“Salt” is an action-packed spy thriller with the already battle-tested Angelina Jolie in the Jason-Bourne-like role of Evelyn Salt, an American spy that may – or may not – be a double agent out to assassinate the president.
There’s no shortage of fighting, shooting and car chases in the film, all of which Jolie (and her stunt double) pulls off every bit as believably as her male counterparts in Hollywood. Action fans will find plenty to cheer about in Jolie’s fist-flying performance.
More than just a shoot-’em-up, however, “Salt” offers an ongoing guessing game as to Salt’s true motives, as we’re led to believe first that she’s an American patriot and spy, then a trained Russian mole and assassin, then a scorned wife, then … well, the guessing game is half the fun. And though I guessed the truth before the end, it was still a thrill to be kept in suspense.
Amid all the fists of fury, it might be difficult to discern any real worldview presented by the film, other than, “America is good, and displaced, rogue Russian agents trying to destroy the U.S. are bad.”
And that’s likely all the scriptwriters meant to convey in what is a surprisingly good (although obviously violent) action film that nears the level of classic American fighter flicks like the Jason Bourne and “Mission Impossible” films, for example.
But the writers, whether they knew it or not, threw in one meaningful line of dialogue that lends “Salt” not only a subtle, redemptive theme, but also presents audiences with a message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As is often the case in Hollywood films, most of “Salt” is simply about selling tickets with the help of a pretty lady, some escapist violence, a touch of special effects and just enough plot to keep audiences on the edge of their seat.
But as my book “Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching” (and its sequel) demonstrates, stories in film often can’t help but echo the Great Story, the narrative of God’s redemption of humanity.
Though only briefly, “Salt” is no exception.
(Editor’s note: The following contains “spoilers.” If you intend to see the movie, watch it first before reading on, as the information below will “spoil” the film’s suspense. See if you can find the gospel message yourself, then come back and read the rest to see if you found what I found.)
After watching the film, audiences will learn that Evelyn Salt was a woman put on the path of death and destruction from childhood, a trained assassin whose counterparts are willing to launch nuclear war to achieve their political ends. She was born, bred and brainwashed to be “a bad guy.”
But something happens to her on the path to unleashing nuclear catastrophe: She suffers in an Asian torture chamber, hits rock bottom and unexpectedly finds herself being redeemed … by love.
Mike Krause, the man who would one day become her husband (see Ephesians 5:25-32), battles the media, the CIA and Congress, moves all heaven and earth to batter down the gates of hell to rescue his love from the torture pit.
In the same way, Ephesians 4:8-10 explains, Jesus Christ, for love of his bride, the church, descended into hell and rose again with the freed captives in his train.
But that’s not even where the gospel analogy in “Salt” is strongest. For when Salt is set free to be in the presence of her savior, her face is battered and bruised, and she, like Peter (see Luke 5:8), can hardly look at the man who rescued her.
“Go away from me,” she says, like the fisherman of Galilee, “It’s not safe for you to be with me.”
I was reminded of the words of a song by the Christian group The Waiting, who sing to Jesus, “I heard bad company kills and absolutely it’s true / But then that doesn’t explain all that I know about You / That You call me Your own / Never leave me alone / I think I should warn You / You’re getting in deep / With the company You keep.”
But then her rescuer, Mike (by the way, the name Michael means, “who is like God”), speaks the line that changes her life forever:
“I don’t want to be ‘safe,’” he says. “I know you. I want to be with you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
The beaten and bloodied face of Evelyn Salt then looks to her savior, and she believes him. Her rescuer loves her more than his own life (John 15:13; Romans 5:6-8), and that love transforms her, undoes years of brainwashing and changes her destiny.
Granted, it’s just one line in an otherwise meaningless movie. But it’s the movie’s most poignant and critical moment. And it’s also the message that God sent to a sinful world in the Incarnation of Christ:
“I don’t want to be ‘safe’ (indeed, I am willing to suffer and die for you),” God said. “I know you (Psalms 139:1-16). I want to be with you (Colossians 1:19-22). I want to spend the rest of my life with you (I Thessalonians 4:17).”
Granted, it’s just one line in an otherwise meaningless movie. But it’s just the kind of message that wounded hearts are aching to hear and that can set the captives free.
- “Salt” begins with the actress Angelina Jolie wearing only a bra and panties in the torture chamber. She later flashes some leg in short skirts, but that’s about the extent of the sexuality in the film. Other than a few kisses between a married couple, there’s no sex, nudity, crude humor or innuendo – a pleasant surprise for a “guy” film starring a famous Hollywood beauty.
- There is, however, a significant amount of violence. The torture scene is graphic and bloody. There are fistfights, dozens of shooting deaths, car crashes, explosions, a scene with repeated firings of a Taser and one particularly gruesome scene where we can hear a man’s throat being sliced with a broken bottle. It’s no “slasher” film, but it is rated-R-level violence.
- The film contains less than a dozen strong profanities – and they are placed sensibly rather than gratuitously – but they are strong. There are also a few violations of the Third Commandment.
- The film’s religious references include a funeral inside a church, the quick salutation of “God be with you” and a plot device that suggests bombing Mecca would enrage the world’s Muslims to rise up and crush the U.S. There is no overt occult content.