If you’re a Bible-believing Jesus-loving American like me, I hereby officially absolve you from the guilt of staying as far away from the theater as possible during the inevitably short run of the new adaptation of Left Behind.
I also grant a special dispensation, if you’ve already seen the movie, from any inner compulsion you feel to “say something nice” as a passive way of encouraging Hollywood to make more “Christian” or “Biblical” or “values-based” films, or for fear of being judged by those who thought it was “awesome and super-Biblical.”
I further grant you absolute forgiveness for your previous Facebook posts in which you gushed about your eagerness to see Nicolas Cage in Left Behind, and speculated about his spiritual condition.
How can I grant such merciful forgiveness? I have personally borne the burden for you, and by my $10.25, you are saved… from spending your $10.25.
Unlike you, Left Behind remains unforgiven.
While the movie purports to be about “the rapture” — the sudden vanishing of all Jesus-believers from the face of the earth (and the cabins of aircraft) — I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching another Zucker & Abrahams Airplane movie. I kept expecting Leslie Nielsen to pop into the flight deck to deadpan, “I just want to tell you both, good luck. We’re all counting on you.”
If I were more faithful to the doctrine of Frozen, I would merely let it go…let it go. But I feel mystically drawn to record my impressions here — drawn as a moth to the Mothra.
Here’s the problem: Left Behind is a bad movie.
It’s a bad movie that can’t even decide what kind of a bad movie it is.
Is it a bad apocalyptic thriller, or is it a bad romance? Why choose?
I’ll concede, it’s a challenge to make a movie where all of the decent (but flawed and forgiven) people vanish early on, and you’re left to cheer for the people who have blatantly rejected God as they struggle against the (off-screen) antagonist, who in this case, is…well…God.
The other challenge is that the audience knows immediately what happened to all of the missing persons, but it takes those “left behind” tedious hours to work through all of the other possible theories: 1) the aliens took them, 2) it’s just a bad acid trip, 3) they’re still here, but invisible, 4) my husband took them.
The movie is also a bolus of masticated indecision.
Who, for example, is the protagonist?
Are we to admire, and root for, the pilot who plans to cheat on his wife, and who lies to his mistress and his daughter? You would think he’s the protagonist, since he’s the only actor (Nicolas Cage) whose name I recognized. Lea Thompson doesn’t count. She missed most of the movie, due to a previously scheduled appointment in Heaven.
Or perhaps we’re to cheer the investigative journalist who repeatedly puts himself in harm’s way to protect others, in one case literally telling a crazy woman to point a pistol at him so she won’t point it at others. He’s sweet and gracious and handsome, and he’s pining to see Chloe — the woman he just met, who happens to be the pilot’s daughter. He’s the one who discovers that when you’ve got to land a jet, with broken stabilizers and bereft of fuel, in the dark, on a highway construction site… there’s an app for that.
Of course, the hero could be Chloe, who not only figures out a way to land the plane without an airport, but literally clears the improvised runway and ignites the landing beacon.
All three of these protagonist-nominees eventually realize that the disappeared folk have gone to Heaven to be with Jesus, but none of them does what such knowledge would logically inspire. This is problematic on logical and theological grounds. But this is a movie, so the greatest offense is that we have protagonists who don’t actually change down deep as a result of facing a moral crisis.
Of course, you may say (in an effort to say something nice), “I’m sure they’ll repent later in the series.” But a movie has to stand alone as a complete story. It can’t rely on special knowledge that book readers have, or on the unlikely event of a future sequel.
The only significant change the protagonists undergo is that the pilot and his daughter both feel sorry that they didn’t listen to the wife/mother who tried to tell them about Jesus and the wrath to come. But it’s easy to say “Mom was right” when you find your co-pilot’s underpants lying on the second seat with his empty uniform.
A final note: the ensemble on the plane — let’s call them the “Not Ready for Heaven Players” — deserves a word.
The filmmakers attempt to flesh out the story with a nice Muslim guy, a crazy black football wife, an Asian conspiracy theorist, an octogenarian Alzheimer’s victim, and a wise-cracking dwarf.
But wait, I already told you that Left Behind gave me Airplane movie flashbacks.