Satan may not be a fan of the new “Left Behind,” and it turns out Christianity Today isn’t, either. In a scathing review, critic Jackson Cuidon says that the movie, whose marketing is heavily targeted towards evangelic Christians, “is not a Christian Movie, whatever “Christian Movie”could even possibly mean.” It gets a half-star rating only, he explains, because the publication’s website won’t allow him to give it none.
My Sunday School lessons are long forgotten and I haven’t cracked a Bible since Comparative Religion class, but “Left Behind” — the new version with Nicolas Cage, not the earlier trilogy with Kirk Cameron — doesn’t emphasize what I understand as Christian values. The people who aren’t called to Jesus aren’t, as a whole, painted as immoral, and certainly not evil; some of them are even devout believers, albeit in different versions of God. (Sorry you picked the wrong horse, barely developed Muslim guy.) The only thing that distinguishes them is their overt symbols of piety — the white leatherbound Bible atop which Lea Thompson’s cheery mom tosses her gardening gloves; the watch engraved with “John 3:16” left behind by Cage’s Raptured co-pilot — or, in some cases, their age: Earlier generations of Christians believed that unbaptized infants could hope for Purgatory at best, but in the “Left Behind” series, eight-year-olds and younger get in, no questions asked.
As Cuidon puts it:
Most Christians within the world of the movie — whether the street-preacher lady at the airport or Rayford Steele’s wife — are portrayed as insistent, crazy, delusional, or at the very least just really annoying. Steele’s wife’s conversion to Christianity is shown to have pushed her and her husband apart; we see that she’s decorated her house with crosses, throw-pillows that say “Pray” across the front, and encouraging posters.
That is the deepest conception of Christianity that this movie has: posters, pillows, and crucifixes.
If the “Left Behind” books were just pulp novels injected with Christianity, then the “Left Behind” movie is just a disaster flick injected with the slightest, most infinitesimal amount of Christianity possible. This is, in one way, good — no one needs to be upset, or get angry, or be offended, or question their beliefs, or the beliefs of those around them, or anything, because the film takes no stance on anything. The film is so inept, confused, and involuted that there’s no danger of even accidentally cobbling together something that could necessitate a defense of Christianity.
In other words, this is just an action movie — and a pretty terrible one at that — with a little God dressing on the side. The climax involves not a spiritual reckoning, but an attempt to land a plane that has run out of fuel, a situation drawn more from “Save the Cat!” than the book of Revelations.
Even if it were ideologically coherent, “Left Behind” would still be an almost unbelievably bad movie — and a hypocritical one as well, unless there’s a scriptural passage advising you never to miss a chance to peek down your heroine’s shirt. That it can’t even get its sole reason for being right speaks volumes about how divorced the pop-cultural version of “Christianity” has become from the religion itself.