High school senior Sarah is a Christian who has a unique nickname: “Virg.” She earned the name when she gave a speech in junior high extolling the virtue of the medieval French saint Joan d’Arc, the “Virgin Maid.” Now, her friends lovingly call her Virg, while the high school boys use the name contemptuously, since Sarah is known as a girl who won’t “put out.”
Sarah pledged her virginity to her first love, Christopher, when they were in middle school. Shortly thereafter, he had to move out of town under mysterious circumstances (which are never resolved). He left her clinging to her promises, and ripe for persecution ... and pursuit from boys intent on getting her to let down her guard.
As the timed passed, Sarah’s initial interest in Joan d'Arc grew into infatuation—and something more. Extremely religious, Sarah is starting to hear voices and see visions, just as Joan did. Complicating matters, a new boy at school, Dave, wants to do an article about Sarah for the school paper (she’s the lead in the school���s production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Sarah slowly finds herself falling for him, which leads to a crisis of faith and friendship. Why had God allowed Christopher to leave? Why wasn't he writing to her any more? Did he still love her?
Meanwhile, as Dave and Sarah become more attached to each other, Alec (another boy at school who has been pursuing Sarah) grows more jealous and more menacing, leading to a relational—and potentially literal—explosion that not only threatens to destroy Sarah’s faith in God but the entire student body, too.
Sarah is her own person and unconcerned with others’ opinions of her, although that also tends to make her seem cold and aloof. Still, Dave is gently persistent in breaking through her shell, and Sarah’s best friend, Beth, also sticks by her, despite her growing doubts about Sarah’s sanity. As Alec steps up efforts to menace Sarah, Dave is always there to protect her.
Sarah is determined to live out her vow to save herself for Christopher, despite social pressure and personal feelings that might lead her to take the easy way out. She doesn't want to emulate her mother, who got pregnant as a teenager.
The movie opens with a recitation of Romans 8:18: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” As a test for whether to open up to Dave, Sarah recites the first half of Proverbs 25:2, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,” to see if Dave can complete the second half, “to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” He does and then identifies the source and goes on to recite more from the proverb.
Sarah has set up a shrine of sorts, complete with candles and Celtic crosses, in an abandoned country church. She frequently goes there to pray, although other times she will stop for spontaneous prayer wherever she may be. She also wears a cross and Jesus medallion on a necklace, and the camera often lingers on the cross on the church’s steeple.
Although not a Roman Catholic, Sarah goes to the local Catholic church for confession with the priest, who provides gentle counsel. He directs her to pray several Hail Marys and Our Fathers before absolving her of her sins.
Sarah has had a long infatuation with the Catholic saint Joan d’Arc, who in the 1400s claimed to have heard voices and received visions from Saints Catherine and Margaret (two early Christian martyrs) and Archangel Michael to lead the French to victory over the English, who for their part burned Joan at the stake as a heretic. Sarah, too, hears voices and has visions. Significantly, though, she never explicitly attributes them to God or anyone else; she refers to them simply as “the voices.”
Several times it is implied that Alec is possessed by a demon. Strange voices come from his mouth, and his face is overtaken with maniacal expressions.
Teens’ infatuation with sex and Sarah’s determination to abstain are a central theme of this story. Sarah has several conversations with both female and male friends about her determination to remain a virgin until married. Still, other high school boys engage in conversations about “conquering” Sarah, and Beth wishes the boys were similarly obsessed with her.
One scene shows a girl in Alec’s bed, with previous sex implied. He callously tells her to leave, and she climbs out of bed holding her clothes in front of her. We later learn that she leads the school’s abstinence club, and she repents of her actions. She stresses that a teen can become a reclaimed virgin by abstaining once again after giving in to temptation. Young Sarah and Christopher kiss chastely after vowing to save themselves for each other. Sarah later passionately kisses Dave.
One of Sarah’s visions includes images of a teen boy taking a shower (he's seen from the waist up). The camera observes guys changing clothes in a locker room, and we see some of them wearing only towels. Likewise, when Sarah changes for bed she strips off her tank top, and we see her bare back as she turns away from the camera.
A drama teacher tells students they can determine whether Shakespeare meant a line to be “sexual” by its meter. Several boys giggle; the teacher tells them to grow up. The film ends with Sarah lying in bed with her husband.
Alec threatens a girl with an unloaded pistol. (She doesn’t know it’s empty, though.) He later fires that weapon at Dave, hitting him in the hand, with bloody results. He also shoots several times at Sarah but misses.
Alec builds bombs and plants them around the school building. In a fight Sarah scratches Alec’s face, and he punches her in the gut, knocking her to the ground. He kicks her in the face and then starts to choke her before she breaks away. He and Dave exchange blows.
Sarah's mom slaps her across the face (twice), and on one occasion Sarah slaps back. In a flashback, Sarah is involved in a playground fight, with pushing and shoving.
Drug and Alcohol Content
At a party Sarah turns down what is presumably an alcoholic drink. Beth snatches the glass, saying, “She doesn’t drink, but I do.” Sarah’s mom takes several prescription medications.
Echoes of Innocence is to be praised for its unabashed portrayal of sexual abstinence until marriage and by defending that position with a strong and admirable female character, Sarah. What's not so straightforward is Sarah’s motivation for remaining a virgin. In the strictest terms, she never explains it as obedience to God. Rather, she seems driven by twin infatuations: her puppy-love relationship with young Christopher and her intense fascination with Joan d’Arc.
To be sure, Sarah also stresses that she must keep a vow simply because it’s the right thing to do, but that seems secondary here. The negative example of her mom’s teen motherhood and the problems that ensued could have also used a bit more oomph in this story. Then again, the scene in which a teen girl finds herself used and then disposed of after a sexual tryst speaks volumes.
Sarah’s religious faith also raises a few questions in my mind. Aside from the fact that the orthodoxy of the entire Joan d’Arc story is uncertain, Sarah’s “visions” are not spiritual experiences that edify her or glorify God; they’re more spooky premonitions of impending disaster. They feel more like sequences from The Ring or The Blair Witch Project than divinely inspired angelic communiqués. Are, then, the presence of the Catholic church, numerous crosses and a couple of recitations of the Lord's Prayer enough to cement Sarah's Christian faith in viewers' minds and effectively combat the misdirection of her visions?
While studiously courting teen movie buffs, Echoes of Innocence seems to want to draw in more than the youth-group audience. And that’s an admirable thing. The film, to its credit, is notably short on Christian clichés and preachiness, and yet maintains an unmistakably biblical undertone. Director Nathan Todd Sims told christiananswers.net, "I feel that this movie works as a parable. ... Young Christopher represents the person of Christ, Sarah represents the Church, and [Christ's] Return is represented at the end with the rescue of Sarah." He added that he hoped "believers are impacted on a spiritual level and the non-believers see it and have fun with it."
But Sims establishes his allegory in creepy thriller territory, and that's a risky strategy. Attempting to grab teens' increasingly elusive attention, Sims decided to throw in gratuitous swearing. Sarah's highly experiential brand of faith gets sensationalized. And undue doubt is cast on the origin of her voices. My conclusion: Echoes walks a fine line ... except when it doesn't. And it does the right thing. Sometimes.