Rachel Scott, one of the 12 students killed in the Columbine shooting, was a devout Christian whose journals and other writings and drawings were published posthumously as an example of an inspirational story about living in faith. They’ve served as the foundation for Rachel’s Challenge, a Christian nonprofit that does presentations at schools, using her life as an inspiring example. There’s some doubt about whether Scott actually defiantly reaffirmed her faith just before being shot by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, but the Rachel’s Challenge organization has successfully used her story to make presentations to, by their count, 22 million people, preaching the virtues of non-controversial things like standing against bullying.
I’m Not Ashamed is the latest film from Christian films powerhouse PureFlix, and to some extent it serves as an extended infomercial for the nonprofit, but the title indicates the level of paranoia that production company/distributor routinely taps into. In the film’s larger allegory, Scott (Masey McLain) represents the persecuted Christians who—as in PureFlix’s flagship God’s Not Dead duology—must continuously testify in the face of secular sneering; by logical extension, that would cast Klebold (Cory Chapman) and Harris (David Errigo Jr.) as representatives of what happens when secular humanism replaces God in the classrooms.
Technically, it’s easily the most accomplished (i.e., pretty watchable) PureFlix film yet, meaning not every scene is risible. Inelegantly compressing the year up to the shooting, I’m Not Ashamed has more than its fair share of clunkiness: Characters come and go with disorienting “wait, who was that?” abruptness. At the film’s start, Scott is a lapsed Christian, but after she sneaks out to a party, she’s grounded for the summer, sent to her aunt’s farm in Shreveport, and promptly recommitted to her faith. Unusually, the film shows a character with secular friends who she gets along with and doesn’t lecture when they’re drinking PBRs (the logos of which have been ineffectually taped over, in a laughable cost-cutting move), and for a while it seems like this might be a relatively innocent-minded project.
And yet ultimately, it’s business as usual. Rachel crushes on a fellow theater nerd, Alex (Cameron McKendry). They meet at a party and quote intro-level Shakespeare at each other: “All the world’s a stage,” she begins and he finishes. (His impressed response: “You’re, like, deep.” Maddeningly, this quotation exchange happens three times in the film.) Still, Rachel hides her faith from him out of the (correct, it turns out) fear of pushing him away. Alex describes himself as “spiritual,” which in this moral matrix is code for “believing in nothing”: It’s no surprise that he leads Rachel on, only to make out with her ostensible best friend while wearing a yin-yang necklace. The louder and more positive Rachel becomes in her faith, the more alone she is. Those secular pals turn out to be no real friends at all.
The movie begins almost immediately with news footage of the shooting (including from the security cameras), with a broadcaster noting: ”What everyone is looking for now is a reason.” Anyone familiar with PureFlix films won’t be surprised that the answer is unambiguously evolution. God’s Not Dead took a whole segment to lecture against its evils; here, Dylan and Eric’s eyes light up when a teacher waves a copy of Mein Kampf in the classroom while lecturing on social Darwinism. Even if it’s true that Harris wore a shirt saying “Natural Selection” the day of the shooting, it’s still a very slippery moral slope to imply that teaching evolution rather than creationism will lead to school shootings. (This is not an unfamiliar argument: Reagan railed against how the Supreme Court had “expelled God from America’s classrooms,” a quote invoked in the title of the Ben Stein-starring putative documentary Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, which basically argues there’s a straight line from Darwin to Hitler.)
Keeping it 1999, video games are the other explanation: The shooting will be like Oklahoma City, the L.A. riots, and World War II rolled into one, Klebold and Harris enthuse, before clarifying, “like a video game!” The film maintains the purity of its moral bubble with wall-to-wall Christian pop cuts (many glaringly contemporary for the 1999 setting), and ultimately it’s just another vehicle for a series of scenes in which devout characters remind each other that God has it all under control. But, as usual, the political implications are very unsavory: Every non-Christian in the film is ultimately fairly useless at best, and while Dylan and Eric may not stand in for liberal America, they’re definitely its logical product.