Looking Closer at Left Behind – The Movie!

Looking Closer at Left Behind – The Movie! October 2, 2014

Cageface[This post will be updated over the next few days, so check back as this thrilling — dare I say rapturous? — cinematic occasion unfolds!]

Yesterday, I received an advertisement distributed by Christianity Today in which Tim LaHaye said this about the new Left Behind movie:

You will be moved, blessed and thrilled.

Yeah, I remember how, when I was six years old, I wrote a story, stapled it together, and then, to make it look like a real book, I put my own rave-review blurb on the cover, praising my own story. Because that made it real. And who better to describe the greatness of a story than the guy who wrote it?

Then I grew up and put away childish things.

But anyway, that’s a tangent.

Here’s the real story… After Christianity Today sent everybody that advertisement, they then published their own review of the film, composed by Jackson Cuidon, a moviegoer who has proven time and time again that he is thoughtful and discerning in his film reviewing and in his consideration of how faith and art intersect.

And what does he say?

Left Behind is not a Christian Movie, whatever Christian Moviecould even possibly mean.

… [M]ost Christians within the world of the movie—whether the street-preacher lady at the airport or Rayford Steele’s wife—are portrayed as insistent, crazy, delusional, or at the very least just really annoying. Steele’s wife’s conversion to Christianity is shown to have pushed her and her husband apart; we see that she’s decorated her house with crosses, throw-pillows that say “Pray” across the front, and encouraging posters.

That is the deepest conception of Christianity that this movie has: posters, pillows, and crucifixes.

If the Left Behind books were just pulp novels injected with Christianity, then the Left Behind movie is just a disaster flick injected with the slightest, most infinitesimal amount of Christianity possible. This is, in one way, good—no one needs to be upset, or get angry, or be offended, or question their beliefs, or the beliefs of those around them, or anything, because the film takes no stance on anything. The film is so inept, confused, and involuted that there’s no danger of even accidentally cobbling together something that could necessitate a defense of Christianity.

On a four-star scale, Christianity Today gives Left Behind… are you ready?

Half a star.

Half of one star. That’s, like, 12.5 points on a 100-point scale. On a report card, well… you get the picture.

How about a second opinion?

Let’s go to Crosswalk, where Christian Hamaker writes:

… this Left Behind is not a good movie — Christian or otherwise. … [R]ather than a timely, relevant story, this Left Behind plays like a throwback to the 1970s, when disaster movies were all the rage. It’s mainly an airplane-in-peril drama rather than a thoughtful treatment of the story’s theological underpinnings.

[T]he film is, for a while, tolerable. Then comes a horrendous final 30 minutes, which play like a bad TV show. Theological quandaries, never given detailed exploration amid the confusion experienced by the passengers on Ray’s plane, yield to stock disaster-movie tropes and an absurd finale.

Paul Asay of Focus on the Family‘s PluggedIn says:

Whatever grade you give Cloud Ten in execution, they get an A for effort. … If all good Christians in the world suddenly vanished in a blink of an eye — just like they always claimed they would — it seems that once you figured out they weren’t hiding under the table, some serious spiritual soul-searching would be in order. If you’re making a story about the Rapture, things get a little churchy. … Left Behind may not be a high water mark for Christian cinema. And yet, it has some of the same charm that Christianity itself has. 

Huh.

That seems to stand in direct contradiction to Brett McCracken at Christianity Today who reminds us,

The Rapture is a relatively recent idea in church history, as well as a minor theme in Scripture: Many Bible scholars argue that it’s not there at all…

But we’d like to believe that these stories are not preaching to the choir… that they’re spreading the gospel to unbelievers. Right?

Let’s see what the film experts beyond the world of Christian publishing are saying…

Jeannette Catsoulis at The New York Times calls it “breathtakingly clunky.”

Over at The Dissolve, Nathan Rabin says:

As a standalone film, Left Behind makes little sense. It doesn’t even make much sense as the opening of a trilogy, but as part of an elaborate, extensive mythology, it’s less jarringly inadequate. Sure enough, Thomson and Murray have already signed on for sequels, but the film’s appeal is largely dependent on Cage; Left Behind is a batshit-crazy Cage cult classic of a radically new stripe. Without him, Left Behind would certainly not be been the funniest movie set onboard an airplane since Airplane!, though it’s funny in a slightly different way.

Elizabeth Weitzman at The New York Daily News says:

This failed epic — really, an epic failure — would barely be noticed, were it not for former Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage taking on a Sharknado-quality remake of a Kirk Cameron movie.

Matt Pais at RedEye Chicago says:

This movie is the worst. And the best. I haven’t laughed like that in a theater in a long, long time, and not one of those laughs was earned on purpose. I love the way Cage throws out items as he rifles through the bag of a flight attendant who disappeared (she went to Bible study and wasn’t a hussy). I love the one and only family photo into which it looks like Cage was Photoshopped. I love that all Buck eventually is good for is pressing “redial,” and the suggestion that a plane can’t land unless a port-a-potty is out of the way. I love that there’s no societal context to address why the rapture’s happening now and that Chloe, no joke, does something that reminded me of both “Wet Hot American Summer” and “The Great Muppet Caper.”

Really, I cannot believe this movie exists, but I’m so glad it does.

Bilge Ebiri at Vulture:

…it’s the shoddy execution that kills Left Behind. All the nutter-butter end times stuff might have been tolerable if the film could string together a few scenes that weren’t laughably written and directed.  . . .  Left Behind is a complete botch. As for Nicolas Cage, he mostly seems annoyed. At times, this fits the part: As a pilot, he has to keep his cool, even as people keep pestering him for answers. At times, it fits the part in more meta ways: He may be wondering if all those ex-wives and fancy houses were worth a headline role in what will surely go down in movie history as one of the worst – not to mention craziest – movies ever made.

Christy Lemire at RogerEbert.com says:

Looking distractingly rubbery with a helmet of fake, dark hair, [Nicolas Cage] seems to have been Photoshopped into the film. 

. . .

“Left Behind” finally edges toward an enjoyable level of insanity as it reaches its conclusion. I wouldn’t dream of giving away the details–mysterious ways, and all–but I will say that it involves the petite Chloe driving a steamroller in the dead of night on a deserted stretch of highway that’s under construction.

Salt Lake City’s Scott Renshaw comments at Letterboxd:

. . .  it’s so ineptly put together — from the leaden performances to the ragged editing to the hilariously random behavior of the extras during the scenes of “mass hysteria” — that it leaves you with nothing but what should be an obvious question: If the story’s eschatology insists that its world is now doomed, why should we be rooting for our heroes to survive?

And… best of all… look who rose from the dead, driven by a sense of responsibility to warn us about this film!

Roger Ebert reviews Left Behind

 

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Tim
  • Adamo Veritas

    Jackson Cuidon actually wanted to give Left Behind zero stars:

    “We tried to give the film zero stars, but our tech system won’t allow it.”

    Hilarious and sad.

  • Chochocharlie

    Everything about this Cloud Ten production smells a bit funny . even the Left Behind Facebook page which boosts an impressive 1.2 million likes. In more detail one can see these likes come largely from Pakistan. I was not aware the franchise had such a devote following there.

  • Chochocharlie

    Read this today on the Left Behind Facebook page

    Paul Lalonde Christianity Today didn’t trash the movie. A guest blogger who admitted in the article that he hated the movie before he even saw it did. He also trashed God’s Not Dead, Fireproof and every other Christian movie he could think of. Shame on CT for letting him post his angry thoughts under their banner.
    Like · 1 · about an hour ago

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Well, we could just accept that comment from the Cloud Ten film producer at face-value.

      Or we could note that even CT’s TV & film editor is a freelancer, and that all CT reviews are written by freelancers.

      Jackson Cuidon is CT’s most frequent film reviewers, and, in my opinion, one of their most reliable, thoughtful, and eloquent. Do we accept what one FB comment says about a “guest blogger,” or do we examine the big picture, and consider the thoughtfulness and integrity that Cuidon has demonstrated over a wide variety of reviews at Christianity Today? CT’s film editor selects and manages that team of critics, so it’s fair to credit that review to “Christianity Today.”

      Also, that Facebook comment doesn’t take this question into account: What is a reviewer’s responsibility? Is it ever appropriate to “trash” a movie? If a movie is trash, shouldn’t it be acknowledged as such? By the standards of excellence in artistry, did this film deserve to be criticized? Are any of the films in question worthy of being praised for their artistry?

      In view of these questions, I find Christianity Today’s film coverage consistently impressive, and frequently excellent.

      Notice how, in the quote you give us, Lalonde just tries to discredit the source rather than actually engaging the observations that the writer made, or providing some kind of alternate examination of the film that would reveal to us why it’s an admirable work of art? By contrast, Cuidon actually examines the movie and builds arguments based on what he saw there. It sounds to me like that Facebook content from Paul Lalonde reflects about the same kind of artistic discernment that the vast majority of film critics I know, Christian or otherwise, find in his films..

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      By the way, if “Christianity Today didn’t trash this movie,” why is the editor of Christianity Today saying this about CT’s 1/2-a-star review of it?

    • jeffreyoverstreet

      Can you provide a link to that exact Facebook-page comment? Can’t find it.

  • RSpendlove

    I should add: Thank you Mr. Overstreet for the great review of “Left Behind” — I agree with you that PluggedIn’s review is pretty lame, and I definitely will not be wasting my time and money on this worthless film.

  • RSpendlove

    As a dad of seven kids, I find PluggedIn’s reviews mostly helpful,
    because I do want to know about the content issues in a film before I possibly
    expose my children to it. Artistic merit is also important, but we can and do
    judge for ourselves (sometimes by seeking other reviews like Film Chat and
    Looking Closer).

    Unfortunately, I find that most Christian film critics and
    reviewers who fall into the “Artistic Merit trumps all” camp too
    readily excuse most content problems “because it was justified by the
    needs of honest storytelling.” Sorry, but even the most eloquently and
    honestly portrayed story that includes more sex, violence, gore, whatever, than
    I as a Christ-follower want to expose myself or children to, is not worth my
    time and money and memories.

    If critics and reviewers, like Jeff Overstreet, were to
    include more diligent assessment of the content issues as well as the artistic
    issues, I could ditch PluggedIn and just read your reviews. :-)

    • StRalph

      Or you could continue to read both, since Jeffrey and PluggedIn are trying to accomplish very different things.

      I will check something like Plugged In if I want to know whether a film is appropriate for my son to watch. However, the appropriateness of content for children (or lack thereof) is hardly the only criterion for evaluating a film. So I will read Jeffrey’s review if I want to know whether a film might be good for ME to watch (and maybe have someone babysit le fils).

  • Jon Land

    I can totally understand where a lot of these reviews are coming from. My good friend and I were discussing what all makes this movie a disappointment and what could’ve been. But I woke up to see PluggedIn’s review. 4 out of 5?!? I guess a lot is “eye of the beholder” kind of thing.

    http://www.pluggedin.com/movies/intheaters/left-behind-2014.aspx

    • Tim

      According to pluggedin.com, the 4 out of 5 rating isn’t a rating of the movie’s quality. It’s a rating of how appropriate the movie is for the whole family in terms of its content. (“Content” being swearing, blood, violence, etc.)
      Presumably, a movie that is a 4 out of 5 is a movie that pretty much the whole family can enjoy without worry.

      • jeffreyoverstreet

        But that’s just the thing: Their approach suggests that artistry is a separate concern, and that it has nothing to do with what is best for families.

        Shoddy filmmaking is evidence of poor craftsmanship and feeble thinking. Poor craftsmanship and feeble thinking do not glorify God. Rather, they waste our time, they set bad examples, they squander resources (think of how gifted artists might have blessed the world with 1/10 of the resources that went into this movie) and they condition us to accept mediocrity.

        The Scriptures are full of exhortations to “dwell upon” “whatever is excellent,” and to “test all things” and “hold fast to what is good.” My standard for families is about much more than Focus on the Family’s short list of things that they consider dangerous. (Notice: They warn families that when the heroine stumbles and falls, the camera “spies her bra.” Are you kidding me?)

        Based on an overwhelming majority of reviews from Christian and mainstream film reviewers alike, I can highlight all kinds of things that families should be very concerned about… and a barely-glimpsed bra is not one of them. Focus on the Family thinks you can separate “content elements” from artistry and imagination. It categorizes only certain things as “spiritual content.” But the Scriptures have taught me that all things are “spiritual” — and that includes artistry. Any film that receives the blistering condemnations of its quality will worry any family with a healthy understanding of art.

        So their “four stars” is like saying, “Well, we’re not concerned with how well food is cooked or the quality of the ingredients… but there’s no alcohol in it, and we’re not offended by anything, so bon appetit, families! Enjoy your bowl of terrible food!”

        • Tim

          Jeffrey Overstreet,

          I agree with everything you said.

          That’s just how pluggedin rates movies, though. There’s nothing that I can do about it except go to a more trustworthy source for my movie criticism.

          I will go to pluggedin from time to time, just out of curiosity, to read their views on a movie. But their views are never the deciding factor in what I think about a movie.

          (For the record, I’m not affiliated with pluggedin in any way. I’m just one guy who loves movies and who frequently searches the internet for all that I can find about them.)

          I do wish more Christians would look not just at a movie’s content but at what a movie is trying to say, and how it is saying it.

        • jeffreyoverstreet

          Well, thank you for your gracious response. And forgive me if I responded too feverishly. I can get rather worked up about these things.

        • Tim

          Jeffrey Overstreet,

          You’re welcome for the reply.

          And that’s okay about the tone of your response. I forgive you. You’re passionate about film. I am too.

          I’ve gotten worked up before about films before, so much so that I’ve had to apologize to family and friends.

        • Jon Land

          Jeff, Tim…very good points. You know, I really didnt think of it that way.

          Am I right in that the folks that made the original Left behind movies were the same that did this 1, but with a bigger budget? If that’s true. That could be where some of the problem is in teh writing I think.

        • Tim

          Jon Land,

          From what I’ve read, the writers who did the original Left Behind movie also did this one, and the budget is 4 times as large.

  • Ryun Malick

    This morning, I was trying to imagine a scenario where someone might say, “Pack up the kids and let’s head to the multiplex, honey – this Left Behind movie looks pretty good!” Same thing, for that matter, with something like Maleficent.