No, this isn’t my testimony about abandonment issues, though I think I have some. It’s about the filmic re-do of the initial book in the “Left Behind” series by Tim Lahaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. I saw the original several years ago on DVD at a friend’s place. It was part of our weekly Bible study. I didn’t see the original when it was in theaters 13 years ago. Another friend had read most of the series, and so I read a few excerpts from her collection. And based on that I did not think that it would suit my taste either as literature or cinema. I’m pretty snooty when it comes to “art”.
I don’t remember the movie very vividly but I remember that I was not impressed. It was full of no-name actors and seemed to be under-budgeted for such a big theme. However, I was in when it came to seeing the re-do with Nicholas Cage. I’d seen the previews and I hate to say it but, other than starring Cage, it did cause me to uncomfortably recall the original. However, I’d read that the budget was 5x the original and that it had much improved production values. I’d also heard that it was not quite as obvious as most Christian-targeted movies. Well, some believers actually condemned it as too secular.
I’ve always liked Nick Cage, but what’s up with his career? He had the promise of being one of Hollywood’s great leading men, and getting the kind of heroic, good-guy roles reserved for Brad Pitt and Matt Damon. But he’s been in one too many “Ghost Riders” and other miserable pot boilers just for the money. I recall reading that he had huge debts, and he has to do a lot of movies simply to pay the bills. To make matters worse he turned 50 this year. I’d hate to think he just did this film for the money but that’s likely the case. In spite of the downturn in his career, I still like him, and I’m rooting for his redemption—filmic redemption, that is, as I doubt that he’s a Jesus-follower. He has starred in two of my favorite movies: “Raising Arizona” and “Adaptation.” I also liked “City of Angels” a lot, and that had a spiritual theme.
Another reason I went is my passing association with the authors Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins. Reading LaHaye’s book on end-time prophecy in 1979, was the instrument of my salvation. It was titled “The Beginning of the End” and in ’79, seven years after it was published, the prophecies seemed to be coming true. That impressed me. At several points in the book he asks the reader if they don’t know Jesus as their personal savior to read a version of the “Sinner’s Prayer.” I was skeptical but with as much sincerity as I could muster did just that. What happened next shook me to my core and was life transforming. I’ve written about that experience in several of my books as well as in a recent blog titled: “September, 1979.”
Though, I’ve never met him, I have a deep gratitude toward LaHaye. The Holy Spirit used his book for me becoming a Jesus-follower. Then in 2008, I was at a TV studio near Chicago to tape an interview about my book on depression: “The Unwelcome Blessing.” As I sat nervously in the Green Room waiting for my turn I was watching an interview on the monitor of a bearded man who looked vaguely familiar. It was Jerry B. Jenkins.
When my turn came I was nervous as could be. Afterwards, I was feeling kind of deflated as I didn’t think I did a very stellar job. I thought I must have looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights. But as I came back into the Green Room, Jenkins shook my hand warmly and said I did well. We chatted for a minute and I asked if he would be seeing Tim LaHaye soon and he said he expected to see him the following week. I gave him a copy of “The Unwelcome Blessing” and told him briefly about how Rev. LaHaye had led me to the Lord thru his book. I asked him to pass my book along to him. He said that he would. Later, I reflected on the timing of our meeting and it’s strange irony. Jenkins has authored many books in addition to the “Left Behind” series. His book sales number about 70-million—mine about 500. Anyway, because of my associations with them, I felt like I owed it a viewing.
However, one of the problems I have with the whole “Left Behind” scenario is that I don’t really believe in the doctrine of a pre-tribulation rapture. That was a doctrine invented by John Nelson Darby in the 1830s, and it has only really become an important part of Fundamentalist and Pentecostal theology in the past 50 years. That said, I don’t necessarily completely dismiss it either. I started leaning away from it 6 or 7 years ago after reading N.T. Wright’s book “Surprised by Hope.” Wright is an enormously erudite British theologian and he makes a strong case for Darby’s misinterpretation of the passages in I Thessalonians 4 that the pre-tribulation rapture is based on.
Also, I’d read several reviews of the film by professional critics and they were scathing and dismissive. That didn’t surprise me much, as critics are mostly secular to the extreme. However, just seeing the headline of a review in “Christianity Today” caused me to think it must be truly pathetic. It was. Lets retitle it “Sinners on a Plane.”
I wanted badly to see some redeeming quality in the movie. Ahem, that said, several of the of the character actors on the doomed plane where half of the action takes place gave solid performances—a dwarf, a Muslim, a Texas businessman and a blonde Brit drug addict, etc. They did fine jobs; it was the main characters who were unbelievable. Cage was as animated and believable as a cardboard cutout. But in all fairness to him, even Sir Richard Burton or Sir Laurence Olivier couldn’t have wrung a smidgen of nobility from the lines written for his character, Capt. Rayford Steele. The other main guy character was Cameron “Buck” Williams, allegedly an investigative reporter. Yeah, like maybe for a high school newspaper. He looked just too young, too cute and too simple. Their names alone were a giveaway. I half expected Dash Riprock to make an appearance.
The female lead was Captain Steele’s perky daughter Chloe. She meets the reporter in the airport while he’s waiting to board her dad’s flight to London. Dad is more focused on hooking up with one of the stewies than on saying goodbye to his daughter. He and his wife have been separated for a while. His estranged wife is a Christian and tends to lecture her backslidden daughter and other folks about the Rapture. She’s the worst kind of believer, one with an agenda. Of course, the daughter and the reporter instantly fall in love.
Anyway, about two hours out over the Atlantic folks start to disappear—including Capt. Steele’s co-pilot. Chaos also ensues on the ground in Long Island, and Chloe goes in search of her mom and little brother. Of course, we know where they’ve gone, but it takes Chloe and her dad a while to figure it out. “Uh oh, it must be the Rapture that mom lectured us about.” The finale of the movie is one of its redeeming points. It is so outlandishly improbable that it felt like satire. Folks in the theater even laughed a bit, but after it ended, being good Christians, they dutifully and predictably applauded.
I hate to admit it, but I kind of liked it. The production values were decent. It didn’t look too low budget, and it was kind of funny if one didn’t take it seriously. I suppose if it does well enough at the box office there will be sequels. I can hardly wait.