Two new movies that aim to attract a faith-based crowd join a glut of biblical films for 2014, testing the limits of Hollywood’s appetite for religion.
The two films, “The Good Lie” and “Left Behind,” both opening Oct. 3, reflect two different filmmaking strategies: One is geared for a wider audience that could attract Christians, while the other produces a movie clearly made for the Christian base.
With a number of films targeting a faith audience this year, it’s unclear whether Hollywood is oversaturating the market with faith-based films — a revolutionary idea 10 years after Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” shocked the industry by raking in $611.9 million worldwide.
“The Good Lie,” starring Reese Witherspoon helping four young “Lost Boys” from Sudan adjust to life in the U.S., has underlying faith themes. The refugees rely on their faith as they try to leave homeland strife behind, and Witherspoon’s character works closely with a faith-based agency to place refugees with families.
Editor’s Note: ‘Left Behind’ starring Nicolas Cage hits theaters nationwide on Friday, Oct. 3. The film is based on the wildly popular book series and movies of the same title, in which God raptures believers and leaves unbelievers behind to learn follow Jesus and defeat the Antichrist. So how’s the film reboot?
Sojourners Web editors called up a group of religion writers in D.C. to watch and review the movie together. We left with more questions than answers. Here’s our takeaway on all things ‘Left Behind’ — and a little Nic Cage.
Catherine Woodiwiss, Associate Web Editor, Sojourners: So first things first — why Left Behind again?
When the books were published [starting in 1995], there was a debate happening in Christianity over whether Hell was a real, physical place. And the original movies were produced in the context of 9/11 and the Iraq war. So you can look and say, okay, this was a time of questioning what some saw as fundamental beliefs, of war and terrorism. So the popularity of an end-times series makes some sense.
But why now? Why today?
Editor's Note: Spoilers ahead! You've been warned.
Over the past eight episodes of The Leftovers, HBO’s latest drama based on Tom Perrotta’s play of the same name, viewers have been treated to a case study in grief and faith in the midst of a life-changing event. Unlike the Left Behind series, which incorporated Christian triumphalism with terrible theology, The Leftovers examines the deeper human and spiritual issues of what would happen were two percent of the population to suddenly disappear. It is powerful and beautiful and really hard to watch (especially Episode Five). It asks the question: does life go on when your world is changed forever?
The show offers a variety of responses to the Sudden Departure of October 14: Kevin Garvey, the police chief who seems to be losing his mind after his wife leaves him for a cult and after his father needs to be committed; Nora Durst, who’s lost her entire family, so she keeps everything exactly as it was when the Sudden Departure occurred; Rev. Matt Jamison, Nora’s brother whose faith has been shaken because he was not taken; the town dogs who have become feral; and finally, the creepiest citizens of Mapleton, the Guilty Remnant, or the GR as they’re “affectionately” known.
This past week’s episode gave us a greater understanding of the GR. Although the nihilistic views of the Guilty Remnant are quite different from those of Christianity, I was struck by their powerful and strategic mission of witness. The cult was formed out of the recognition that everything changed on October 14 and that to pretend otherwise was foolish. The group, in their white clothes, their silence, their stripped-down existence, bears witness to the fact that they are living reminders of what happened. They are fundamentalists about their cause and willing to die for it — even if that death comes from their own hands.
For thousands of years, select groups of Christians have thought their generation was Earth’s last. Even the Apostle Paul thought Jesus would return in his lifetime. But Paul didn’t have the audacity to pinpoint an exact date for what we call the Rapture. Harold Camping, on the other hand, did.
Apocalypse Later: Harold Camping vs. The End of the World a new documentary that premiered June 8 — exposes wrongful and conflicting beliefs about Jesus’ return by sharing Camping’s concrete opinions of those who didn’t follow his beliefs of the apocalypse. Declaring their spot in hell, Camping was certain that those who didn’t follow his apocalyptic views would spend eternity in damnation.
Apocalypse Later tells the story of Camping, a man who had to let go of his pride and face the reality of joining the dozens of others who have wrongly predicted the end of time.
In the documentary, historian and New Testament scholar Loren Stuckenbruck refers to the apocalypse as a “literary genre,” a “mode of thought,” and “a social movement.”
The film is emotional and shocking, contrasting the scary, more literal interpretations of fundamentalist Christians with the more nuanced hermeneutical approaches of academics like Struckenbruck. The juxtaposition reveals that the tensions and battles that Christians face might not be against those who will be “left behind,” but rather between Christians themselves.
Two years ago, radio evangelist Harold Camping was predicting the end of the world. Now, longtime aides say his false predictions are likely to result in the end of his California-based Family Radio ministry.
The Contra Costa Times reported that the ministry has sold its prominent stations and laid off veteran staffers, with net assets dropping from $135 million in 2007 to $29.2 million in 2011, according to tax records.
The newspaper said Family Radio has sold its three largest radio stations, and saw its cash on hand drop from $1.5 million to $282,880 in 2011. Since the incorrect prediction, donations have dropped 70 percent, ministry insiders told the newspaper. Records indicate the network took out a loan to keep going.
The owner of a business who claimed he would provide atheist rescuers for Christians' pets left behind in the Rapture now says his service was an elaborate hoax and never had any clients.
Bart Centre, who lives in New Hampshire, came clean after the state Insurance Department delivered a subpoena because he appeared to be engaged in "unauthorized business of insurance" through his Eternal Earth-Bound Pets business.
"Eternal Earth-Bound Pets employs no paid rescuers," Bart Centre wrote in a blog post on March 16. "It has no clients. It has never issued a service certificate. It has accepted no service contract applications nor received any payments -- not a single dollar -- in the almost three years of its existence."
When doomsday prophet Harold Camping conceded last week that his failed May 21 end-of-the-world prediction was "incorrect and sinful," the average American probably shrugged, perhaps even snickered.
But for Bart Centre, Camping's mea culpa could have real impact on his bottom line.
The co-owner of a business that promises to care for the pets of Christians who are swept up in the Rapture saw a jump in business last year ahead of Camping's prediction.
"It was obviously a mistake," said Centre, who runs Eternal Earth-Bound Pets from New Hampshire. "I'm just sorry that he's not going to be doing any more predictions because it's good for business."
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