Left Behind: A Movie Review
Dr. Randy White
I went to see Left Behind as a self-described proponent of the pre-trib rapture doctrine and armchair movie critic. I’ll give a brief review of some of my personal cheers and jeers.
It wasn’t contrived
Many Christian movies are simply so forced in plot as to bring the scene to a Christian altar-call that the only word that can be used to describe them is contrived. Movies like God is Not Dead included every possible Christian talking-point that could possibly be crammed into one movie. Fireproof and Facing the Giants felt artificial and predictable. Left Behind, however, did avoid the insertion of pop-Christianity and artificial evangelism, to its credit. It also avoided the predictability of Christian response that is so often seen in a Christian movie (only Hallmark movies are as predictable in the end).
The Biblical message was subtle
A movie is not a gospel tract or a Sunday sermon. If you are writing a tract or preaching a sermon, don’t be subtle. However, Christian script writers need to learn the art of subtlety, and Left Behind is a good starting point.
Subtlety works. It is often more powerful than an emblazoned message, and almost always so in a movie. Disney is the king of subtlety. When we see Disney movies (new or old), every adult can easily walk away knowing the intended message. (And sadly, the message is typically something about being one with nature and one with humanity, nature being the more important of the two). Disney writers manage to get the message across while embedding it in a story that captures the attention and imagination.
Left Behind was subtle. One of the raptured had “John 3:16” carved into his watch. Another had “Bible Study” written into her calendar. The Gospel was never proclaimed and the pre-trib rapture was never taught, but the viewer leaves the movie knowing the message: those who have not received Jesus Christ as their Savior would be left behind. Though some have criticized the movie for not conspicuously proclaiming the Gospel, I think that the writers did the right thing. They could have easily inserted a witnessing scene on the airplane, or a preacher sharing the Gospel, or one of the believers explaining the Gospel prior to the rapture. By not doing this, they saved the movie from the contrived nature of most Christian movies. In my opinion, there will be a lot of people leaving the theater to study for themselves both the Gospel and the pre-trib rapture doctrine.
The acting was professional
Until recently, Christian movies have not garnered enough audience to attract proven Hollywood talent. The trend is toward known, professional actors staring in Christian films. This is a two-edged sword, but does greatly increase the watch-ability of the films. Bringing heavy-hitters like Nicholas Cage, Chad Michael Murray, and Casi Thompson works both to increase the audience, improve the film, and give a sense of credibility among the movie-going public. The other side of that sword is that the church-going public may be unimpressed with Hollywood credentials, or even put off by some of their previous works. In the end, however, Christian movies will never be a tool for cultural engagement without professional acting and directing.
[WARNING: Spoiler alert if you keep reading]
The plot was thin
The movie was not terribly long (110 minutes), but it had very little in terms of story line. Much of the movie was filled with the drama of “will this plane land safely?” While that drama was, for the most part, well-played, the movie failed to give enough plot to keep a wandering mind entertained the full 110 minutes. I applaud the writers for not having multiple sub-plots all playing simultaneously, but I wish they had developed the plot beyond the drama of the in-air flight. The fact that the movie ends with the landing of the plane and there is no connection with how the world is handling the rapture or what takes place even the day after the rapture was needlessly disappointing. A more encompassing plot could have gone further into the story and avoided some degree of time-wasting in the film. I felt like a few of the characters on the plane were added simply to add some length to the movie. I would have preferred that these silly caricatures stayed off-screen and the plot be further developed with a real story.
The storyline was predictable – perhaps unavoidably.
My involvement in the Left Behind book and movie industry is pretty thin. I’ve listened to the first book in the series in an audio book version, and I saw the first of the original movies. Even at that, I felt like I knew the characters, but also that I knew what was going to happen. I’m not sure this is avoidable in a story about the rapture. After all, there is no plot-twist that can surprise the reader and still keep the story as Biblical fiction. But it is also hard to keep the attention of the public when they know the plane is going to land and that the expected end is certain.
The “stay tuned for the sequel” feel was manipulative
When I pay good money for a movie ticket, I feel like I should get the whole movie. In Left Behind I only got the first day. The conclusion to the movie was so incomplete as to make the movie-goer feel somewhat cheated, as if the movie concluded at intermission. This is a Hollywood tactic that is not just a problem with Christian movies (in fact, Christian movies have probably avoided this more than most action thrillers from Hollywood), but feels manipulative nonetheless.
IS THE DOCTRINE BIBLICAL?
I know that many reading this review will dismiss the pre-trib rapture doctrine as unbiblical and “sci-fi” from the start. I hope that these same people will honestly evaluate the doctrine. I if the doctrine is going to be dismissed, it ought to at least get a hearing. Most of the dismissive comments I hear and read about the pre-trib rapture are simply uninformed or misinformed. A straw man is always easy to defeat. So, I close with these questions for Biblical research that any serious student of the Word should answer before dismissing the pre-trib rapture.
- The Bible teaches that believers who “are alive and remain” at the day of the Lord’s coming will be “caught up” and will “meet the Lord in the clouds” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). When does this occur? If you can’t answer this question, you are not ready to dismiss a pre-trib view. You need to know both the options and the consequences of each of those options.
- The Bible teaches about a clear period of tribulation in which there is some very precise timing (1,260 days – 42 months, etc) before the end. How does this reconcile with the mystery and unknown date of the Lord’s return?
- Why does Paul assure the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord has not begun, and if it had begun, they would be seeing apostasy and antichrist? If they believed in a post-trib rapture, wouldn’t the start of the day of the Lord be something in which they would rejoice? Rather, they were shaken to the core, and Paul convinces them that such teaching under his name was a forgery.