• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as preparation for a future work on Straub/Huillet's Moses und Aron and a few bits and pieces on biblical studies.

    Matt Page


    Friday, September 01, 2017

    Left Behind (2014)

    So here's an insightful critical opinion: Left Behind isn't terribly good. However, given it's imminent, um, disappearance from Netflix next week (at least in the UK), I realised that whilst I didn't really want to see it. I probably should have.

    That feeling stems, in part, from its curious basis in scripture. For many years the theology behind the "Left Behind" series of novels and subsequent movie adaptations seemed poor. It didn't feel like the same kind of film as one dramatising a story from the Old Testament. But somewhere over the years as my views on the historicity of the Bible has changed and my definition of what I tend to do here (cover dramatic adaptations of the biblical narratives) has crystallised, I've begun to have a nagging doubt that perhaps films such as Left Behind should be something I cover.

    So here I am. And whilst this won't be my mot scholarly or thoroughly written pieces, one of the advantages of having a blog is that sometimes you can just bang out a few thoughts on something without it really mattering.

    Of course it would be easy to turn this into a slate-a-thon, but, that tends not to be the way I do things. And actually there are a few moments in this film that are worthy of comment.

    The first is the moment when the rapture actually happens. The actual moment itself starts not with something bombastic, but simply with a child disappearing from the middle of a hug. Things get pretty ridiculous and turn to action movie hyperbole pretty swiftly with disappearing pilots and bus drivers whose vehicles somehow career along the road for minutes and minutes after the person pressing the accelerator has long since vapourised, but that initial moment is actually fairly well done. Firstly, it's subtle, which allows the focus to be on just one person's emotional reaction. Secondly it's kind of mysterious and takes a split second to soak in, even in a film where you now it's going to happen. Furthermore, rather than relying on expensive special effects it's simply executed, meaning you don't feel the need to figure it out immediately afterwards.

    There's also one good jumpy moment as our heroine investigates the now entirely absent maternity ward. It's unclear to me why all the children disappear, apparently turning back the clock on the concept of original sin and suggesting some kind of coming of age when suddenly you become leave-behindable. It's also unclear where all the staff and parents have gone, though I suspect this is more due to drama than theology, but there's a sudden noise on the soundtrack and a jump cut to a mother and suddenly you realise that you're a bit more caught in the moment than you realised. (I'm slightly red-faced in having to admit this).

    Lastly, I must admit I'm a bit of a sucker for the credits music - a cover version of Larry Norman's "I Wish We'd All Been Ready", perhaps the song that really popularised the phrase "Left Behind". I used to really like Norman growing up, especially the "Only Visiting This Planet" album from which this song is taken, and whilst I was never really over the moon about it's theology, and whilst this is a cover not the original, I must admit I kept it playing through to the end. Heck I'm going to stick it on now whilst I finish typing. After all it's leaving Netflix soon...

    The film is rather different from the original novel. For one thing it's significantly shorter, turning the story into a disaster movie that focuses on a relatively small-but-positive story and it's pay-off in the face of all those other stories which all ended so badly. This is far from unique. It's very much in the mould of films such as Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow  in this respect. It wears it's America-centrism very much on its sleeve. I'm not a huge fan of either of those films, but Left Behind seems poorly paced compared to those efforts. The Rapture happens too far through the film, but not late enough to have given any real heft to the father/daughter relationship at its heart. That said it lacks the hubris and self-congratulatory nature of those other films, perhaps because the potential trauma of a crash landing never seems real, and the disappearance of (surprisingly few) passengers seems somehow more real than those who die when Independence Day's flying saucer wreaks havoc.

    Presumably the fact that the film makes so little progress through the novel means that the filmmakers lack any serious ambition to film the entire series. This is a wise move. Even if the matched the Harry Potter model of one-ish film per book, it seems unlikely that there will be enough of an audience to sustain sixteen such novels. What the makers of this adaptation of Left Behind have done is strip the novel back to that which has the widest appeal, and fashion a film that doesn't sit too uneasily alongside a lot of the mainstream fare in cinemas. I must admit that rather took me unexpectedly.


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