Left Behind: A Good Premise for a Lousy Movie (Not Rated)

Left Behind

No Rating

Blessed be Netflix, that magical website which allows one to watch terrible movies without feeling guilty about paying for it. After all, you already dished out $8 for the month. The only problem is that sometimes the movies aren’t just bad. They are horrid. Left Behind is a perfect illustration.

One will, no doubt, walk away from the movie attempting to piece together what the director of this supposedly “Christian film” meant to accomplish. It has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. In fact, the word “Christian” never appears in the film, a curious absence in a film that touts its family-friendliness enough to replace four-letter words with five-letter words like “nutty” and “wacko”. The film’s portrayal of the faithful is similarly unsympathetic. Though supposedly propagating faith, the only believer in the film who comes across as sane and charitable is a Muslim; the fact that he is one of the “left behind” suggests he is a token of the “some of my best friends are going to hell” variety.

Those familiar with what Left Behind hath wrought during the past two decades are familiar with the basic premise of the film. For those who missed it, the film hinges on a rapture event that happens at around the thirty minute mark, at which point the believers and a swath of children are taken to “heaven”. One curious thing is that a film which waves so many Bibles around like weapons should choose to focus on an event which is not strictly biblical.

Yes, the New Testament has its share of passages that look a little rapture-y but the claim that the subjects of the rapture are going to heaven is not nearly as straightforward as the movie indicates. When Jesus’ disciples inquired after the missing persons (“Where, Lord?”), He answered with the cryptic: “Where the corpse is, there vultures will gather.” I am not sure, but I doubt that there is a large population of corpses or vultures in heaven.

The story, to the extent that there is one, focuses on Rayford Steele (Nicholas Cage), a commercial airline pilot who has the misfortune of piloting an airplane with an unusual high ratio of Christians. There is some attempt at backstory which mainly serves as innuendo that the audience is going to be stuck with Steele for the entire movie: He is having an affair with a flight attendant, symbolized by the twin U2 tickets for a London concert. Actually, the only revelation I was interested in and which the movie, shockingly, does not answer was whether or not that concert was cancelled due to the band members’ mysterious disappearance. It would at least answer the question posed by so many Millennial youth groups: “Dude, is Bono a Christ follower?”

The film’s other narrative stream deals with Steele’s daughter, Chloe (Cassi Thomson), back on planet earth. She is hard at work trying to figure out what happened to her brother after he vanished leaving behind his clothes, baseball cap, and glasses. (When one thinks about it, it was careless of the heavenly beings not to swag his glasses for him. One hopes that the Celestial Firmament Office of In-Processing has a decent optometrist clinic.) Mainly, though, her journey consists of dodging crashing cars and careening Cessnas.

The film has very little use for narrative intensity or conflict. The most intense moment in the film comes from the hilariously fast deterioration of Steele’s plane, as it first collides with an airliner that had a cockpit full of believers, then loses its ability to lift its nose, then can no longer slow down because of flap damage, then begins leaking fuel from a gash in its wing, then inexplicably is lit on fire.

Despite Murphy apparently have a trick or two up his sleeve, the airplane passengers have a bit of time to throw around possible explanations for what is going on. “What if they didn’t vanish, but they’re just invisible?” And, given that their clothes are lying about, they are nude too, presumably.

In good 1970’s disaster flick form, the movie hits the notes with the desperate landing which is likely to end poorly. Without giving away the ending, it would suffice to say that this last action sequence gives the director a chance to show off some of the sloppiest visual effects that I have seen in any movie made after 1980. Certain contemporary video games have graphics which are more convincing.

As the movie winds towards its dénouement and its heathen protagonists begin to accept that this is all God’s will—the movie doesn’t express any theodicy other than that “the Lord works in mysterious ways—it is hard to draw any conclusion other than that, if this movie is ontologically accurate, Christians should probably not be allowed to drive cars or operate heavy machinery. There is some indication that the filmmakers would like to make a sequel. As one of the film’s protagonists says at the end, “I’m afraid that this is just the beginning.” I’m afraid too. I am very afraid.

James Banks

James Banks is a recovering writer and academic living in upstate New York. Before a quarter-life crisis drove him to work at a government bureau, he taught (and assistant taught) writing and movie classes at the University of Rochester. He can fake a New York accent when he tries, but he is a West Coaster and graduated from the University of Idaho in 2008.

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