Judge Clark Douglas thinks this rather thoughtful flick is worth saving.
A look at both sides of one of the most polarizing debates in America.
"What are you people trying to do here?"
Facts of the Case
Mark (Chad Allen, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman) is a troubled man. His life is fueled by drugs, alcohol, and frequent gay sex with prostitutes. He feels that his life is spiraling down the drain, and at the end of a particularly rough night he attempts to commit suicide. When he wakes up in the hospital, Mark's brother declares that Mark is no longer welcome at home. His homosexual "lifestyle choices" have broken the heart of Mark's mother, and he will not be welcomed until he decides to "get straight." At this point, Mark is checked into The Genesis House, a Christian organization dedicated to turning gay men into ex-gays.
The Genesis House is run by a middle-aged married couple named Gayle (Judith Light, Who's the Boss?) and Ted (Stephen Lang, Gods and Generals). The couple makes an attempt to welcome Mark, but Mark is immediately suspicious. He declares that he is going to run away. "You're free to do so. We don't lock our doors here," they say. He suspects that they will attempt to brainwash him. "We only want to help you overcome these problems through the love of Jesus Christ," they say. After a while, Mark slowly agrees to go with the program, and is surprised when he begins to feel like he is being "cured." However, are the positive vibes coming from the feel-good program he's participating in, or from his increasingly comfortable relationship with friendly Genesis House resident Scott (Robert Gant, Queer as Folk)?
Do you remember a movie from 2005 called The End of the Spear? It was a rather uninspired Christian film about the life of missionary Nate Saint. In the film, Saint was portrayed by actor Chad Allen. When Christian audiences for whom the film was intended initially discovered that Allen had been cast in the part, there was a considerable protest within parts of the Christian community. Why? Because Allen is a homosexual. However, Allen also professes to be a Christian, and during various interviews he has expressed a desire to try and have a conversation with the Christian community on attempting to find some measure of reconciliation between the worlds of homosexuality and Christianity.
That conversation takes place in Save Me, a film that stars Allen as a troubled homosexual who checks into a clinic designed to provide "sexual healing" for gays. The idea of a gay man finding romance in a repressed religious environment will undoubtedly seem familiar to fans of gay cinema, but there's a lot more originality here than one might expect. The film is unexpectedly compassionate and thoughtful, concerned more with promoting mutual understanding rather than promoting a political agenda. It's really a rather bold effort, because it's a film that attempts to take a moderate stance on an issue that rarely inspires moderate views.
Ordinarily, The Genesis House would be portrayed as an evil, freaky, diabolical organization with frightening motivations. Such an organization is a very easy target, and cheap drama could be gained by having two characters break free of the shackles of their religious oppressors. Save Me avoids such obvious ideas and instead goes for a challenging complexity. Gayle and particularly Ted are shown as deeply compassionate individuals who only have the best of intentions. In fact, the film suggests that The Genesis House is doing some of these men a lot of good. This has nothing to do with the attempts to "cure" these men of their sexuality, but rather because The Genesis House is also helping these individuals break free of drugs, alcohol, and dangerous promiscuity. Despite the constant reminders that their homosexual tendencies are inspired by the devil, all of the men residing at The Genesis House feel that they are in a very loving and supportive environment.
This is how to start a conversation with an opponent. Here is a film that does not dismiss religious individuals with anti-homosexuality belief systems as hateful psychopaths, but rather as well-intentioned, misguided, good people. It is revealed at one point in the film that Gayle lost her 17-year-old gay son to suicide, which serves as the motivation for what she does. This has been regarded as offensive by some critics, who claim that the film is providing justification for what should be regarded as a vile idea. They're missing the purpose of the film. The movie isn't attempting to provide justification for these "sexual healing" groups, but rather attempting to achieve understanding. As I said, it's the perfect way to start a conversation: "Look, we understand where you're coming from, what you're attempting to do and why you're attempting to do it. Now, let us share our perspective on this issue with you."
The film does indeed land firmly in the pro-gay camp by its conclusion, and the none of the characters has really changed in any significant way. The gay men are still gay men, and the folks at the Genesis House still believe that homosexuality is a sin. However, the film suggests that it is possible for these two fiercely opposing viewpoints to achieve mutual respect, understanding and compassion. Again, such an idea will probably seem offensive to some. Personally, I think it's precisely the sort of healthy mentality that we could use a lot more of in this world. Yes, this film is asking a lot from both sides. It is asking gay individuals to attempt to be more understanding of those who think that gays need to be "cured," and it is asking religious individuals to replace their resentment with acceptance. Of course there will be many on both sides who have absolutely no interest in budging one inch in the other direction, but I believe there are many who will respond to this film in a positive way.
The performances are all strong here. Chad Allen is natural and convincing in his role, and Robert Gant continues to demonstrate his considerable charisma. Judith Light turns a potentially one-dimensional character into a fully-realized human being, and Stephen Lang quietly steals every scene he is in as the understanding Ted. Even so, the biggest stars here are the ideas, which dominate the film in a powerful way and overwhelm the pros and cons of the technical aspects.
The transfer is hit-and-miss. In general, the film itself looks good. The lush Midwestern landscapes provide a (perhaps intentional) Brokeback Mountain vibe during the scenes between Allen and Gant, and these brighter moments look quite sharp. However, the night scenes are rather weak, as the film suffers from rather serious black crush and looks pretty murky. Audio is equally uneven, with poor microphone placement during a few scenes that makes the dialogue sound much more distant than it should. Extras include brief-but-thoughtful interviews with director Robert Cary, Chad Allen, and Judith Light, along with deleted scenes, a note from the director, and a photo gallery. A curious side note: the DVD is being sold with two different covers. The version I reviewed features Allen holding a crucifix to his head as if it were a gun. The second features a clean-cut Allen wearing a shirt and tie with a heavenly light shining on his face. Interesting marketing trick.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The one aspect of the film that is handled in a fairly routine way is the budding romance between Allen and Gant. It's rather unimaginative, I must say: occasional glances followed by longer glances followed by passionate staring followed by secret make-out sessions. It feels like a part of the story that has simply been included as a way to get to some of the movie's bigger messages.
There may not be an audience for this film. Gay viewers may have a difficult time stomaching such a kind portrayal of an anti-gay organization, and many religious viewers will undoubtedly jump ship during the opening sequence that contrasts hymns being sung in church with rather graphic images of gay sex. It would be a shame if these things kept people away from the film. I found the compassionate goodness of Save Me very moving, and sincerely hope others feel the same way. A very fine effort worth your time and attention.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: First Run Features
• Deleted Scenes
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