TFTM: The temptation of Buck Williams

Left Behind II: Tribulation Force, Part 5

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Earlier, in a faithful adaptation of a scene from the book, the filmmakers were no more successful than Jerry Jenkins had been in portraying a phone call to an unlisted number as a sign of the Antichrist’s terrifying power. In this next scene, director Bill Corcoran strays from the book significantly in an attempt to increase the creepy-Antichrist factor.

In the movie, it seems, Nicolae Carpathia can control elevators.

Cam-Cam presses the button for the ground floor and instead the elevator heads up — ignoring whatever buttons he presses to take him to the roof. There the door opens and two large men greet Buck by name, escorting him to where Nicolae is waiting.

That’s a far better entrance than any Nicolae makes in the book, and the rest of this scene is also an immense improvement over the material its adapted from. (Yes, that’s a low threshold, but still.) Corcoran condenses the action, which allows it to seem like action, rather than like the several chapters of treading water he squeezes down into this one scene. In the novel there were several more phone calls, leading up to Nicolae’s arranging for Buck to fly to New York for a meeting. Jenkins recounted every detail of that flight in excruciating detail before belatedly trying to inject some suspense into the story by having Buck fear that the limo driver was a hired assassin. That all took several dreadful chapters to unfold, none of which contributed to the readers’ sense of Nicolae’s menace.

Here, too, we can gratefully appreciate Corcoran’s wise decision to do away with the agonizingly drawn-out business in which Buck and Rayford wasted a hundred pages insisting that they would never, ever take a job working for Nicolae. In the film, both characters quickly decided not just to accept such jobs, but to pursue them. That saves us lots of time and makes the heroes appear more decisive. Oddly, though, in this scene it means that Buck and Nicolae both want the same thing.

Corcoran’s biggest advantage in this scene is that he has Gordon Currie playing Nicolae. Currie doesn’t seem interested in portraying the “young Robert Redford” described in the novel. He seems to be shooting more for a young Christopher Lee or a young Bela Lugosi. He attacks the part with an enthusiastic B-movie turn that sometimes borders on camp (and sometimes sets up camp in camp).

In this scene, Currie is actually a bit more restrained, playing up the persuasive, idealistic side of the character rather than the mustache-twirling, cackling villain he unleashes elsewhere.

The conversation between Buck and Nicolae diverges quite a bit from the book. It’s a condensation of the longer, less-focused discussion there, incorporating much of what both characters should have said.

Nicolae greets Buck and seems to quiz him to see if he remembers witnessing the double-homicide in the last film. Cam-Cam is awkward and evasive and wholly unconvincing.

This is why that name “Cam-Cam” is invaluable here in discussing Kirk Cameron’s portrayal of Cameron “Buck” Williams. When you watch this scene you’re aware that you’re not just watching Cameron Williams acting awkward, but that you’re watching Kirk Cameron acting awkwardly and you’re not sure where one stops and the other begins. (Somebody there on the roof isn’t sure what to say, how to say it, or what to do with his hands.)

Inexplicably satisfied by Buck’s non-responses, Nicolae moves on to his big proposal. He wants to hire Buck to work for him after the takeover of all major media by the U.N.’s new one-world government.

This proposal is indefensible, but — unlike in the book — both characters seem to realize that. “A free press is the cornerstone of a free world,” Cam-Cam says, nobly. And then he even explains why, saying that government control of the press means “leadership without accountability.”

His full line, unfortunately, is “Leadership without accountability does not sound very compelling” — the latter half of which, frankly, does not sound very compelling, and sounds even less compelling as delivered by Cam-Cam. (I’m picturing Cam-Cam in colonial Lexington: “Taxation without representation … does not sound very compelling.”)

For his part, Nicolae recognizes that a principled journalist will and should object to his scheme, so he makes the best possible case for it by appealing to a lofty-sounding higher purpose. Only through controlling the media, he argues, can his government keep the pain and trauma of the Event from turning into blame and conflict. He frames it as the idea of uniting truth and power to fight “fear and suspicion.”

Currie almost makes it sound like he actually believes this is a noble plan. It still doesn’t sound very compelling, but it’s more compelling than the pitch Nicolae makes in the book.

“And if I refuse?” Buck says.

“I don’t think you can,” Nicolae responds, then quickly adds, “This is too important.”

They shake hands to seal the deal and, just like that, the Tribulation Force has its first secret agent in place. Success!

But it’s not clear if we viewers are supposed to be happy about this.

This is just  the arrangement that Buck was hoping for — it’s what he believes God wanted him to do. But it’s also just the arrangement that Nicolae was hoping for. The book was quite comfortable with those two things being identical — the will of God and the will of the Antichrist. Here in the movie, though, Corcoran seems more ambivalent. He zooms in tight on the handshake as the score strikes a sudden note of ominously Antichrist-y music.

There’s also the whole rooftop problem.

I don’t mean the logistical questions involving how Nicolae could have known when Buck would decide to leave his desk and head for the elevator. The whole Prince of the Power of the Air swooping down from above vibe is kind of spoiled if you imagine Nicolae standing around for half an hour, checking his watch and fiddling idly with his elevator remote-control as he waits for Buck to call it a night. So let’s just give him the benefit of the doubt and assume his uncanny timing is somehow related to his mind-reading mojo.

What I mean is that this rooftop setting is too much of an allusion to the temptation of Christ in the wilderness:

Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.”

If Corcoran didn’t intend that allusion here, Currie surely did, making sweeping gestures that all-but recite those verses from Luke’s Gospel.

So what just happened, then? Did we just witness Secret Agent Cam-Cam infiltrating the inner circles of the dark side? Or did we just witness Cam-Cam agreeing to bow before Satan in exchange for worldly authority?

Or both?

My take — which probably doesn’t correspond to what the filmmakers were thinking — is that this is a parable about the sorry state of modern journalism. Just listen to what Buck says just before he shakes hands with the Antichrist: “If I’m going to report the truth, I need access to it.”

Access. That’s what it’s all about for Buck — ensuring that he gains, and keeps, access to the highest levels of power. Without that, he says, it would be impossible to do his job, so whatever trade-offs he needs to make in the name of access he regards as necessary trade-offs. Even if it means becoming a bought-and-paid-for employee of The Powers That Be. That’s contemporary journalism in a nutshell.

Down on the street, Buck strides from the building, passing chairs randomly strewn about on the sidewalk as sirens blare in the distance of this dangerous, post-Rapture city. And there, on the mean streets of this chaotic, violent world, Buck’s motorcycle sits, undisturbed.

Steve Plank strolls up, displaying the same remarkable timing as his boss, and welcomes Buck aboard in the new one-world media. It’s a weird little tacked-on scene, but it makes another helpful change from the novel.

“The Ben-Judah announcement, that’s the event,” Steve tells Buck. “Believe me, it’ll be the biggest story of your career.”

In the book, Buck was the one who decided that a rabbi’s research findings was a higher priority story than the prophecy-fulfilling peace treaty in Israel or the abolition of every national government or a billion still-missing children. That seemed absurd and the authors never much bothered to defend it. But here, Corcoran has Steve — meaning Nicolae — steering Buck toward covering Tsion Ben-Judah’s messianic research.

That’s an intriguing difference, hinting that Nicolae is expecting the rabbi to conclude that he is the Messiah. The movie never bothers to explore that idea, but unlike the book it at least allows room for us to explore it, and to think how much more interesting this story might be if it turned out that Nicolae really believed he was the Christ instead of knowing full well that he is the Antichrist.

Now we take an abrupt turn from clandestine rooftop meetings to half-hearted romantic comedy.

Here is the front-porch farce from the novel, replayed rather faithfully. Again I’m grateful to Corcoran for sparing us the belabored build-up. The weird “flowers are in the trash” stuff is dispensed with, and rather than having Chloe stew for days, the conflict between her and Buck occurs the same day as her initial Not What It Looks Like misapprehension.

Just as in the book, she pleads with her father to chase Buck off the porch. And just as in the book, Rayford inexplicably sides with the 30-year-old man chasing his daughter. He does this despite having ample reason to believe, as Chloe does, that Buck is engaged to another woman. That’s far creepier than the remote-controlled elevator.

As in the book, Rayford actually lies to Chloe. It’s a minor little fib — he tells her he can’t chase Buck away because he’s in the shower, even though he isn’t. That doesn’t amount to much here in the movie. But this scene in the book comes just a few chapters after Buck and Bruce agonize over the possibility that Buck might be tempted to lie to the Antichrist in order to save lives. So lying to the devil to save lives is bad, but lying to your daughter to prod her into talking to the engaged older man on the porch is OK?

In the book, Jenkins set up his NWILL subplot so that we would see Buck as wrongly accused and take that as a close-enough approximation for his being good. That sets up Chloe to be the villain in this scene, but even though the filmmakers stick closely to the book, it doesn’t play out that way.

Cam-Cam takes a bit too much time to relish how confused Chloe seems to be. This makes him seem more condescending than innocent. And Chloe is finally straightforwardly aggressive here, a refreshing change from the passive-aggressive poutiness of her earlier scenes. Janaya Stephens leavens the humiliation and embarrassment of Jenkins’ scene with a relieved delight. It’s a small touch, but it’s enough to flip the scene around from the way it was written — to put the viewer’s sympathies on Chloe’s side, rather than against her. We wind up happy to see her happy.

“You can have all the time you want,” she tells Buck, hugging him warmly.

That’s an unfortunate choice of words considering this is the Great Tribulation, the final clock is ticking, etc. But still, it’s kind of a nice moment.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    What I thought was surprising is that Buck could have easily told Ivy, “Hey, my girlfriend (or good friend) might be coming by. If she says [phrase] to prove she’s Chloe, then tell her I’m not in.” Then run to a pay phone, call Chloe, and say, “Hey. if you’re in New York, and a friend of mine answers the door, she’s just staying for a couple days – tell her [phrase]. Don’t ask why now; just make sure you say it to her when you introduce yourself.” Cue* Buck zooming off.

    But because of the need to follow the book series very closely, the writers had to have Buck omit to remind Ivy of Chloe and thus set up the whole “It’s not what it looks like” plot.**

    And yeah, I agree that the scene works very well as a “secret place to meet the Big Bad and, gee, that street down there’s awfully far away, you know” thing. I think for secular viewers the interpretation would be mafia-esque, but for Christian viewers the interpretation would be more along the temptation-of-Jesus line, only Buck fails the test. Or rather, the movie has Buck pretending to fail for the purposes of being the sooper sekrit agent.

    But it would have worked so much better for Buck’s RTCism to come *after* the dawning realization that he’s just signed on with the Antichrist for the next seven years.

    Alas, filmmakers.

    —-

    * Incidentally this tends to get crossed up with ‘queue’. A ‘cue’ is a signal or start of action. A ‘queue’ is a line-up. :)

    ** Personally I still think it works to believe Ivy is lesbian and the ring is her fiancee’s engagement ring, and she’s just acting like she does around Buck because she’s caught wind that he’s best buds with some high-ups and she wants to ride on his coattails.

  • Anonymous

    Why are they suddenly acting like this?

    I’m not sure about Buck* and Chloe, but as far Rayford goes, being the narcissistic jerkwad he is, patriarchy is one of the many benefits of RTXianity, so of course he’s going to embrace this position (not that he didn’t already embrace it, but now he has prooftexts to punctuate his tantrums). In fact, the only change in behavior or attitude that RTXianity seems to demand of Rayford is that he not flirt tepidly with women-not-his-wife, which isn’t that big a deal for him since his wives seem to disappear or die with alarming regularly.

    *Tho’ with Buck, I’m sure the answer is that as a real manly real man among men, he knew deep down this was how he should be treating women, but his evil secular humanism kept making him treat them like, you know, people.

  • Dmoore970

    Well, I suppose you could say Rayford and Chloe picked it up from Irene and her church members.  Buck would have had to have learned it from Pastor Bruce since his conversion.  Apparently he is a very quick study.

  • Rikalous

    I thought the whole argument about people of opposite sexes living in
    the same accommodation is that they will inevitably end up jumping on
    each other (and even if not, they ought to “abstain from the appearance of evil”).
    I really don’t get why this applies to Chloe but not to Ivy.

    Well, if we go with the interpretation that Ivy’s got no interest whatsoever in jumping any member of the opposite sex, then, no, wait, that wouldn’t be any more palatable to the target audience.

  • Dmoore970

    Come to think of it, we can ask how Ray and Buck knew that whole evangelization spiel they used on Chris two clips ago.  Presumably they learned it from Pastor Bruce’s old materials and never bothered to update it for a post-Rapture world.  But you would think that having converted just a week ago, they would remember how bizarre all this would have sounded to them back then.

  • Anonymous

    Remember the rooftop scene in “Devils’ Advocate”? My mother adored horror films, the creepier the better but she literally couldn’t watch that scene. Had to keep peeping out between her fingers.

    Memo to LB writers and film-makers, whatever you come up with, someone else did it first and did it better.

  • Daughter

    Balloon Juice had a post today commenting that the questions asked by ordinary people to the President last night in his Google forum were far more relevant and incisive than anything our mainstream media is asking. In response, a commenter linked to an article on Politico whining about the President having such a forum at all and treating journalists as if they’re unnecessary middlemen.

  • Daughter

    I’m not sure that I’d interpret it that way. In Luke, it’s Satan who says that God won’t let Jesus get hurt if he throws himself down. Jesus responds that that’s not necessarily the case, because you’re not supposed to put God to the test.  (Iow, don’t do something stupid, mistakenly thinking that because God loves you or you’re special to God, he’ll protect you from the consequences). So what I see the devil offering is a “prove you are who you really say you are” temptation, and Jesus not only doesn’t take the bait, he tells him it doesn’t work that way.

  • Daughter

    Ugh to that link, aunursa. Ray doesn’t even take the time to ask Chloe why she thinks Buck is engaged, he just assumes it can’t be true. Does he think his daughter just pulled that idea out of her head? And if he had taken the time to listen and still concluded that Buck wasn’t engaged, wouldn’t he, as an RTC father, still be concerned about Buck having another woman in his apartment?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

    I think it’s because the authors were too scared to actually portray protagonists who didn’t act like RTCs, even before they were converted. Chloe moved far away from home and explicitly rejects her mother’s teachings, only coming around just now. Rayford doesn’t do that, but he ignores and disregards his wife’s teachings as well. And Buck is a new convert, yet he’s acting like someone who has been steeped in this subculture from birth. That isn’t what would normally happen, is it? I know that new converts can be zealous but even they can’t manage to mimic all of the little social cues and mores after a week!

  • Rob Brown

    This front porch refusal to take no for an answer scene is repeated in
    some variation in almost every film I have ever seen. It teaches that a
    womans no always turns into yes.
    To rational reasonable people it is a red flag signaling that you are dealing with a potential abuser.

    I’m thinking back to seeing Bond films when I was a kid–too young to understand very much of the plot, really–and the same kind of thing was in those, possibly something worse in fact.  In many of them you would see 007 kiss whichever woman was in that flick, and she’d initially resist, but a few seconds later she’d do a 180 and start making out with him.

    I didn’t walk away from those movies thinking “So all you have to do to make a girl like you is make her kiss you for several seconds, no matter how much she fights to get away from you!”, but I do kind of wonder whether anybody else too young or stupid to know better got that idea.

  • Rob Brown

    The scene only works if Rayford…was psychic and knew that Buck wasn’t cheating on Chloe.

    And even then, he should have gone to Chloe and said “I know that it looks like Buck’s cheating on you, but it turns out he isn’t.  See, what happened is…” etc.  Instead of leaving her alone with a guy she really didn’t want to see.

  • Rob Brown

    I think it’s because the authors were too scared to actually portray
    protagonists who didn’t act like RTCs, even before they were converted.

    Makes you wonder how they would have portrayed Mary Magdalene if somebody approached them about writing a book from her point of view.

  • Ken

    Fred already pointed out how Buck wants access; and I realize the director can bend the source only so far, [...] Why do you want or need access to it?

    That’s always going to be the problem if you refuse to “bend the source.”  Buck and Rayford’s actions make no sense, whether you’re talking about their supposed characters, the coming end of the Earth, or even what Christians in general are supposed to do.  Yes, I know there’s disagreement about the last one, but I don’t think “serve Satan and further his plans” would appear on any list.

    The only plan in the book that did make sense was Bruce’s “dig a big hole and crawl in it”.  (By the way, how’s that going in the movies?)  And the only Christian action is “tell everyone what is happening in the hope some few will believe and be saved.”

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Well, with LaHaye’s order to reboot the franchise (he sued Cloud Ten, and apparently part of the settlement is that they have to reboot it to his specs) it could be years before we see Bruce’s water tank fake burial idea.

  • GeniusLemur

    And it’s a fascinating bit, because its a scripture duel. The devil attacks with scripture, and Jesus counterattacks with a contradictory bit of scripture. I don’t know what people like LeHaye would make of that.

  • GeniusLemur

    That’s the reason I figured Bond had a naturally occurring mind-control agent in his saliva: if a woman resists, she gives in as soon as he gets his lips on her.

  • GeniusLemur

    The sacrifice does come off as something Jesus doesn’t want, even if
    he’s willing to do it. And maybe he isn’t 100% sure about the whole
    thing. Remember, one of the gospels (I think it’s Matthew, I don’t have
    it handy) records his last words as “My God, my God, why have you
    forsaken me?” Hardly the words of a man certain of his own triumph.

  • http://jamoche.dreamwidth.org/ Jamoche

    I don’t know if she was supposed to have been in a dorm or an apartment, but she was presumably being supported by her parents, not out there earning her own way.  Did she have a job?

    This came up in an earlier post – IIRC in the prequels her mom didn’t want her to go and threatened not to pay for it, but she got a full scholarship, though we’re not exactly sure how.

  • Anonymous

    I have actually taken a liking to these LB movies we’ve seen so far, so that makes me sad. It was kind of predictable, though.

    What was his beef with Cloud Ten? Were there too many scenes and characters that almost rose to the level where a human being could tolerate them? Did he feel the endless logistics being cut out simply gutted his masterpiece?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    http://www.christiancinema.com/catalog/newsdesk_info.php?newsdesk_id=727

    I guess it kinda boils down to “he didn’t like the movies” (>_>)

  • Ursula L

    And it’s a fascinating bit, because its a scripture duel. The devil attacks with scripture, and Jesus counterattacks with a contradictory bit of scripture. I don’t know what people like LeHaye would make of that.

    I’m pretty sure it’s their favorite bit of scripture.

    After all, if the devil can use scripture in a corrupt way, than any undesirable reading of scripture can be rejected.  

    So scripture is absolutely true, with the “correct” (their) use.  But it can be used by the devil as shown by any “incorrect” (different from their own understanding) use.  And it justifies every oppression and cruelty against people with the “incorrect” understanding of scripture, as they’ve [sarcasm]obviously[/sarcasm] been trapped by the devil’s use of scripture, and nothing you can do to stop the devil is worse than being controlled by the devil.  

    It’s all a matter of whether you read the story with humility (I might be wrong or misled) or hubris (others might be wrong or misled, and might mislead me.)

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s because the authors were too scared to actually portray protagonists who didn’t act like RTCs, even before they were converted.

    “Makes you wonder how they would have portrayed Mary Magdalene if somebody approached them about writing a book from her point of view.”

    I strongly suspect that they would give that somebody a flat “No.”, and then try to lecture them on the Scripturally-based impossibility of Mary Magdalene (or, indeed, *any* woman) having anything so Human as a “point-of-view”.

  • cipher

    Earlier, in a faithful adaptation of a scene from the book, the filmmakers were no more successful than Jerry Jenkins had been in portraying a phone call to an unlisted number as a sign of the Antichrist’s terrifying power.

    Wait – that’s a sign of the Antichrist’s power? He knows how to use Google?

  • GeniusLemur

    Probably not their favorite: it’s an intellectual debate, and there’s no smiting involved. But for how they’d interpret it, yeah, you’re probably correct. I was thinking they’d apply some humility and intellectual honesty to it. I don’t know how I could have thought that.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I once saw some bit of woo, the sort of thing you;d see on the history channel these days,. but this was back when the history channel was respectable, which made the likely unsupportable but Interesting To Imagine claim that, by a remarkable coincidence, the Aramaic phrase “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, spoken aloud, is homophonous with the Mayan phrase “Now at last I see the light”

    (This was part of their justification for why the 2012 mayan apocalypse was TOTES GONNA HAPPEN in the then-far-off year of 2012, since clearly Mayan is the secret language of god)

  • Rob Brown

    I bet he’s a mutie! :p

  • Rob Brown

    *Snrk!*

  • Ken

     

    I guess it kinda boils down to “[LaHaye] didn’t like the movies”.

    But Kirk Cameron obviously did, so how are we to decide which of these great theologians is correct?

  • JenL

    But Kirk Cameron obviously did, so how are we to decide which of these great theologians is correct?

    Based on some quick google-fu, LaHaye claimed he was promised a $40 million investment in the cast, CGI, production, and promotion, resulting in a blockbuster.    Instead total (Hollywood-accounting) costs came to something like $17.5 million.  (http://bit.ly/wamxyF)   Rather than a blockbuster, he got a box office gross just over $4 million.  (http://bit.ly/yAN6QB)

    I’m not sure if I’m amused or dismayed by the thought that LaHaye apparently thinks America would have flocked to see this movie if only it had starred a couple of big names and had better CGI.  Or does he really think it just wasn’t properly promoted?  

    I wonder if it’s occurred to him that the fact that a significant segment of his target audience won’t go to a movie theater might reduce his potential ticket sales?  Or does he figure he’ll just make it up with video sales?

  • Anonymous

    I always figured that LaJenkins didn’t think the devil read Scripture.  Otherwise, he might have flipped to the end of Revelation at some point and realized, “Hey, if I follow this plan, I’m going to suffer in a lake of fire forever!”

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Huh! Honestly, though, I think if they focussed Left Behind in the Southern-Baptist type areas they might actually get a sizable en-masse theater attendance, especially if the budget were increased, because honestly, the movies DO look kind of amateurish.

    Surprised Kirk Douchebag isn’t insisting that he can still be Buck Williams, even though it’s been about a decade since those movies.

    Plus LaHaye would get the $ from people like me who’d be just thunderstruck at the idea of an actual big silver screen Left Behind and would go for the lulz.

  • Ken

    Suddenly this reminds me of the Atlas Shrugged fiasco.  The backer is sure this is the story the public has been waiting for; then it tanks in the theaters and he starts blaming the actors, directors, effects, marketing, distribution – well, really everything except the story.  Meanwhile everyone else is saying, “Yeah, what do you expect, the story sucks.”

    I am kind of wondering what good it does LaHaye to get back the rights.  Google says he’s 85 so the odds of him seeing the completion of a ten-picture series are kind of low, actuarially-speaking.  Then again, for most of his life he’s been claiming that the odds of having that much time are pretty low, Biblically-speaking…

  • GeniusLemur

    And again, with “American Carol.” It’s an interesting pattern: far-right wingers create the kind of far-right entertainment they insist the country is desperate to see… and it bombs. Titanically.

  • Tricksterson

    Oh what I would give for an MST3K version of these movies!  Or Rifftracks.

  • Tricksterson

    I have an image of his looming menacingly over Buck and then…giving him a noogie.

  • Tricksterson

    Because she’s a woman Silly and therefore weaker and more sinful by nature than a man.  Tsk, tsk tsk.

  • Tricksterson

    I think it’s less a matter of being scared than being incapable.  They seem to think that as soon as you “get right with the Lord” you get implanted with tyhe whole package, not unlike being assimilated by the Borg.

  • Tricksterson

    “You’re far too keen on When and How
    But not so hot on Why.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/andrewjomatthews Andrew Matthews

    I think “leadership without accountability” sounds pretty darn “compelling” in the literal sense of the word.


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