LBTM: Jesus met the woman

LBTM: Jesus met the woman December 19, 2008

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Rayford Steele figures he owes Buck a favor for helping to subdue Mr. Panic on the airplane, so he offers to give him the name of a charter pilot who might be able to fly Buck to New York.

The charter pilot is, of course, based right there at the airport. Instead of just giving Buck the name and wishing him good luck, though, Rayford brings Buck all the way out to the suburbs, to the Steele's home, where he'll awkwardly spend the night on their couch before having to bum a ride the next morning back out to the airport. This makes no sense, but it allows Buck and Chloe to meet much earlier in the story and thus spares us the whole belabored cookie-sharing scene from the book.

For that I'm so very grateful that I don't really care if Buck's trip to the suburbs makes any sense.

Martial law, chaos on the highways and a national state of emergency apparently don't interfere with Rayford Steele's commute and we cut directly to his suburban street as he pulls into his driveway.

I like the detail of the garbage truck crashed into the tree, which I'm choosing to view as an egalitarian statement. It's also tempting to use this as a data point for trying to calculate what time the Event is supposed to have occurred in our story here. Garbage trucks tend to be out during the early part of the day. Rayford's flight, however, didn't leave New York until evening and the Event seemed to strike the plane sometime in the middle of the night (Atlantic time). Chloe, on the other hand, was driving in the middle of the afternoon when she encountered the post-Event pileup, so …

Oh nevermind. Let's just go back to ignoring the position of the sun and the time of day.

In addition to all the crashed cars (was every RTC out driving when the Event struck?) we see a handful of figures milling about. A man in a goofy-looking hat is crossing the street, rushing to the side of a woman who sits on the sidewalk next to an empty baby stroller.

We know that several hours, at least, have passed since the Event. This woman, then, this despondent mother, has been sitting there on the ground, traumatized and probably in shock, for hours. Those other people we see milling about don't seem to have noticed her, or else they just don't care that she's been lying there. Apparently no one has approached this woman until the man with the goofy hat arrives.

Rayford and Buck don't seem to notice this poor woman either. They drive right past her into Rayford's semi-circular driveway. She can't be more than a dozen yards away when they get out of the car.

As Rayford rushes inside to check on his own family, Buck stands outside, awkwardly, unsure if he should follow. Just a few yards away, behind him, sits a woman in need and in pain. He doesn't turn around.

The camera follows Rayford inside and Brad Johnson sets about making chicken soup from chicken poop. This bit actually almost works. Johnson steers past all the maudlin touches director Vic Sarin tries to shovel on top of him and he just plays it straight. We see a man who fears he has lost his family. He works his way through the house, wanting to rush, yet still hesitant, reluctant to find what he expects. He calls out to his wife and his son — by name, the way real people call out to other real people. And then his worst fears are confirmed. He finds their empty bedclothes and he breaks down.

The score here is over the top, but Johnson is believable and convincing. This is better than anything in the book. One feels a bit of compassion for Rayford here. That never happens when you're reading the novel.

Sarin has to gild the lily with some Symbolism, so Rayford tosses Irene's bedstand Bible at the mirror and we see his fragmented reflection in its shattered surface, etc., etc. The image is not the freshest, but it's fairly well executed, at least.

We quickly cut back to CamCam, still standing awkwardly on the front porch, uncertain about trespassing on Rayford's grief. He sits down on the porch like he's going to be there a while. I don't get the sense that this was intended to be funny.

Back upstairs, Rayford picks up the Bible. He opens to the first page and reads aloud, "In the beginning." He laughs bitterly and says, "It's a little late for that." This was intended to be funny, and it kind of is. Remarkable.

So Rayford starts randomly flipping through the Bible. He's looking for answers. There, on the floor of his bedroom, in the pages of his wife's Bible, he's looking for Jesus.

He's looking in the wrong place.

We've already seen where Jesus is and we watched Rayford drive right past him. You might not have recognized him at first in that goofy hat, but once he got down on the sidewalk with that poor woman he was unmistakable. Just like him, too, to sneak his way into this story uninvited, showing up just exactly where the storytellers insisted he would never be.

Suddenly it's nighttime and military vehicles patrol the streets of the Chicago suburbs. CamCam is still sitting on the porch, still facing the house instead of the street, still dialing furiously on his cell phone and still unable to reach anyone.

And this is still not supposed to be funny.

As the loudspeaker from a military Jeep says something about "shot on sight," CamCam decides it's a good idea to run toward the soldiers and ask them for a ride to the airport. A soldier points a gun at him and orders him to get back indoors. Then they drive off with CamCam still standing there, not indoors. It's clear, though, that these military guys mean business and that they're absolutely not going around offering rides to civilians.

The sun comes up and we see a forlorn dog lying by the empty clothes of its departed master. Oy with the poodles already!

Rayford sits in his bedroom, watching a videotape of his son's birthday party the day before. His grief was more believable when we couldn't actually see the gratingly annoying Irene and Raymie.

Outside, a military Jeep pulls up at the end of the Steeles' driveway. The soldiers have given Chloe a ride home. She runs inside, sees her father and gives him a flying, desperate hug. That bit kind of works too.

Meanwhile, in their Latverian fortress, Jonathan Stonagal and Joshua Cothran are watching television. On the screen we see an unidentified official from some unidentified government, Nicolae Carpathia standing just behind him. The official says, "As we deal with our own crisis, we are very grateful that the U.N. is doing all that they can to find out who, or what, is responsible for this horrible act of evil."

Poor silly man, confusing the act of divine intervention that every RTC yearns for with a "horrible act of evil."

Stoney and Cothran ramble for a bit about their "food distribution network" and their "operatives." Just as in the book, these characters seem like they've been grafted in from a wholly unconnected story. In the book, that story seemed to be a relentlessly dull rip-off of The Foreign Correspondent. Here, thanks to Daniel Pilon's sly, soap-villain turn as Stoney, it seems more like a spliced-in scene from In Like Flint.

At any moment I expect

a groovy young James Coburn to come crashing through the window, foiling their diabolical scheme to feed the world.

Back at the Steele home, we watch Chloe walking down the stairs in a shot spotlighting the wilting bouquet of flowers on the hall table. We saw this same flower arrangement — freshly cut and still full of life — in Part 2 of this movie. Now the flowers are wilted, many of the petals falling off entirely, and the balloons we watched Irene inflating have started to shrivel. This doesn't help to clear up our already hopelessly tangled timeline for this story.

Chloe walks into the living room and, distracted, starts to sit down on the right end of the couch, jumping up when she realizes she's sitting on someone's feet. She grabs the first heavy-seeming object at hand — a flower vase — and threatens the intruder.

Thus we have Left Behind: The Movie's version of a meet-cute between Chloe and Buck. (This might have been more entertaining, of course, had Chloe sat down on the left end of the couch, but I suppose Kirk Cameron would not have approved.)

The dialogue here has a kind of Mad-Libs arbitrariness to it and neither actor seems able to make sense of the scene. Stephens plays Chloe as dazed by grief, so astonished by the mysterious loss of her mother and brother that this lesser mystery — the unexplained appearance of a TV anchor in her living room — barely seems to register. "Buck Williams," Chloe says, "What are you doing in my house?"

CamCam responds like he's back on the set of a sit-com. "Hopin' you're not gonna brain me with that vase," he replies, leaving a beat at the end for the roar of the laugh-track.

The scene ends with Buck explaining that he urgently needs to get to New York. Once there, he implies, he will be able to use his journalistic skills to "find some answers."

Buck Williams is, after all, the Greatest Investigative Reporter of All Time. I realize that he hasn't yet managed to report anything at all, on this, the biggest story of all time. But that's just because he was stuck on an airplane when the story broke.

As soon as that plane touched down, he did what any good reporter would do: He bummed a ride out to the suburbs, sat on the porch for hours until the sun went down, and then got himself a good night's sleep.

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