her mom. She asks
Pastor Skip, “Why would God make us all so different
if He wants us all to be the same?”
then Hillary Faye, spewing hate at Jesus for not giving her
the prom of her dreams even though she has been a true follower,
drives her van into the massive sneaker glad statue of Jesus
at the end of the parking lot, decapitating it. Cassandra
is first to her. “That was so awesome, Hillary Faye!”
Hillary has joined the human race, free of the dehumanizing
worldview known as Christianity. She is finally free of her
hate and her intolerance.
the end Mary, in the joy of childbirth, concludes that “life
is too amazing to be pure chance. There has to be a god, or
something out there. Perhaps something inside. You just have
to feel it. What would Jesus do? I don’t know. But in
the meantime we will try to figure it out together.”
found myself speaking out loud in the theatre, “It’s
called theology and millions of Christians have been doing
it for a couple thousand years. Welcome to the discourse!”
infuriates Dannelly is that they have not all come up with
what Dannelly believes he is promoting with Saved!,
is actually dealt a blow by his film. Most of the world’s
people believe that their faith is based on sacred texts which
place limits not only on their behavior but also on what to
have faith in. Saved! is an attack on the concept
of orthodox belief.
world over, firmly held beliefs make us more, not less human.
an inadequate notion at best, requires true difference of
opinion based not only on feelings but thought. Love, always
preferable to tolerance, requires a positive stance toward
others apart from the beliefs they hold.
commands us to love one another but to believe certain things.
Dannelly’s message in Saved! is that we can
only love one another when we no longer believe anything.