When it comes to the concept of The Rapture in some circles of Christianity, those who swear it’s real just won’t let it go in trying to convey it on film. Tim LaHaye, the co-writer of the original “Left Behind” books, has been trying for years to make a movie series that’s compelling enough so it isn’t mocked critically like the first three movies ultimately endured in the 1990s and 2000s. He sued the makers of the original films for not making them in the way he wanted. Now he’ll be trying again with a new trilogy starring Nicolas Cage and a rebooted frame of mind this October.
Perhaps the timing was wrong on that because it’s going to have to compete with a similar new series on HBO that’s already receiving considerable buzz. Maybe it’s because the letters “HBO” already breed excitement of something good, “The Leftovers” might easily be mocked for having a title sounding like what’s left in the refrigerator on Thanksgiving night. What it may turn into is more of an accessible view of something resembling The Rapture without going into complete religious details.
While there seems to be some definite religious allegory in “The Leftovers”, it goes into darker territory where cults develop throughout the world and within the chaos. There also seems to be more of a mystery as to what’s really happening to give an ambiguous sci-fi feel to the scenario so audiences can reach some conclusions on their own. Much of that idea goes off the original 2011 novel of the same name by Tom Perrotta.
We’ll find out this June whether people prefer this in favor of the possibly more specific “Left Behind” remake with Nicolas Cage. Based on the first poster for “Left Behind”, it gives the feel of yet another Cage movie full of easy mockery, especially based on Cage’s stunned expression and the sight of a burning city in the background. This might have Tim LaHaye worried once again when it’s starting to be clear that perhaps the original “Left Behind” books are impossible to properly adapt for the big screen without using some extreme ambiguity.
Possibly, “Left Behind” was rewritten to be just as ambiguous as “The Leftovers”, hence making it even more tenuous for the former film at the box office. Using specific religious references in a mainstream film would be unprecedented if they managed it, particularly something with action stars. Then again, there could be polar opposites between which characters know what’s going on and those who don’t.
But other than biblical epics, all religious stories outside of biblical times have had to use allegory in order to make their point. The strength of allegory when sci-fi and the spiritual meet all seemed to converge when “2001: A Space Odyssey” released 46 years ago. And we’ve seen that hold right up through “Prometheus” that seemed to give a spiritual connection to the origins of life.
All the usual suspects of Christian allegory adaptations (“Narnia Chronicles” and “Lord of the Rings”) succeeded because people knew what to expect. Even then, the ambiguity of everything made the films possibly more interesting to those who’d never read the books before. Those who’d read the books before have long made assumptions about what means what and which character parallels characters from the bible.
Coming from someone who thinks The Rapture is a misconception in Christianity, “The Leftovers” may finally bring some interesting religiosity to HBO while making us think for ourselves. When you look at the totality of life’s meaning, you could say the true meaning of life is searching on our own for our own intellectual fulfillment.
All the characters in “The Leftovers” will be going through much more strife than we have so far to find out those real answers.