The Big Picture
- Left Behind is a confounding religious film that misrepresents the faith of intelligent Christians, feeling more like a poorly thought-out satire featuring Nicolas Cage.
- The movie starts to ask interesting philosophical questions about the problem of evil but quickly devolves into a campy disaster epic lacking self-awareness.
- Unintentional campiness kicks in when the rapture happens in the movie, leading to chaotic and baffling plot developments that make it an infuriating and compelling watch.
It takes a special kind of film to cause the viewer to pause it fifteen minutes in to sort out what one could only call convoluted–and that’s just the beginning. Nicolas Cage‘s 2014 disasterpiece Left Behind is one for the ages, complete with propaganda that surely misrepresents the faith of many an intelligent Christian. The film feels like a poorly thought out satire of Christian doctrine, which is why the fact that it is a religious film is so confounding. If this film was made from an ironic perspective and marketing successfully to a Christian audience, it would perhaps be the most ingenious prank in cinematic history, but that would undoubtedly be giving the filmmakers far too much credit. For Cage completionists, it is a must-watch, not only because it has a 0% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes, but also because it is his only foray into the realm of Christian movies.
What Is ‘Left Behind’ About?
Left Behind quite literally tells the story of the rapture in the most bland, straightforward way possible. Chloe Steele (Cassi Thomson) has come home from college to surprise her father Rayford (Cage), a well-respected pilot, for his birthday. Upon arriving at JFK, she calls her mom who informs her that Rayford isn’t able to greet her at home because he had to work. Chloe is upset for some reason, even though this was a very likely outcome considering that her father is a pilot and as a result surprising him probably wasn’t the brightest idea considering the unpredictable schedule of pilots. Not only is she upset at her father for doing his job, but immediately assumes that because he has to fly a plane to London that he is pulling away from her mother. While that is true, the reasoning behind Chloe’s conclusion is bizarre.
Chloe’s mom has recently converted to Evangelical Christianity and has begun to warn her family of the impending doom. The film actually begins to ask interesting philosophical questions regarding the problem of evil and why God doesn’t do anything about it. This conflict is most prominently explored in the relationship between Chloe and her mother, Irene (Lea Thompson). The two have a very stilted conversation that broaches the classic question of whether God can be both good and all-powerful, two beliefs that are foundational to the Christian faith. Whenever the film starts to go someplace interesting it quickly devolves into a C-rate melodrama until it is an all-out disaster epic. It never again tries to ask questions that it doesn’t know what to do with, but it does turn into a delightfully campy mess. It is both less impactful than it believes, but also tremendously entertaining. Once the meat of the story takes off, the movie becomes one of the most ridiculous films of the past ten years lacking the tiniest sliver of self-awareness, irony, or subtlety. Do you know how rare that is? Left Behind has so much undeserving confidence in its execution and in its purpose that you’ll almost feel bad for it. Almost.
‘Left Behind’ Is Unintentional Camp at Its Finest
The film’s unintentional campiness kicks into high gear when the rapture happens. Chloe is hugging her younger brother when he suddenly disappears in a flash, leaving behind his clothes in perfect uniformity in his sister’s arms, hat and all. The visual is so bizarre and unintentionally comical that it immediately elevates the movie to something beyond just a “bad” Christian movie. The movie turns into sheer chaos and all those left on earth begin committing crimes against each other for some reason. For example, immediately following the rapture, Chloe is mugged. What this has to do with the rapture or how the rapture turned those left on earth into petty thieves is not given much thought. It makes sense that people would raid the pockets of the disappeared, but what is causing them to rob those who weren’t taken? The film’s baffling writing and seeming lack of thought make it an infuriating watch. However, it’s the kind of infuriating watch that you’ll be thinking about for the next week because you just can’t get over the fact that it exists.
Questions of faith or of God’s omniscience are immediately dropped by Left Behind because it knows it no longer needs to keep the audience intellectually stimulated once Nic Cage is barreling through the sky in a plane that is quickly running out of fuel. He comes to the realization that all the passengers who disappeared on his plane were Christians by going through their personal items and finding clues, such as hastily written Bible quotes or random Christian paraphernalia. The fact that the characters have no true agency and are simply being affected by the events of the film further pushes Left Behind into the “how was this made??” category of bad films.
The experience of watching Left Behind is akin to watching a multi-car pileup; you’re curious just how long it will last and how much damage can be done. It turns out quite a lot. From incredibly distasteful subplots of suicide and “worldly” struggles to insinuations that people of other Abrahamic (but not Christian) faiths are not accepted into Heaven despite their strong moral character and clear love of God. With every turn the movie tries to take, another narratively disastrous and incomprehensible scene awaits.
‘Left Behind’ Is the Wonderful Kind of Nic Cage Weird
Left Behind offers a truly unforgettable experience, a quality that most fans of Nic Cage and his work have come to expect. It is the rare film that has truly no idea how bad it is. You can almost taste the audacity of the filmmakers to present this as a movie; it qualifies as such only as a technicality. It’s a good, old-fashioned propaganda piece, the kind that they just don’t make like they used to. It wouldn’t be too shocking if Left Behind developed a similar reputation to that of other propaganda films like Reefer Madness.
Ironically, Nic Cage doesn’t “Cage out” the way he does in other classics in his filmography. Nevertheless, the movie snuggly fits in with the enigmatic actor’s career choices. He often chooses movies with varying levels of camp and which almost always have an unwavering sense of sincerity. The same can undoubtedly be said of Left Behind. It’s another gem in the great Nicolas Cage’s ever-growing collection of flabbergasting career moves and can be enjoyed in the exact same way as The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider, or Knowing. He may not be the most ridiculous part of this movie, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have plenty to offer in that department. Remarkably bad, Left Behind earns its place in the canon of so-bad-its-good movies.
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