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Left Behind is a flop

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Left Behind is an exceedingly poorly made motion picture that alleges to offer a Biblically influenced approximation of what the so-called “End Times” might be like. The Left Behind novels, by Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins, are only slightly better than the movie versions. Left Behind is less interested in telling a compelling story than it is in preaching a heretical denomination of Christianity. Yes, there are different ways of interpreting the Book of Revelation (i.e. preterism, amillennialism, premillennialism, postmillennial, futurism, dispensationalism). As propaganda, Left Behind probably works but as a feature film, it is a complete failure.

As mapped out by Bible scholars who use the Book of Revelation as their primary source material, the End Times are supposed to go something like this: First comes the Rapture, the event during which all of the true believers in Jesus Christ will be bodily assumed into heaven, leaving Earth to the unsaved. Next comes the Tribulation, in which mankind will be forced to endure a kind of purification by fire: the grueling and torturous seven-year reign of the Anti-Christ. Finally, Christ will return to judge the world, and life on Earth as we know it will cease to exist. (People have been predicting the end of the world since the dawn of mankind; so why should it be any different in the twenty-first century?)

Left Behind concentrates on the beginning of the End Times, detailing the Rapture and the rise of the Anti-Christ. Then, running out of time, it abruptly ends, stopping right in the middle with no sense of closure. Investigative reporter Buck Williams (Kirk Cameron), pilot Rayford Steele (Brad Johnson), and his daughter, Chloe (Janaya Stephens), are among those left behind when their friends and family members mysteriously disappear one night. As they try to discover what happened to their loved ones, the world’s political system is thrown into chaos. Eventually, one figure–U.N. Secretary General Nicolae Carpathia (Gordon Currie)–emerges to offer peace and unity to the troubled planet. In addition to possessing a seemingly limitless wellspring of charisma, he can manipulate people’s minds. Despite seeing through Nicolae, however, Buck unwittingly helps him in his quest for domination.

Left Behind’s problems are almost too numerous to catalog, and they have nothing to do with its religious propaganda. No degree of suspension of disbelief will make the most outlandish events seem remotely plausible (such as the U.S. ceding control to the U.N. because the President and other government bureaucrats died or disappeared, or people accepting “radiation” as the official explanation for all of the disappearances). The public reaction to the Rapture, which could represent fascinating material, is sketched out in broad, unimaginative terms: mass hysteria with no psychological depth. The protagonists are almost cartoonish. Not only are they weakly written, but the actors portraying them are ill equipped to give compelling performances. Why was top billing given to Kirk Cameron? Cameron wasn’t that good as the smart-alecky Mike Seaver in TV's Growing Pains–his past baggage combined with a limited wellspring of talent effectively sinks any chance we have of accepting Buck as an interesting or believable character.

Left Behind makes no bones about having been produced by Christian filmmakers for a Christian audience. That is its only hook. No profanity. No sex. Virtually no violence. And to fill the vacuum left by the extraction of those motion picture staples, we have lots of running around and bad dialogue. (Someone actually says, ‘Never wait for opportunity to knock. Yank open the door and drag it inside screaming and kicking.’) Not to mention people who act like they know they are pawns in a screenwriter’s predictable script. And there are the shoddy production values that make the movie seem like it was originally designed to premiere on television,” said critic James Berardinelli.

Left Behind is nothing more than an unintentional comedy. Left Behind is a good title, in more ways than one, because that is exactly what happens to Kirk Cameron’s propaganda films at the box office. Film critics James Berardinelli and Scott Weinberg inspired this great article. THE END

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