Monday, February 2, 2009

Gays & Christ: "Save Me" (Film Review)

Like many other gay men, I have had a troubled relationship with organized religion. I grew up in a Buddhist family, attended Jesuit schools, and considered entering the seminary. Then for many years, I consciously divorced myself from religion of any kind. I chose the path of atheism. It is only in recent years that I returned to Christianity, and found a comfortable "place" in a gay-friendly local Episcopal church.

So when I saw this film on the shelves of a Blockbuster store, I hesitated. I hesitated not because I fear the subject matter per se, but because I feared the evocations of the past. I feared the haunting specter of guilt. It is a guilt born out of deception, deceit, and disparagement.

Like some gay men, I used religion to mask my insecurities, to hide my identity. Subconsciously, I rationalized Christ (or Buddha at other times in my life) loved me in spite of who I am, rather than for who I am. I found solace in religion, but in a deceptive, misleading way. It is only in recent years that I finally realized that God has always been within myself, and that his Grace is within my reach. And my gayness is a blessing, hardly a curse. My gayness is His Hand upon me.

This film, "Save Me" (2007, 96 mins.), reminds me of my personal journey of finding God and His meaning in my life. Filmed in New Mexico, which lends itself to sweeping vistas of open spaces and skies--evoking thus God's omnipresence and omnipotence--"Save Me" pivots around the life of Mark (played admirably by Chad Allen, who is an openly gay actor), a sex and drug addict. His brother, at the end of his wits, checks Mark into a low-key Christian retreat run by Gayle (Judith Light) and Ted (Steven Lang). The retreat's sole mission is to use spiritual guidance to cure its residents of their "gay disease." Brainwashing is far from its means, and in that respect, its mission is no different from other similar Christian centers devoted to the same mission.

Mark, predictably, struggles to fit into the retreat's modus operandi. Along the way, he befriends Scott (Robert Gant of Queer as Folk series fame) and soon, their relationship blossoms, that in turn, threatens the mission and its residents. And soon enough, they both have to confront their true identities. And interestingly enough, so does Gayle.

What this movie does well is its balanced, even handed treatment of both the residents and their guardians. It takes a sympathetic look at both sides of the divide. It never seeks to demonize any one side. Instead, it seeks to find a possible reconciliation between homosexuality and Christianity.

For a low-budget, art house type of movie, this production, filmed entirely within just two weeks, is a winner. Anchored by subtle acting on the part of all the major characters, the movie is moving, without being mushy or sentimental. I highly recommend it, regardless of your orientation or background.

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