Directed by: Victor Sarin
Starring: Kirk Cameron, Brad Johnson, Janaya Stephens, Chelsea Noble, Gordon Currie
Before showing up on the big screen, Left Behind was distributed in video stores. It should have stayed there. The best part of this disjointed, disappointing movie is the end credits, in which an absolutely terrific group of singers celebrate their faith in joyous song. Left Behind, the novel (by Tim F. LaHaye, and Jerry B. Jenkins), is a Robert Ludlum-esque Christian conspiracy adventure that kept a few million readers up late turning its pages. In competent hands, it should have been easy to transform the novel into exciting cinema. But TV director Victor Sarin and scriptwriters John Bishop and Alan B. McElroy chose instead the shallow road too often traveled. One day millions of people disappear, taken to heaven by God in a mass "rapture" that believers claim is prophesied in the Bible. Those who are "left behind" are faced with seven years of tribulation under the tyranny of the Anti-Christ. Typical of families trying to cope with the post-Rapture chaos is airline pilot (and Tom Berenger lookalike) Rayford Steele (Brad Johnson) and his daughter Chloe (Janaya Stephens). Globe-trotting journalist Buck Williams (Kirk Cameron, TVs Growing Pains) has helped his friend, airline attendant Hattie (real-life wife Chelsea Noble), get a job as assistant to the young, charismatic United Nations leader, Nicolae Carpathia (Gordon Currie, Falling Through). Carpathia comes from the same mountains in Rumania as Dracula and thus it's not a big leap for him to become the Anti-Christ. To successfully save the world, those who are left behind first must become believers. And here's the real failure of the movie. God, the main character, is seen only in smack-you-in-the-face cliche cutaway shots such as a full-screen Bible or a sunlit church window. Never once do we really see God's grace actually working on the characters. One minute Steele is a wannabe adulterer. The Rapture occurs, his wife and son are gone to heaven without him, and all of a sudden he becomes a true believer. In another scene -- in a men's lavatory, of all places -- cynical journalist Williams convinces himself of the truth of the Bible prophecies he found encoded in a miniature DVD disc, and he becomes a believer, too. It might have worked with Saul of Tarsus, but most people do not find God in an instant. We are pulled by longings of the heart and gentle whispers over time. It is the purpose of drama to show the gradual progression of change in characters and make their struggles believable. American films are replete with Christian iconography and themes. There are Goya-dark images in such films as Blade Runner and Arnold Schwarzenneger's surprising Christ-like representation in End of Days, and redemption/resurrection messages in charming tales such as E.T. and The Fisher King. If Christian filmmakers are serious about wanting to deliver their message to a mass audience, they would do well to study such works.