As I watched the 2000 film Left Behind: The Movie (not to be confused with the remake starring Nicolas Cage), I found myself thinking about names.
For instance, if your name is Rayford Steele, you really probably don’t have any choice but to become a pilot and maybe star in a low-budget action movie. I mean, let’s just be honest. People with names like Rayford Steele don’t end up working the night shift at 7-11. In Left Behind, Rayford Steele is played by Bad Johnson and Johnson has just the right look to play a character named Rayford Steele. He’s handsome in a somewhat old-fashioned, Gary Cooperish sort of way.
And yes, Rayford is a pilot. He had a wife who resents the fact that Rayford is always flying off and abandoning his family. She goes to church and she worries that he’s not a believer. Rayford, meanwhile, is having an affair with flight attendant Hattie Dunham (Chelsea Noble). That affair, however, may have to soon come to an end because Hattie has a new job with the UN. Poor Hattie. Nothing good ever comes from working at the UN!
Just as anyone named Rayford Steele would have to become a pilot, I imagine that anyone named Buck Williams would have to become a globe-trotting journalist. We’re told that Buck is one of the most famous and successful journalists in the world. Someone even mentions that Buck is so brave that he would have reported from Hiroshima while the first atomic bomb was being dropped. (I assume that would have been a fairly short broadcast.) Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a struggle to buy Buck Williams as a crusading journalist because he’s played by Kirk Cameron. Buck is described as being tough and cynical. There’s absolutely nothing tough about Kirk Cameron. At his best, he projects an earnest blandness. At his worst, he reminds you that he’s the guy who, years after starring in this film, would claim that a conspiracy of atheists was responsible for Saving Christmas receiving bad reviews.
Finally, if your name is Nicolae Carpathia, you’re pretty much destined to grow up to be very wealthy and also very evil. You’re not going to end up living in the suburbs, mowing your own lawn and complaining about property taxes. No, with a name like Nicolae Carpathia, you’re destined to end up using your position at the UN to take over the world. When you declare that your goal is to lead the world into “seven years of peace,” everyone knows that you’re planning on doing the exact opposite.
Or, at the very least, everyone should know. As played by Gordon Currie, Nicolae Carpathia is obviously evil from the minute he first appears. (Even if you didn’t know his name, you would think he was evil just from the way he smirks.) However, in the world of Left Behind, almost everyone loves Nicolae Carpathia. When thousands of people mysteriously vanish, all at the same time, Carpathia is the person to whom humanity turns their tear-brimmed eyes. The viewers know that it’s the Rapture and Rayford Steele and Buck Williams come to realize that it was the Rapture but Carpathia sees it as an opportunity to lead humanity into a …. dare I say it? …. new world order.
Left Behind is an odd film. For the most part, it’s a fairly ludicrous film, a low-budget and excessively preachy attempt to create a religious epic on a Wal-Mart budget. Kirk Cameron is miscast as a journalist and the film’s special effects are so obviously cheap that one can’t help but feel the filmmakers got a bit too ambitious for their own good. (Just check out the scene at the start of the film when Buck Williams reports while “bombs” explode all around him.) With a running time of one hour and 40 minutes, the film drags a bit and the characters are often frustratingly dense. (Even non-evangelicals have, at the very least, heard that there’s a thing called the Rapture.) And yet, occasionally, there will be moments when the film actually comes close to working. Brad Johnson, for instance, gives about as good a performance as anyone could as Rayford Steele. The scene where Carpathia manipulates a subordinate into committing suicide may not be terrible original but it’s still surprisingly effective.
Despite the fact that the film itself barely made a profit, Left Behind would go on to spawn two sequels. We’ll look at the first, Tribulation Force, in 15 minutes. Hope to see you then!