“Left Behind,” a 2014 film starring Nicolas Cage, is a unique cinematic experience that prompts viewers to pause and grapple with its convoluted narrative from the very beginning. The movie, which is often described as a disasterpiece, includes elements of propaganda that arguably misrepresent the beliefs of many intelligent Christians. It gives off the impression of a poorly conceived satire of Christian doctrine, making its classification as a religious film puzzling. If it were intended as an ironic take on the genre, successfully marketed to a Christian audience, it might be considered a remarkably clever cinematic prank. However, attributing such intent to the filmmakers may be overly generous.
For fans of Nicolas Cage, “Left Behind” is a must-watch, not only due to its 0% critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes but also because it represents his sole venture into the realm of Christian cinema.
The plot of “Left Behind” centers on the rapture, presenting it in a straightforward and unremarkable manner. The story follows Chloe Steele, played by Cassi Thomson, who surprises her father Rayford (Cage), a respected pilot, on his birthday. However, due to his work commitments, he cannot greet her at home, leading to Chloe’s inexplicable disappointment. This reaction seems odd given her father’s profession, which involves an unpredictable schedule for pilots. Additionally, Chloe harbors concerns about her father’s devotion to her mother, a reaction that, while valid, stems from somewhat peculiar reasoning.
Chloe’s mother, Irene (Lea Thompson), has recently embraced Evangelical Christianity and warns her family about an impending catastrophe. The film briefly delves into intriguing philosophical questions regarding the problem of evil and the nature of God’s intervention. This conflict is most notably explored in Chloe and Irene’s strained conversation, which touches on the classic theological dilemma of reconciling God’s goodness with His omnipotence—a fundamental aspect of the Christian faith. However, these promising avenues are quickly abandoned, giving way to a melodramatic narrative before culminating in a full-blown disaster epic. The film loses its initial depth and transitions into an entertainingly campy spectacle. It aims for impact but achieves a level of ridiculousness that surpasses its own expectations, lacking any semblance of self-awareness, irony, or subtlety.
The unintentional campiness of “Left Behind” reaches its peak during the rapture sequence. Chloe is holding her younger brother when he suddenly vanishes, leaving behind neatly arranged clothes, including his hat, in her arms. This visual is so peculiar and inadvertently comical that it elevates the film beyond mere “bad” Christian cinema. The ensuing chaos, with those left on Earth resorting to criminal acts, adds to the absurdity. For instance, Chloe is immediately mugged after the rapture event. The connection between these actions and the rapture, as well as the transformation of those left behind into petty criminals, is left largely unexplained. The film’s perplexing writing and apparent lack of coherence make it a frustrating viewing experience. Nevertheless, it’s the kind of frustrating experience that lingers in your thoughts for days simply because of its sheer existence.
“Left Behind” swiftly abandons deeper theological questions or discussions of God’s omniscience, recognizing that intellectual stimulation is no longer necessary once Nicolas Cage takes to the skies in a plane running out of fuel. His character concludes that the vanished passengers were Christians based on clues found in their personal belongings, such as hastily written Bible verses or Christian items. This lack of agency among the characters, who are merely swept along by the film’s events, further categorizes “Left Behind” as a baffling entry in the realm of bad cinema.
Watching “Left Behind” is akin to witnessing a multi-car collision; you’re left wondering how long it will go on and how much damage can occur. As it turns out, quite a lot. The film navigates through highly distasteful subplots involving suicide and worldly struggles, as well as implications that individuals of non-Christian faiths within the Abrahamic tradition are excluded from Heaven, despite their strong moral character and evident devotion to God. At every turn, the movie introduces narrative disasters and incomprehensible scenes that defy explanation.