Very rarely does a teen-Christian film achieve spreading its messages while not coming across as "preachy." To Save a Life is an excellent example of how a film can trap its audience by appearing secular and contemporary while conveying strong messages and keeping the audience on the edge of its seat.
Released in 2009, To Save a Life surprisingly profited in the box office, grossing $3.7 million dollars (a tremendous profit from a $500,000 budget), and was slaughtered by critics for being preachy, predictable and featuring some sub-par acting (Metacritic calculates a 19/100). As with most Christian films, these ratings are not shocking given the secular bias of Hollywood.
For the average Christian audience with an interest in modern issues with today's youth, the film is a Holy Grail. To Save a Life brings up rough topics without censoring, exaggerating or dumbing down severity. The film begins with basketball stud, beer-pong champion and hot girl-friend "owner" Jake Taylor. Jake is quickly sobered up when an old friend of his is driven to suicide in the middle of a school hallway due to his struggling to find a niche in his school. Jake's suicidal friend, Roger, is seen as "un-cool" as he is crippled. While some could say making Roger a cripple in the film is an exaggeration for why some teens may be bullied, the film effectively shows how a lack of understanding can lead to isolation and eventual suicidal thoughts.
Without spoiling too much of the film, To Save a Life does not hold back in attempting to cram many massive issues with our society in 2 break-neck hours. Teen pregnancy, abortion, cutting, suicide, divorce and intervention with depressed teens are all featured in this film. The themes of sacrificing popularity to do the right thing, peer pressure, pre-marital sex, drugs etc. are obvious and clear in the film. Jake's eventual questioning if Christianity is worth turning towards is inconclusive by the end of the film.
To Save a Life teaches that worldly issues can best be addressed with faith in mind. It doesn't make false promises or appear proselytizing. It is a genuine, gritty and realistic representation of modern high schools and the troubles and temptations that plague our society.
As a Film and Ratings:
Cinematically, To Save a Life is beautifully shot. Most notably, Roger's funeral scene is absolutely touching, and almost every still frame could be a professional photographer's pride and joy. Some of the acting is indeed sub-par (mainly Jake's parents), but Roger, Jake and Jake's girlfriend Amy all do incredibly convincing jobs at bringing realism to the horrid situations presented in this film. Music in the film also brings the high school experience to life.
Parents be warned: simply because To Save a Life is a Christian film does not mean this film is for everybody. There is plenty of teen drinking, smoking, marijuana references, implied teen sex, crude dialogue, and disturbing themes throughout the film. Roger's suicide in particular is absolutely horrifying, and there is another scene of a boy graphically cutting his wrist with a razor blade. Make sure you (or your child) is emotionally capable of handling intense thematic elements before watching this PG-13 film.
Overall, I recommend this film for anybody with a strong emotional stomach who wants to challenge their lifestyle or faith. To Save a Life sincerely changed my life, and I pray it continues to touch millions of other viewers.
Storytelling/Character Development: 8
Christian/Freedom Messages: 10
Here is the film's trailer! Please note that this trailer tries to appear secular in order to pull in a larger audience!