Disability Studies Quarterly
Fall 2005, Volume 25, No. 4
Copyright 2005 by the Society
for Disability Studies


Dannelly, Brian (Director & Co-Writer). Michael Urban (Co-Writer). Saved! [Film]. 92 minutes, 2004. MGM-UA release. DVD release date: February 8, 2005, $14.95.

Reviewed by Beth Haller, Towson University

This independent film from 2004 does a good job of upending the usual disability stereotypes in film. Although it uses a nondisabled actor for the role of wheelchair user Roland (Macaulay Culkin in a well-acted performance), it shows the character as an average teenager. In fact, he comes across as one of the "regular guys" because this satire concerns a group of evangelical Christian teens who go to American Eagle Christian High School.

The film faced criticism from some Christian groups because the most "Christian" of its characters turns out to be the most intolerant and generally wicked. The Christian Film & Television Commission called it "a sad, bigoted, anti-Christian movie that mocks the Christian faith" (Booth, 2004, p. C1). Some churches and Christian rock groups refused to participate in the filming because of the script's content (Portman, 2004). But other religious groups supported the film because they agreed with the filmmakers' message of tolerance (Udovitch, 2004).

The theme of the movie, which is a pointed satire and not the usual teen comedy, is not really anti-Christian, but more anti-hypocrisy. Screenwriter Michael Urban said the film is "about how having a crisis of faith is really the only way to affirm one's faith" (Udovitch, 2004, p. 19).

The Roland character is brother to the "alpha-Christian" at the school, Hillary Faye (Mandy Moore in a wonderfully bitchy performance), who heads up a dominant girl clique called the Christian Jewels. Her best friend and fellow Jewel is Mary (Jena Malone), whose crisis of faith is the film's focus.

Mary's boyfriend Dean tells her he's gay, and with the shock of that revelation, she bumps her head in the pool and sinks. The pool boy who dives in to save her appears to be Jesus to her and she believes he tells her she must use her body to help Dean. She later has sex with Dean, thinking it is what Jesus wants. That sets into motion the major plotline when she ends up pregnant and then alone because Dean's parents find his gay porn magazine and send him off to be "deprogrammed."

Roland is established early as a sarcastic cynic (but not in the vein of a bitter disabled person) because he doesn't buy into the extreme version of Christianity practiced by his sister and others at the high school. Roland finds his soulmate in the person of Cassandra Edelstein (Eva Amurri), the only Jewish person at the school and who is there because she has been kicked out of every other school in town. She and Roland build a bond as outsiders and they also become a source of support for the new outsider, Mary, when she feels Jesus betrayed her by allowing her to get pregnant.

The Roland-Cassandra relationship is a step forward in disability imagery. He is never pathetic or pitiable, and although she is a rebel, Cassandra makes it clear she is not with him as a form of rebellion. When Mary asks her if it bothers her that Roland can't walk, Cassandra explains, "He gets me and I get him."

When Cassandra runs off because she was framed for graffiti on the school, Roland thinks about why he is with her. After a night of reflection, he knows he is not with Cassandra out of dependence. He tells her: "I don't want to be the guy who's with the girl because he needs her. I want to be the guy who's with the girl because he wants her." Cassandra's responds, "I want you too." Then she quips, "And I thought it was all about the sex." Roland says with a grin, "That, too."

The Roland-Cassandra relationship shows a deep connection that is emotional and physical, which is rarely seen with disabled characters in film and television. Macaulay Culkin plays Roland well, handling the wheelchair with finesse and giving the character a growing sense of self as he settles into a romantic relationship and a supportive friend relationship.

The other dimension of the Roland character is as one receptacle for Hillary Faye's meanness. Because he is disabled, her statements have added viciousness. In the first scene of the film, Roland asks Hillary Faye a question she thinks is stupid and she says to Mary: "Sometimes I think my brother is retarded, too." And when Roland says something sarcastic, she retorts: "Why do you have to make people feel so awkward about your differently abledness?"

But the film's ironic tone makes it clear that the one who is really "different" is Hillary Faye, because she is subverting true Christian ideals. It is gratifying that Saved! doesn't heap "differentness" on the disabled character, as is usually the case in films. Instead, Roland gets to be the "regular kid."


Booth, W. (2004, June 10). Saved! brings down wrath of some Christians. The Washington Post, p. C1.

Portman, J. (2004, June 17). A unique film about religion: The director of Saved! says it's about tolerance and acceptance. Ottawa Citizen, p. F1.

Udovitch, M. (2004, May 23). Retract claws, turn other cheek. The New York Times, p. 19.