Explore the faith, pass the popcorn
(RNS)—A conservative, Christian high school is the setting for Hollywood's most recent experiment in religious films.
"Saved!"—which co-stars Mandy Moore, Macaulay Culkin and Jena Malone—has stirred controversy due to its light-hearted script that parodies evangelical Christians and explores controversial themes such as teenage pregnancy, homosexuality and social acceptance.
"It makes you re-evaluate your faith," Culkin says. "It's a movie that asks you to question your own faith and to second-guess yourself. I think that's one of those things that anyone, not only me, can take away from it."
The film centers on the lives of a group of high school students who are coming to grips with the evangelical views of the social structure around them.
Concerned about a fellow classmate who thinks he might be gay, "good girl" Hilary Faye (Moore) holds a prayer meeting for him. Meanwhile, the boy's girlfriend, Mary (Malone), ends up pregnant, leading her and others to question the complexities of faith, long-held values and the beliefs of their classmates. Culkin plays Hilary Faye's wheelchair-bound brother, Roland, who befriends Mary.
"I loved Mary," Malone said of her character. "She's a normal girl who's grown up with this specific faith [and] this foundation is starting to crack around her."
Directed and co-written by Brian Dannelly, the script reflects some of the religious experiences he and co-writer Michael Urban had while growing up.
"The biggest lesson I learned from my experiences became a line in the script: ÔThey can't all be wrong and they can't all be right,'" Dannelly says.
Urban, who grew up in a traditional Southern Baptist home, says, "Sometimes things are twisted and exploited in the name of religion or God. I wanted to explore that."
But not everyone agrees with this type of exploration. During the making of the movie, a Lutheran church and a local homeowner backed out of providing sites for the fi lm after looking at the script. Afraid of upsetting fans, a Christian music label prohibited a popular Christian rock band from performing in the film.
"Obviously some things are exaggerated for comedic effect," Mandy Moore says. "But the message of this film is not about mocking Christians. It isn't anti-anything at all. It is about discovering who you are and what you believe in."
The film's producer, Sandy Stern, contends the film portrays a timely view of American teens' receptivity to religion.
"Something is going on in the world right now that we haven't quite seen—Christianity has become a multibillion dollar industry," Stern says. "With war, September 11, Columbine, drugs, AIDS, terrorism—with everything we're faced with—people are turning to religion. É With ÔSaved!' we're trying to show how teenagers are using religion as a way to cope in their day-to-day world."
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Available on DVD Sept. 21