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A reporter and an airline pilot join forces to discover what's behind the sudden disappearance of millions of people all over the world. What they find leads them to a plan to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem, a charismatic leader of the UN, a plot to control the world's food supply by a multinational corporation, and Biblical prophecy.
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I've avoided Left Behind for years, for the same reason most people do -- except for the ones who embrace it entirely.
There's a famous story about Kirk Cameron, the film's producer and star, lying next to his wife Chelsea who was reading a "Left Behind" book, the fictional series about the Biblical Rapture where the righteous are taken to Heaven bodily in advance of Armageddon.
Excited, she turned to him and told him that they had to make a movie adaptation, and she wanted to play Hattie, the airline hostess turned UN aide who sits unknowingly at the side of the Antichrist.
The Rapture is a recent invention of hard-core Christians which has filtered into the mainstream. It's come to have the air of antiquity, although it only goes back a couple of hundred years.
The idea is that God wants to spare the best of humanity the violence and pain of the end of the world by taking them to Heaven. Then, the remainder will fight it out as the Devil takes control of Earth -- for seven years or a millennium, depending on your source.
The film is well made, and a really terrific ride. It has decent characters and an involved plot involving family trauma, high-stakes financial dealings, and world-wide disaster.
Cameron and his wife are well cast as well as the rest of the ensemble; it was a little disorienting at first to see "Mike Seaver" as a supposedly tough investigative journalist on the scene in Israel, but he quickly shows he's not the lightweight he's usually touted to be.
There's an open ending, likely with the hope of parlaying the film into a series, which I admit I probably would have watched if it maintained its intelligence and tense action.
So where's the cringe factor? It's there, yes, but not nearly in the strength I had expected. In a lot of ways, the mythology of the Rapture is no more "out there" than that of Area 51, or ancient crystal skulls, or Freemasonry.
The disturbing part, I suppose, is that the people who believe entirely in the Rapture are part of a sacred institution, the Christian Church, and no matter how dangerous or unfounded in actual Scripture certain dogma is, certain religious ideas have a way of changing the world. And those changes are not always for the better, perhaps not even usually.
If you can watch Left Behind as an imaginative adventure film, on the order of National Treasure or Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, or even as if it fits better with The Omen than with Gandhi, it's a good ride.
If it's you're world view, you're welcome to it, but I'm not planning on sharing it anytime soon.
That's part of the problem, though, and Left Behind itself is a cautionary tale of Rapture believers as much as the purported cataclysmic event itself. How can you challenge a belief that is based in non-existent scriptures or at least dubious interpretations of vague verses buried in the Bible? How can you argue in any case with someone who says it's true simply because they know it is?
And how can you feel entirely safe in a world where signs the rest of us would take as positive (world peace, universal solutions to hunger) are to others a sign that the Devil is on the throne?
This film won Best Director and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for five other categories. The screenwriter was nominated, and rightly so. Taken from a short story that first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933 by Maurice Walsh, Green Rushes, Frank Nugent was able to weave a story rich in subtext and conflict.
The collector’s edition of the DVD includes an interview with Maureen O’Hara where she reminisces about filming The Quiet Man, and is well worth watching.