Three years ago, a controversy erupted when it was revealed that Chad Allen, the actor who had been hired to play famed missionary martyr Nate Saint in End of the Spear, was an openly gay man who had appeared on the covers of magazines like The Advocate. The film's producers, who had already offered Allen the part, decided to brave the furor by honoring that commitment. And Allen, for his part, told reporters he was impressed by the love and sincerity of the Christians that he had worked with on that film, even though they did not agree with his lifestyle.
Something of that dialogue makes its way into Save Me, an independent film that stars Allen as a troubled, drug-addicted gay man named Mark who is sent to a place called Genesis House, where a married couple encourages gay men to commit themselves to Jesus and to change their sexual orientation. The film isn't exactly neutral on the subject of homosexuality itself; produced by Mythgarden, a company founded by Allen and two other gay men, it privileges the pro-gay view in a number of ways. But it does, at least, express an interest in understanding the other side.
The film challenges the viewer right off the bat, with a sequence that cuts back and forth between a church service and a couple of gay men who drive recklessly, do drugs and stop at a motel for some quick and semi-graphic sex. This isn't a porn film by any stretch, but the suggestive poses and flashes of nudity are as frank here as they might be in a typical R-rated sex scene, and it is almost as though the filmmakers were daring the more conservative viewer to walk out of the film.
For those who can stay with the film past that scene, though, the story unfolds in a more thoughtful and nuanced manner than you might expect. Mark—one of the two men in that opening sequence—passes out on the floor of his motel room, thanks to his careless consumption of drugs and alcohol, and is sent to the hospital. His brother then sends him to Genesis House to get straightened out, in more ways than one. And there, Mark meets a number of interesting residents who wrestle with their sexual orientation and shed light on the issue in various ways.
Chief among them is Scott (Robert Gant), a seemingly well-adjusted guy who helps support Genesis House by making birdhouses for them to sell. Scott is driven, in part, by a need to please his Bible-quoting father, who is now spending his last days in a hospital; but he also finds himself drawn to Mark, and not just as a friend.
Then there is Mark's roommate Lester (Robert Baker), a funny guy with a serious side—or is it vice versa?—who says he has never acted on his urges but wonders if it is true that committing a sin in your mind is as bad as committing it with your body. "I hope so," he adds, only half-jokingly. And then there is Bill (William Dennis Hurley), a "fifth-phaser" who has supposedly had more success than most of the others in becoming heterosexual, and who is prone to saying things like, "A lot of the guys, they peak at level two or three. You know why? Because they're weak."
And so the film raises the possibility that much of what goes on at Genesis House is motivated not by true faith or love, although that is certainly there in the mix too, but by pride. The people who live there are encouraged not only to follow biblical standards of sexual purity, but to follow human standards regarding proper masculine conduct; everything from how they cross their legs to the length of their hair and the color of their shirts becomes something for others to judge.
But there is grace to be found at Genesis House, too, complicated though it may be by human foibles. Ted (Stephen Lang), the male half of the married couple that oversees the place, is a former alcoholic who knows what it means to struggle with harmful desires. His wife, Gayle (Judith Light), is a little more uptight, and on occasion she lets her own pride get the best of her; officially, to the residents, she says that she isn't the one who "changes" people because only God can do that, but in private, to her associates, she does talk about the people that she can "save."
Still, even Gayle shows signs of warmth and growth. It turns out that she once had a gay son, but he died in his teens; so her work at Genesis House is, on some level, driven by her personal need to make up for her loss—to "save" these men who resemble her son—but it is also motivated by a compassion that she learned the hard way. She, too, knows what it means to be broken, and to need healing.
The film does not, by any means, throw its weight behind the "ex-gay" cause, which in any case is a controversial subject even among traditional Christians. (The folks at Genesis House aim to purge people of their same-sex attraction, but others would say that this is not a realistic or necessary goal, and that it should be enough to encourage sexual abstinence.) None of the house's residents seem to have had all that much success shaking off their attraction to other men, and some of them eventually affirm their homosexuality in no uncertain terms.
But the film does at least take such causes seriously, and it is striking how one of the film's central relationships revolves around two people who each conform to, yet transcend, a stereotype that each side in this debate may have of the other. Mark's dangerously promiscuous sexual habits are linked to his substance abuse, while Gayle is motivated in her faith and work partly by pain, loss, and guilt. But both of them are still recognizably human, and thus complex, characters.
No one will mistake Save Me for a "ministry tool," but the film does at least encourage mutual respect—something Allen is hoping for. Where other films would have demonized the Christians outright, Save Me at least presents a world where gays and Christians can go their separate ways while wishing each other well. And that is progress, of a sort.
>Talk About ItDiscussion starters
- What do you think of "ex-gay" ministries? Should gay men and women expect God to take away their sexual attraction? What if the attraction lasts? How would this compare to, say, asking God to heal them of a fatal illness? Why do you think God sometimes takes people's attractions away and sometimes doesn't?
- Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 that God gave him a "thorn in the flesh"—a "weakness" of some sort—to prevent him from "becoming conceited" about the revelations he had witnessed. What could the characters in this film learn from this passage about the relationship between pride, humility, and brokenness?
- One gay man's father quotes Leviticus 20:13 at him (the passage which says men who have sex with other men should be put to death), and the gay man notes that Leviticus orders the death penalty for lots of other things, too, and that Jesus never spoke against homosexuality. How do you respond to these arguments? How should the words of Leviticus or Jesus be interpreted in the light of the entire Scripture?
- Does Mark learn anything over the course of the film? Has Genesis House been a positive experience for him, a negative experience, or a bit of both?
- Does Gayle learn anything over the course of the film? Has operating Genesis House allowed her to work out her own salvation in any way?
- Do the Christians who work at Genesis House seem different from the Christians who don't work there? More caring and compassionate? Less?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Save Me is not rated by the MPAA, but it would probably merit an R rating for its opening sex scene, which includes brief male nudity, and its frequent use of four-letter words, especially in the opening scenes before Mark joins Genesis House and integrates himself into the community. The film also depicts the aftermath of a suicide attempt, as a man sits in a bathtub filled with bloodied water.
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