Posted on October 5, 2014 at 12:01 am
“Left Behind” is being marketed as Christian entertainment, but it does not qualify in either category.
It is far inferior to the modestly budgeted but sincere straight-to-DVD starring Kirk Cameron, based on the blockbuster best-selling book series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, itself inspired by the Book of Revelations. This version has a bigger budget and a real, Oscar-winning movie star, Nicolas Cage. But what it doesn’t have is any meaningful spiritual content aside from referring to a couple of Bible verses and the underlying premise that people of faith are taken up to heaven while those who did not live Godly lives are “left behind.” All of the significance and context of the book and the original film are swept away for just another disaster movie. This is not a movie about faith or grace. It is a movie about a plane that is in the air when the Rapture occurs, so that children and babies disappear along with some of the passengers and crew, and the sole remaining pilot (Cage) has to keep everyone calm and safe while he thinks about how he should have listened to his wife (Lea Thompson), a believer, instead of being driven away by her faith into a possible dalliance with a flight attendant.
With a musical score that sounds like the music you are stuck with on hold waiting for tech support and cheesy special effects, it feels like a low-budget disaster film from the 1970’s. There was laughter throughout the theater in one scene where a plane crashed in a parking lot because the stock footage used for the explosion was so clumsily inserted. And when Nicolas Cage plays a pilot on a plane in trouble, it is a huge disappointment that we only get one brief outburst. What is the point of putting the Cage rage-monster in a film if he doesn’t blow his top? Instead he just alternates between moping and steely determination, not his strengths.
But the real failure here is the hollowing out of the storyline. It is a sad irony that a movie intended to warn about the dangers of soullessness is itself so empty. At the end of 2014, it turned up on most critics’ worst of the year lists.
Cassi Thomson (who plays a devout Christian on “Switched at Birth” and a Mormon on “Big Love”) is Chloë, who comes home from college to surprise her father on his birthday only to find out that he won’t be there. Her father is the heroically named Rayford Steele (Cage), and he is a pilot and he will be flying to Europe. She waits at the airport to say goodbye to him before he leaves, and rescues a handsome television reporter named Buck Williams (Chad Michael Murray, in the film’s best performance) from a woman who tries to warn him of a coming Biblical catastrophe. Then Chloë sees her father walking to the gate with a flight attendant. There is something about the way they are leaning toward each other that indicates a close relationship. Chloë is devastated. It turns out Buck is on Ray’s plane, and Chloë gives him a message for her father.
Suddenly, when the plane is over the Atlantic and Chloë and her brother are at the mall, people disappear, taken out of their clothes. The rest of the film is Ray in the plane and Chloë on the ground, trying to figure out what has happened and why and what to do next.
The book and the original film had provocative notions of how current world events were playing into the predictions contained in Revelations. There were characters who represented the forces of evil and there were characters trying to make sense of what it meant to be left behind. This version has none of that. There is the thinnest gloss of faith-based content, as though the filmmakers are afraid of offending a mainstream audience. Even worse, it appears they assume that the faith-based audience is so loyal they will not care about cardboard characters, clumsy dialog, painful attempts at humor involving a little person, and poorly-staged action scenes. I hope that the success of well-made faith-based media this year will make it impossible for the filmmakers here to complain that the criticism of this film, which showed up on most of the 10 worst lists of 2014, is based on bias.
Parents should know that this film has a great deal of peril and violence, discussions of infidelity, sad losses, drinking and drugs, and some disturbing images.
Family discussion: What separated those who were taken and those who were left behind? What would you have written on the ticket envelope Chloë asked Buck to deliver?
If you like this, try: the original film with Kirk Cameron and the book series