Making the Grades
Jake Taylor (Randy Wayne) is the quintessential jock. The senior is the star shooter on the basketball team and has his arm wrapped around Amy (Deja Kreutzberg), the cheerleader every other boy wishes was his girl. But there’s a past to Jake few are aware of. When he was a kid, his best pal was Roger (Robert Bailey Jr.), a quiet boy who lived down the street and also enjoyed basketball.
Jake will never forget Roger for two reasons: First, during their younger days, Roger pushed Jake out of the path of an oncoming car. Roger’s heroic action resulted in a lifetime leg injury and a halting gait that attracted a lot of teases and taunts. As Jake’s popularity increased in their high school environment, the limping teen became even more of a loner. Once Amy came on the scene, he felt he had lost his only friend. That led to the second unforgettable event—the day Roger brought a handgun to school, fired it in the air a few times and then shot himself. (This is not explicitly depicted on screen. The shot cuts away just before we hear the burst of gunfire.)
Trying to stop him during those final moments is the first time Jake has spoken to Roger in a couple of years. Now, as much as he would like to put the horrific memory behind him, Jake is tormented night and day by his lack of care for his childhood chum. Although his clique of friends, including Amy, do their best to convince him that the suicide isn’t his fault, Jake tries to lose himself in a life of risk taking behavior. Parties with drinking, drugs and sex become his raison d’être. Making matters worse, his parents are on the brink of divorce.
At this point, many teen movies would search for a "quick fix," or even resort to a semi-comedic resolution with an unjustified happy ending. But To Save A Life is a rarity and its intended purpose is not to entertain (although the story is certainly compelling). Instead it offers solutions that are difficult, but realistic, along with portrayals of the consequences that come from making poor decisions. To bring these themes to the screen, this movie includes depictions of sexuality (the scene is brief and only male topless nudity is shown), drug use and self-inflicted violence—all involving teen characters.
The film also offers religion—in this case Evangelical Christianity—as a positive tool for reconciling feelings of guilt and improving the lives of others. Yet, even here, a preachy attitude is avoided, and ecclesiastical leaders and church members are presented as human beings, each with their own talents and faults.
For some, the serious content in To Save A Life may make it inappropriate for viewing. Caution is certainly advised, especially for younger family members. However, for older teens, this film presents powerful messages about inclusion, the importance of supportive friends and family, looking out for others who may appear marginalized, and the role faith can play in your life.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about To Save a Life.
This movie is one parents should view with their teens, or prior to having them see it. Prepare to discuss such topics as suicide prevention, peer groups, and religion/spirituality.
What role does faith, in this case Christianity, play in the lives of these young people? Do you think the portrayal of religion in this film is realistic? While he is at first attracted to religion, Jake becomes discouraged with the activities and attitudes of some members of the church. Is his criticism justified?
It’s unknown if Jake’s dad is aware of his son’s risk-taking behaviors, but when the teen begins going to church his father suddenly becomes worried about how religion may affect his son’s academic plans. Is his father justified? Why is religion sometimes more concerning to parents than drinking, drugs or other activities? Is one easier to "hide" from parents than the other?