For people who journal, their notebooks become a private record of highs and lows, hopes and dreams. And for most who record the daily details of their mundane journeys, those thoughts, reflections and confessions never see the light of day.
Rachel Joy Scott journaled. And had she not been killed by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Colorado’s Columbine High School on the morning of April 20, 1999, we might never have known of Rachel’s thoughts, her insecurities, and—most significantly—her real and raw walk with God.
From the time she was little, Rachel had a sense of destiny. One day when she was perhaps 5, she pulled her dresser out, traced her handprint on the back and wrote, “These hands belong to Rachel Joy Scott and will someday touch millions of people’s hearts.” It was a secret confession, one that her mother only discovered after her death.
I’m Not Ashamed tells Rachel’s story, a narrative that’s informed by her journal entries. But it’s not, for the most part, a story about her death (though the film does chronicle her final brave moments). Instead, it’s about her life, the life of a normal teen grappling with young love and peer pressure, obedience and recklessness, faith and family. Rachel’s story is one of fortitude and frailty, bravery and fear.
And though her life ended at the hands of two killers that spring day in 1999, Rachel’s life—and the story of faith she quietly recorded in her journals—has indeed proven a profound inspiration to millions around the world.
Rachel’s story bears witness to the power of relationships. Yes, it’s about her relationship with God, as we’ll see. But it’s also about her connections with her family and friends, and how the interplay of affections between them influences and shapes lives in ripple-like, expanding circles.
Rachel struggles to reconcile her desire to walk with God and the pressures to fit in, to find love, to have deep friendships. The film realistically shows that she isn’t perfect and doesn’t always make wise decisions. Ordinarily, that wouldn’t be positive. But what is positive here is how the film depicts Rachel not as a “saint,” per se, but as a strong, at times struggling young woman who’s discovering what she believes.
Though she stumbles at times, Rachel becomes a person who wants to care for others no matter how they treat her. The movie shows the impact just one life can have when someone makes a commitment to be kind and compassionate.
It also hints at the devastation of divorce, as Rachel’s father abandons his family early on, leaving her mother, Beth, to raise five children. Beth is a devoted, firm and caring mom, character qualities she shares with her second husband, Larry.
Beth is a devout woman who’s trying to raise her family in the faith. But Rachel isn’t interested in that as the story begins during her sophomore year. Concerned for her daughter (after catching her sneaking back into her room following an evening of partying), Beth sends Rachel to spend the summer with her cousins in Louisiana. One cousin in particular, Charity, helps Rachel to grab hold of her faith.
Rachel returns a different young woman, determined to make a difference. But as she gets to know a fellow drama student named Alex and pursues a romantic relationship with him, she drifts spiritually. She’s going to parties again. And though she’s not participating heartily, it’s clear that her friends and her relationship with Alex (who describes himself as “spiritual” and wears a Chinese yin and yang pendant) are pulling her away from the faith.
One of Rachel’s closest friends is a young man named Nathan. He’s homeless, and he comes to a Christian group Rachel attends called Breakthru for the free food. Rachel coaxes him into getting to know her, then introduces him to other folks in the group. Those relationships have a transformative effect on Nathan, who becomes a strong Christian himself. When Rachel is going through her own period of deep doubt and struggle, Nathan encourages her.
Conversations about faith are frequent, as are voiceovers telling us what Rachel is journaling. In one scene she writes, “I don’t understand why having a walk with God is so hard for me. I’m so weak. At school. With friends. At work. … I’m not going to miss another opportunity. From now on, when I have those little nudges inside, I’m going to listen.” At another point, Rachel’s on the verge of suicide and says to God, “I’m drowning in my own lake of despair. I’m choking. … I’m dying. It isn’t suicide. I consider it homicide. The world You have created has led to my death.”
Rachel gives a moving testimony in class (where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold are present). She says, “Compassion is the greatest form of love that humans have to offer. And I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion, it could start a chain reaction.” She then connects the spiritual dots. “And what’s behind all this is my faith. I’m a Christian. I’m not trying to be weird or convert anybody or anything like that. I just wanted to be real with you guys and let you know who I am. Jesus gave His life for me, and I will give my life to Him. Just wanted to get that out there.”
We see how disaffected loners Harris and Klebold are influenced by a history class in which the teacher talks about Hitler’s worldview: “One of Hitler’s central themes in his writing is that it was a Nazi’s responsibility to aid evolution by exterminating less-evolved people groups.” Harris, especially, becomes something of a disciple of Hitler’s, and he sees the eventual massacre he and Klebold plot as aiding evolution.
Rachel’s faith motivates her to pursue relationships even when people treat her badly. That’s true with Nathan, and it’s also true with her troubled friend Celine. Rachel is resolved to respond to everyone with compassion and offers forgiveness when mocked and rejected. At one point, she tells a fellow student, “I just want to live my life for Jesus and let people take whatever they want from that.” We also hear one passing reference to Buddhism.
Rachel is having a conversation with a friend, Dave, shortly before they’re both shot. His parents are getting divorced, and he asks her, “How’d you get through it?” She says, “I don’t know. There’s no easy answer. But I don’t think that God wastes anything. Not even the bad stuff.”
Rachel and Alex kiss in a school play and at a party. At one point, Rachel tells Alex that she wants to take their relationship to the next level. He misinterprets that as a desire for it to be more sexual, but Rachel means it in a commitment-focused way. When he takes her downstairs at a party to try to go further, Rachel says no. It’s not long after that that Rachel finds Alex making out on a bed with her friend, Madison. (He’s shown on top of her.) One of Rachel’s friends says of Alex, “He’s pretty hot … for a drama guy.”
It’s implied that Celine is sexually active. We see her come out of a bedroom at a party buttoning up her blouse. Celine also makes out with another guy whose name she can’t remember. Rachel expresses concern that her casual approach to physical affection and sexual relationships puts her at risk, but Celine largely ignores Rachel’s concerns.
We see some high school girls in mildly revealing tops. High school couples make out at parties and in a pool (though they’re fully clothed instead of wearing bathing suits).
As the movie tells Rachel’s story, it also unpacks the influences that led Harris and Klebold to plot their horrific attack. One important catalyst is the bullying that Eric suffers at the hands of the school’s football team. The first day of school, they pour baby oil on the floor and slide Harris down the hall into a wall, calling it “dork bowling.” Harris threatens to kill one of the players in response.
Harris and Klebold play first-person shooter video games. This influence seems an important one for Klebold, who is in Harris’ sway and seems to think of the attack almost as a violent video game. As they’re building bombs, they gleefully imagine the destruction they hope to wreak. Klebold, almost like a child, says, “When the bombs blow up, it’s gonna be awesome! Boom!” Harris adds, much more clinically, “The library will fall on the cafeteria. And when they all run out, we’ll be waiting outside to take them out.” Klebold says, “We’ll be heroes,” and Harris sticks an arm out and says, “Heil, Hitler.” Their elaborate plot partially fails, which prompts their “Plan B” shooting rampage. We also see a video in which they portray hitmen killing a student.
As for the shooting itself, we see Harris and Klebold’s bullets wound Rachel and Dave outside the school. Bleeding Rachel tries to crawl to Dave. Harris hovers over her and asks, “Well, Rachel, where’s your God now?” Klebold jokes darkly, “What would Jesus do?” Harris pulls her up by the hair and asks, “Do you still believe in God?” After Rachel responds, “You know I do,” Harris puts a gun to her head and says, “Then go be with him.” We hear the gunshot but don’t see it as the screen goes black.
News footage shows ambulances, students running, a student on a stretcher and a S.W.A.T. team. Security camera footage shows a bomb detonating.
Elsewhere, an intense scene finds Rachel contemplating suicide as she walks along a narrow ledge atop a tall building. She eventually decides not to jump, but she’s obviously considering it.
We hear the phrase “full of it” several times. A developmentally disabled student is called a “retard” and a “freak.” We hear the word “sucks” a couple of times.
The movie realistically depicts high school parties at homes with no parents present. Students drink alcohol (beer and hard liquor) and smoke. Rachel’s friends are drunk in one scene. Rachel drinks some too. The movie repeatedly shows an area outside the school where many of Rachel’s friends gather to smoke. Rachel’s character in a school play holds a cigarette.
Nathan says his mom’s a “junkie” and a heroin addict. Rachel gives Nathan a journal entry to read. He says, reading, “O-kay, so you’re not gonna be a ‘beer chuggin’, pot trippin’, cigar puffin’ drug dealin’ Christian’?”
Rachel sneaks out her window (but gets caught and grounded when she comes home). Celine cuts classes.
Rachel Joy Scott’s story is equal parts triumph and tragedy. It’s an achingly painful thing to watch her grow into a woman of such courage and conviction, knowing that her conviction will ultimately make her a martyr.
But as has been true of martyrs throughout history, Rachel’s beautiful life wasn’t wasted. Instead, the record of her faith continues to influence those who hear her story. In that sense, I’m Not Ashamed poignantly focuses on Rachel Joy Scott’s inspiring life.
The scene in which Rachel and Dave are shot by Harris and Klebold is emotionally devastating but handled discretely. It should also be noted that the film repeatedly shows high school students drinking and smoking, as well as alluding to the sexual activity. The movie never glorifies these activities, but neither does it pretend that Columbine High School’s students live sanitized lives. It’s an issue that parents and youth group leaders need to be aware of and willing to wade into.
For those willing to do that, Rachel Joy Scott’s story is a moving example of the difference just one committed Christian can make in the lives of people around her.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.