This January, it looks like the film industry has found religion. (Or, if you’re more cynical, you might say it’s found that religion can be a nice selling point.)
The Book of Eli has made about $43 million in its first week of release. Avatar and The Lovely Bones are also overtly spiritual in their own ways. And I’m going to review Legion later today, a horror film that hooks on to Revelation for “inspiration.”
Into this mix hops To Save a Life, the story of a teen grappling with the suicide of his one-time best friend. Of all the films I’ve mentioned, this is the most explicitly Christian of the bunch: Youth pastor Jim Britts wrote it, and the main character gets baptized midway through. But it’s more a story of discipleship than conversion. It’s about what it really looks like and means to be a Christian, day by day.
I had a chance to talk with both Britts and director Brian Baugh (the interview can be found here), and both say they didn’t set out to make a “Christian” film, which I think means two things: One, they want this film to reach out to more than just Christians, and two, they want this film to transcend some of the aesthetic baggage that can go along with a “Christian film.”
Now, there are a whole lotta really eye-rolling secular films out there. But because they’re balanced with the likes of, say, Up and Avatar, nobody thinks the whole category is second-rate. With Christian films, there aren’t enough of them being made to fully balance the scales. So if you end up seeing three or four that make you squirm, you conclude that they’re all like that. Back to Britts and Baugh: If they want you to show their Christian-themed movie to your non-Christian friends, they’ve gotta make sure it passes the eye-roll test. If you find yourself rolling your eyes every 10 minutes over the dialogue or plot or what-have-you, it’s not one you’re likely going to enjoy yourself, much less be something you’ll be proud to show someone else.
To Save a Life passes that test … or at least it did for me. The film, stocked with professional actors and helmed by a Hollywood veteran, feels sleek and solid, and the story really smacked me between the eyes, both as a father of teens and a former teen myself. It’s not quite to the level of Hollywood’s best (no blue CGI creatures, no cameos by Tyler Perry), but it’s competent and well-made, and if this is the future of Christian filmmaking, well, the future looks bright.
Will this movie become Christendom’s next Fireproof, in terms of box-office success? Well, it’s got a shot. To Save a Life is rolling to 441 screens today–substantial exposure for a Christian film, and maybe it’ll be enough to make me want to talk about it again on Monday. We’ll see.