Left Behind, the Movie (2014)

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“Left Behind” (2014) stars Nicolas Cage and is a remake of “Left Behind: The Movie” (2008) starring Kirk Cameron. Both movies are based on the popular book, Left Behind, by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins (1998.)

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Generally speaking, The Theology Nerd is not a big fan of the Left Behind franchise, but this movie bears little resemblance to the original. The first movie was, at the very least, good cinema. The new film is pretty much a simple disaster movie. Roger Ebert termed it “essentially an airport movie with an evangelical spin.” That summation is absolutely correct.

True, there is an evangelical direction to the movie, but it comes across very weakly. The mother who believes in God is perceived by her family as being crazy and the minister never truly believed until it was too late. There is little to nothing in this film that would encourage faith. While we disagree with a number of elements in the first movie, it did encourage faith in its believing audience.

What is this movie about? Essentially, a married pilot is trying to have an affair with a naïve flight attendant. While in the air, the rapture happens. Some of the passengers are among the millions of people who disappear. There is nowhere to land the plane due to the disaster. They are also running out of fuel, making the danger all the more paramount. The pilot’s daughter finds a place for them to land the plane and eventually the remaining passengers and crew exit the crash-landed plane. There is even a sub-arc romance that begins to blossom by the ending. That is really about it. Much of the world disappears due to a secret rapture and the plane is safely landed. End of story.

What is missing? Despite the fact that we disagree with the typical dispensational, pre-tribulational ordering of events, there is much more that is lacking. This feels more like a secularized understanding of the book of Revelation. The original movie dealt with two main ideas: the rapture and the anti-christ. Millions of people disappear suddenly and without explanation from the earth’s population in both movies. The original also dealt majorly with the deception that the anti-christ would have over the earth’s masses; it was, at times, was quite supernatural and eerie. We do not even hear of an antichrist in this movie. It is as if the rapture happened and any additional biblical reference was cut. It is simply a movie a plane landing under emergency conditions. The rapture serves more as the backdrop for the story.

The Left Behind franchise has departed from anything like its inception. In our opinion, this is no longer a Christian-based movie. It may still have an evangelical bent in the background, but that is all. Any movie based at least loosely on dispensational theology should include a rapture of the church, a revealing of the antichrist, a wicked deception, and horrific persecution of any who turn to Christ in wake of the rapture. After the rapture, dispensationalists would heavily refocus energy upon Israel and the Jewish people. Then the movie might even include the return of Christ in triumph defeating the anti-christ and his forces.

Please understand: we do not support that eschatological scenario, but the original Left Behind does, both in book and movie form. Were we wrong to expect such from a remake? Seldom is a remake as good as the original, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is not often possible to live up to the legendary status of an original. Think about a remake of “Gone With the Wind” or “The Godfather.” There are some things that simply cannot be redone. We ought to celebrate the original and not try to improve on perfection. Even for those of us who disagree with the original Left Behind’s theology, we have to concede good movie-making – not so with the remake.

Theologically, the greatest disparagement was the implicit (if not explicit) eschatological understanding. After all, we see the rapture and the return of Christ as being the same event which brings about a victorious event, the culmination of human history. Of course, such would follow the tribulation period. Even within that framework are questions of how literally to take certain events. Our purpose here is not to lay out a sound and biblical eschatology. Rather, our desire is to provide a framework showing where we disagree with the entire gamut of the Left Behind saga. Too many people have derived their theology from this series of books and films rather than from the Bible. Therefore, it is more problematic than beneficial.

Is that the greatest problem of the book? Sadly, it is not. We can get very incensed by faulty eschatology but there is a deeper, troubling implication – a very pessimistic quality of life. In any post-tribulational theology, there is the positive working out of life. We will go through tribulation, but in the end the Lord comes back and fixes everything; our future is infinitely better than our present. That optimism is present even in dispensational theology, though in a somewhat diminished capacity. In good cinema – as well as life itself – a constant tension of conflict and resolution is present. Things get bad for a little while and then they get better; the characters suffer for a bit and then things improve. It gives us something for which to hope. We live through the characters and experience the drama of life. Despair turns into hope and when the movie is over, we are encouraged by what has unfolded before us. In this movie, though, the rapture has happened and those left behind are suffering due to the absence of their loved ones. True, the plane lands and that crisis is resolved, but to what end? They are left to return to empty homes. There is no way to put back together their lives. There is no promise of a returning Lord. No one talks about anything positive. Reference is made to the fact that things are about to get a whole lot worse, and that is where we are left.

The original movie did end on a bit of a cliff hanger, but they left the viewer with the hope that believers would endure until the end and then everything would be wonderful. There is no such expectation in this highly secularized adaptation, particularly surprising since Paul Lalonde worked on this movie as well as the original. He seems to have drifted far off course. Aside from poor acting, stilted dialogue, and unconvincing terror, this movie does not deliver on the premise of end time events. We expected to disagree with the plot line of a movie that follows a dispensational eschatology, but we never expected the level of disappointment with which this movie leaves us. 105 minutes of our life which we will never regain has been totally wasted. We expected far more from its theology, the acting, the intensity, and the hope with which it ended. The moral of the story is this: don’t waste your time on this one.

Have you seen this movie? What did you think?

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