Film and Religion

This site contains studies and comments by professors Robert Torry and Paul Flesher about the portrayal and use of religion in film. See their new book, Film and Religion: An Introduction (Abingdon, 2007) for a textbook on this topic.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Cassandra, the Prophet in Saved

Despite its setting in a Pentecostal high school, where everyone apparently wants to save others for Jesus, it is odd that no one in the film Saved ever gets saved. This is especially true for Cassandra Eddelston, the high school’s smoking, drinking, foul-mouthed bad girl. Despite being the constant recipient of “witnessing” by Hilary Faye, and undergoing two fake conversions during the film, she remains unrepentant and unconverted. Instead, Saved  presents Hilary Faye’s message as hollow and corrupt, while Cassandra, who at first seems to act in a self-destructive manner, in the end embodies a prophetic role.

Cassandra’s role as a prophet stands out in two ways. First, her name, Cassandra, comes from Greek mythology. Cassandra was the daughter of King Priam of Troy. The god Apollo fell in love with her and gave her the gift of prophesying truthfully. When she rejected Apollo’s love, he cursed her by causing her never to be believed.  Saved’s Cassandra actions and words spoken in rebellion against the high school, its students, and its staff are never taken seriously, but are viewed as drunken and unstable rantings.

Second, Cassandra’s last name is Eddleston; she is Jewish. As such she represents the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament, not the Greek. While modern, popular Christianity often sees prophets merely as predictors of the future, a more accurate characterization of the Jewish prophets was to speak truth to power (the king) and to the populace (the people as a whole). They were often ignored in this and so took measures to garner attention. Isaiah, for example, prophesied naked for three years (Isaiah 20). But it is Hosea who provides the best example of the functioning of prophecy. Hosea 1:2 reads, “the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of Harlotry and have children of harlotry, for the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the Lord.” God tells Hosea to commit harlotry by marrying a whore. He thus goes against all the rules of proper social behavior. Even though God uses Hosea to bring his message to the Israelites, he causes Hosea to receive social ostracizing by having him violate the Israelite social mores. Why? Because the Israelites themselves (“the land”) have violated their allegiance to God by turning their backs on him and his expectations and following other gods. So Hosea’s actions symbolize the Israelites’ actions. Hosea violates social norms because the society has forsaken God’s religious norms.

As the prophetic figure in Saved, Cassandra’s prophetic message comes not through the meaning of her words, but, like Hosea, comes through her actions. Cassandra’s actions symbolize the true nature of the high school community’s spiritual state, especially as seen in its leaders. Hilary Faye, the student leader, uses Christianity to glorify herself, to show self-love rather than to spread Christian love to others. Pastor Skip, despite his fancy talk, can no longer practice the love of Jesus but instead mostly sees Christianity as a set of rules and restrictions (no gays, no divorce) even as he violates the rules by committing adultery. So when Cassandra acts out by smoking, drinking, or by saying shocking things, she symbolizes the corruptness lying hidden under the surface of the Christians around her. Indeed, every time she acts out, she reveals the true nature of the high school community. This is particularly evident when she fakes the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in the opening assembly. That she can convincingly fake this most intimate of moments between God and an individual, as Pastor Skip’s reaction indicates, emphasizes that the commitment of the Christians around her can also be merely surface acting—as the remainder of the film shows.

In the end, Cassandra’s prophetic message fails to change the society around her. Although the hypocrisy of both Hilary Faye and Pastor Skip is revealed, they do not change and the high school which they represent remains the same.  The one member of the high school community who changes is Mary. As her inner physical transformation takes place during her pregnancy, she also undergoes an inner spiritual transformation. She moves from the superficially Christian yet internally corrupt Christians to the superficially non-Christians (Cassandra and Roland) who actually have internalized the Christian values of love and acceptance rather than rules and demands for conversion. 

Robert Torry and Paul Flesher