‘Left Behind’ asks, Why the hell can’t God make a decent movie?

October 14, 2014 Originally published on SFGate

It is, they say, the Greatest Story Ever Told.

It is, they say, the epic of all epics, the Big Book o’ Thou Shalt Nots, the most boring, tiresome read imaginable and the finest piece of literature in our cultural history, except for maybe White Noise and A Confederacy of Dunces and, obviously, The Phantom Tollbooth.

But here we are, stuck like pinned bugs in this year of our global warming, 2014, and pretty much every movie we have about God, about Jesus, about the Bible and the Rapture except maybe Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001) is just laughable nonsense – cheap, smarmy swill for encephalic 5-year olds and their uptight parents who don’t read actual books and therefore aren’t reading this column anyway so shhh it’s OK we can talk like this.

Oh, Nicolas. Even Jesus won’t save you from this disaster.

Caveat: I did not see Left Behind, the new and apparently mind-blowingly terrible movie starring Nicolas Cage, who was once considered a Great Actor, who once won an Oscar, who has devolved into a bizarre, bargain-basement Spasmodic Everyman, in this case serving as a stand-in for that other psychotic American actor who we would all be tremendously grateful to never hear from again: Kirk Cameron.

Left Behind, as I understand it from all the unfortunate reviewers who actually had to sit through it, is a cheap, insufferably stupid, Sharknado-grade adaptation of the series of cheap, insufferable books about the Rapture that sold like Christian crack during the Bush years (Think 50 Shades of Grey, but with sanctimony instead of sodomy).

I’m not much of a fan, but even I have to ask: Doesn’t Jesus, the beloved mystical guru, the great teacher without a past, the funky, anti-war, tree-hugging hippie socialist, deserve better than this?

Of course he does. To my mind, Jesus has scored exactly one great mainstream movie in the past 30 years, and it wasn’t even all that great; Scorcese’s “Last Temptation of Christ” (1988) is remembered primarily for daring to depict Jesus as a deeply conflicted human, totally messed in the head by the whole “savior” thing.

It’s also remembered, of course, for the outcry it provoked; panicky wails of protests from undereducated, non-reading Christians who, urged on my their engorged pastors, marched around various theaters carrying signs that screamed “Blasphemy!” but didn’t actually spell it correctly.

And therein, I think, lies the problem: The Bible is a book written, largely, for children. Wipe away all the crazy-old-guy obsessions with family lineage, war, genitalia, food rules and menstruation, and you’re left with a nicely dogmatic collection of allegories and proscriptions. Don’t steal. Don’t kill each other. Be more compassionate. The divine is already inside you. That sort of thing.

Problem is, fundamentalists do not see it this way. Fundamentalists believe the Bible is the literal word of God, that the Almighty spoke perfect English, that Jesus looked like a cross between Fabio and Russell Brand and all those swell supernatural tidbits, from the virgin birth to Jesus rising from the dead to 40 days in the desert (all swiped from pagan mythologies, natch), aren’t merely symbolic abstractions meant to point to larger spiritual truths, but authentic, historical facts.

The devil, OTOH, always seems to be having one HELL of a good time in the movies.

Therein lies the problem: Any movie about God, about Jesus, about Christian mythology can only be one of two things: an absurdist tale of human woe and overblown melodrama (hi, Noah), or a smarmy, incompetent puppet show with Jesus as a dreamy, magical hunk, dumbed down to the lowest possible Christian denominator. (Or, if you’re Mel Gibson, a repulsive, ultra-violent, fetishistic bloodbath disguised as historic puppet show).

This just in: Ridley Scott is about to release a big new movie, about Exodus. It stars a whole bunch of very white people, playing very dark brown people. Christian Bale plays Moses (!). It all looks like a fairly racist cross between 300 and Lord of the Rings. Liberals are all, “Whitewashing!” Fundamentalists are all, “Why is Batman riding in a chariot?”

God just can’t catch a break.

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Mark Morford

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