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The Rapture Comes Early in ‘Left Behind’

The 2014 big-budget remake of "Left Behind" has plenty of twists and turns.

Nicolas Cage stands before fire in the movie poster for Left Behind

This is not Kirk Cameron’s Left Behind.

The big-budget remake, starring Nicolas Cage, is an action thriller that imagines the chaos that would ensue when Christ returns and raptures his Church. Straight out of the Book of Revelation, Christ has come back “like a thief in the night,” to take Christians—both those who are dead and those still alive—to Heaven with Him.

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The characters in the 2014 version are the same ones you’ll remember from the beloved, best-selling Left Behind novel series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Cage stars as Rayford Steele, the Pan-Continental pilot who distances himself from his newly-converted Christian wife while getting closer to a flight attendant. Cassi Thomson stars as Chloe Steele, Rayford’s head-strong college-aged daughter. And Chad Michael Murray revives Cameron’s Buck Williams, the big-shot news anchor who’s always itching for his next story. 

 Rayford, Chloe and Buck are all left behind to deal with the aftermath of their loved ones disappearing right out of their clothes.This is where the similarities between the remake, the original movie and the book end.

In the updated film, everything is heightened and more urgent.  Rayford has gone from merely fantasizing about his flight attendant in the book version, to plotting a full-on, international affair with her. In the midst of their in-flight rendezvous, the disappearances begin, except it’s not late at night, like in the book, it’s smack dab in the middle of the day.  This time change allows the audience to see Chloe (home from college, in the film) fighting with her mother about faith and bonding with her little brother, who disappears in her arms.

Chloe, who seemed more of a plot device than a full character in the first book, comes into her own in the remake. After the rapture, Thomson carries the majority of the scenes she’s in, acting alone or with very little dialogue, as Chloe comes to grips with one disaster after another:  cars with no drivers crashing right in front of her, looters being shot around her, a plane with no pilot coming straight for her, an empty school bus careening off of a bridge behind her. 

Cage is the complex pilot who finally understands the warnings of his wife, all too late.  His panic, shame and grief are palpable as Rayford tempers the emotional fall-out of losing half of his family with the emergency landing he is forced to make when his plane becomes distressed.  In the first chapter of the book, Rayford lands his plane outside of Chicago with little fanfare, but in the film, Rayford faces as much drama in the air as Chloe does on the ground, and whether Rayford can land the plane with all passengers surviving —as opposed to dealing with the disappearances themselves—becomes the climax.

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The audience feels the heavy hand of the screenwriter when all of those left behind are suggested to be the “bad” people. Chloe is disrespectful to her mother and to another believer; Rayford skips out on family time to have an affair; people immediately start looting and killing each other in the confusion of the disappearances. Contrary to the message in the film, I’d venture a guess that who goes and who stays behind will be much more of a surprise to many people.

But what is pleasantly surprising about the movie is the great production value. The special effects will draw you in and leave any action-loving viewer satisfied with the sequences that begin around the 40-minute mark. And the end credits provide a special treat with Jordin Sparks’s lovely rendition of that old Sunday school favorite, “I Wish We’d All Been Ready.”   

Left Behind opens in theaters on Friday Oct. 3.

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