Friday, March 9, 2012

Left Behind: The Movie

So, it's been a while now that I've been wanting to talk about this. But the day is here. That dragon of a movie: Left Behind. My latest experience with this movie was in class recently where a good chunk of the movie was shown. This was for a Christianity in the United States class and everyone was paying close attention, scrutinizing for religious symbols, scribbling down notes carefully. But... nobody laughed? The poort acting, the weird story twists, the crippled dialogue? Nobody noticed?
Perhaps I'm biased about this movie, having read what especially Heather Hendershot had to say about it. The team behind it was all psyched about making the very first crossover movie success, thinking they'd take Hollywood by storm. With a movie based on a best-selling book, appealing not only to the evangelical subculture from which it sprang but also to the broader public, they did have reason to expect it.
Yet nothing more than a gush of wind it turned out to be. Or in fact, according to the reviews, a very smelly fart. A by now infamous description of the movie by the critic Desson Thomson writing for the Washington Post that reads "A blundering cringefest, thanks to unintentionally laughable dialogue, hackneyed writing and uninspired direction" pretty much sums up the common sentiment about this movie amongst reviewers. Not even the own team was all too wild about this movie, where didn't have too much praise to sing for it and even the evangelical periodical Christianity Today sighed out a quiet "ahem."
Granted, in the long (long long) run, it did generate some money with video sales. However, it was meant to shine at the box office. 17 million going in, just over 4 million grossed... that's a far cry from the spectacular success that the makers had anticipated. The idea that they could live up to the Hollywood norm with this movie is beyond naive. But why did the team behind this movie think it then?
Hendershot touches on a couple of reasons. One is that the producers thought this movie was quite subtle because they cut back on all the “Jesus”es flying around. Still, for any outsider watching this movie, it’s pretty clear what’s going on. It’s a good bit of end-times propaganda. You almost watch it not as a fiction movie but as a scenario for what is about to happen according to its creators. Also to me it seems these people had no critics at all. They sort of just... went along with it. I know that bands sometimes tend to think they made the greatest record ever because they convinced themselves of this fact in their isolated bubble and not because they critically compared their product to other ones out there. Usually also then, cold harsh reality tends to prove such bands wrong. The feel of this movie very much reminded me of such bubble-reasoning. Whatever the reason might be though, it presented us with a pearl of oblivion from the evangelical subculture!

PS: I do remember now, that when I did finally see the movie after having heard so many bad things about it, I did think: Was that it? I had somehow expected to see the very worst movie ever. In fact, I was looking forward to this. Give me the worst movie to end all worst movies! It was bad, sure, but that bad? I didn't really think so. Could it be then that there was a little bit of politics involved? Secular media cranking the critique dial up a notch or a few to punish the unrealistic expectations of the high-and-mighty evangelicals? The production team did present itself for target practice going on and on about how great this movie was and how it would show all people the way of movie-making of the future, but I don't know if it deserved quite the all-devastating criticism it got. I for one have seen worse. Far... far worse!

Source: Hendershot, Heather. Shaking the World for Jesus: Media and Conservative Evangelical Culture. London: University of Chicago Press, 2004.

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