Up until this past Saturday, I have only watched two religious movies this year: "God's Not Dead" and "Noah". While GND still holds the crown in unabashed vilification and offensiveness towards atheists, "Noah" actually stepped up and delivered a film that's a treat for cultural Christians and nonbelievers alike(thanks to "card-carrying" atheist director Darren Aronofsky).
On Saturday afternoon, after reading the first review of the rebooted religious apocalyptic film "Left Behind"("Score one for Satan", says the Toronto Star) I knew I had to see this film, if only to see just how bad it truly was. And as I found out, the Toronto Star only exposed the tip of the iceberg in describing how awful it is... for Christians.
|Even Nic Cage knows how bad it is.|
"Left Behind" as the antidote to "God's Not Dead"
A month ago, Willie Robertson of "Duck Dynasty" and "God's Not Dead" fame announced he had signed on as Executive Producer of the film and released a video where he said that "['Left Behind' is] a warning to those, if it happened today, would be left behind, and I believe people are going to make that life-changing decision to follow Christ on the way home from the theater on Oct. 3."
In other words, he believes the film will convert atheists and other non-Christians. That's a pretty bold claim, considering that the makers of nearly every other Christian film thought the exact same thing and yet the number of nonbelievers continue to rise. This film is unsurprisingly no exception, but with one peculiarity: This film achieves the opposite effect of what the faithful audience expects. At least in the theatre I went to, the crowd was dead silent all through the film and walked out looking somber and angry, unlike the big triumphant reactions I witnessed when watching GND. It is, in fact, an antidote to GND. How? Let's take a look.
Nonbelievers are portrayed without caricature
In GND, nonbelievers are portrayed as one-dimensional, unempathetic evil people while believers are supposed paragons of virtue and righteousness. Both portrayals were incredibly unrealistic. In "Left Behind", however, we don't see nonbelievers coldly dumping girlfriends and and viciously threatening students' futures.
Instead we see a surprisingly honest conversation between two main characters(Chloe Steele and Cameron "Buck" Williams) about belief, disasters and "divine intentionality" in the beginning of the film. The conversation establishes them as skeptics, but it also establishes them as actually decent human beings.
After the Rapture, we see Buck comforting a druggie heiress, and playing negotiator when an unstable mom(played by Jordin Sparks) grabs a handgun and starts threatening people(How she managed to smuggle it, nobody knows).
Even the lone Muslim character is portrayed as a kindly guy, despite being treated with suspicion and menaced by an angry Little Person. I actually smiled when he offered to hold the elderly lady's hand during the landing sequence.
God is not good all the time, and all the time God is Not Good
Original "Left Behind" fans will be very disappointed to find that Nicolai Carpathia is nowhere to be found here. There is a villain in this film however, but it's not who you think it is, and despite the poor execution of the movie's religious propaganda message, He comes off as more evil than anybody else in the film.
It shows immediately as the Rapture occurs. In a blink of an eye, Chloe's little brother is taken while hugging her, leaving her to go crazy trying to find him. Through Chloe we see disaster, death, and misery everywhere directly caused by God taking not only adult believers, but children and newborn babies as well, leaving parents in horrific agony(which raises the questions: If genuine belief were the criteria for being raptured, then why do newborns who have zero beliefs get taken? And what about babies born post-Rapture? Are they going to suffer the tribulation merely because they were born too late?).
Misery, in fact, is the obsessive theme of the movie. Even though the main characters plod towards their "come to Jesus" moments, they are justified in placing the blame for the world's misery on omnipotent, omnisicient and supposedly omnibenevolent God. Not even the Biblical Devil could pull off something so cruel.
"A Thief In The Night" Reborn
It is this overindulgence of watching humanity's agony that is this movie's undoing as a method of converting rational adults. As I mentioned before, the theatre audience left very somber and angry. I even overheard someone saying "If they make a sequel, it'll be stupider than this". But then a revelation hit me as I recognized the first song playing in the closing credits: This isn't a movie for adults. This is a modern take of "A Thief In The Night". I've never had the displeasure of watching that film, but I did hear "The Thinking Atheist"'s Seth Andrews talk about it in detail in chapter 6 of his audiobook "Deconverted". "A Thief In The Night" is a Post-Rapture film meant to literally scare the hell out of kids into "accepting Jesus into their hearts". It was actually psychological child abuse cloaked in religion. And "Left Behind" is the same exact thing, down to even brazenly using the same closing song. Grown adults could laugh it off, but show this sort of misery porn to young, impressionable and easily frightened groups of children... It's sickening. Thankfully, this movie is a total turkey at the box office so far and other reviews(even from Christian sites!) have panned it so hard, it's possible we might be spared from something much, much worse... a sequel!