Were you traumatized by Left Behind and A Thief in the Night as a kid? Yeah, us too. Join us as we tear apart the enigma of evangelical rapture cinema. We're talking tropes. We're dissecting dialogue. We're finding new reasons to fear barcodes.
Left Behind Transcript
JEY: Do you remember Hidalgo?
CLINT: Of course I remember Hidalgo. It’s one of the best movies ever made.
JEY: That is correct, but the fact that they put Burger King product placement and it was like something where he sees a mirage in the middle of the desert and all of a sudden it's a Burger King. And I was just like, I guess that's one way to get product placement. And like in an 1800’s movie…
CLINT: Whatever you're talking about right now is 100% some sort of crazy fever dream you had.
JEY: Oh, my bad. I just thought…
CLINT: There is no Burger King in the 1890 period drama Hidalgo.
JEY: That's what I'm saying. The guy is, like, hallucinating because he hasn't had water in days, and all of a sudden he sees the fucking Burger King.
CLINT: The American fast food chain, Burger King?
JEY: I think so, Yeah, that's what I'm saying. Okay. Desert, Burger King, Horse.
CLINT: This is literally the craziest thing you’ve ever said. I've seen Hidalgo many times. There is no Burger King.
JEY: Are you sure? “A horse meat scandal leaves Burger King facing a whopping backlash.” Oh…
CLINT: Is that where this came from? You read some sort of fucking Twitter story about Burger King horse meat and your brain somehow conflated it with Hidalgo?
JEY: I don't know why I can't find it.
CLINT: Because it's not real!
JEY: Have you seen the Barbie burger that Burger King put out? This is not a podcast sponsored by Burger King. I just keep bringing them up. I don't think I've had Burger King since I was five. But Barbie. Barbie is coming out. We be Barbie-core..
CLINT: Well, Burger King is not very good in my opinion, so I don’t really eat there and have not seen the Barbie burger. I'll do some chicken fries every now and again but that’s it.
JEY: Well they're doing a Barbie burger and a Barbie shake and whatever sauce that they put on it, like their secret sauce is literally millennial pink.
CLINT: It's like Pepto-Bismol pink?
JEY: Yeah. But I don't want my burger to taste like bubblegum. Like what happened to the cool Burger King toys? Like, do you remember when they had the gold Pokémon cards? I remember because I got one, but I had to hide it from my mom and leave it at my dad's house.
CLINT: The Pokemon partnership was the best thing BK ever did. They had Xbox games at one point and they were pretty good. They had a Mario Kart knockoff and a stealth game called Sneak King or something.
JEY: Do you remember Post-Topia and Pillsbury? General Mills made Millsbury and Post made Post-Topia and they were both online flash game communities.
CLINT: Ah yes, the extended cereal universe.
JEY: Yeah. And you could like, make your own Millsbury character. It was like the place to hang out when everyone was, like, too old for Neopets, but not old enough for Gaiaonline.
CLINT: For that major transitional period of your life.
JEY: Yeah, everyone goes through their life where they're a little trans.
CLINT: Everyone has their Post-Topia phase.
CLINT: Hello, everyone, and welcome to How Gay Thou Art, a comedy podcast about growing up queer, Christian and hella confused. My name is Clint Keller, he/him.
JEY: I'm Jey Austen, they/them.
CLINT: And today we're talking about Evangelical Rapture Cinema.
JEY: Yeah, you've heard of Left Behind. But we just wish that we could leave these movies behind. Y know what I’m saying?
CLINT: At this point, I think I have left them behind. I’ll never watch another Left Behind movie until they make another one.
JEY: I think it would be really funny to watch other people watch the Kirk Cameron first Left Behind, especially people that weren't Christian, because I want them to see all of the conspiracy theories being formed in this movie about the one world government and everything like that.
CLINT: Those elements are pretty wild because you really can draw a line from the ideas that were percolating in 2000 when the Kirk Cameron Left Behind movie came out to the Q Anon conspiracy theories today. There is a direct connection.
JEY: Abso-fucking-lutely. But you know what's so funny is like, um, Revelation, you know, that book in the Bible, I've heard rumors and, uh…
CLINT: Rumors of wars…?
JEY: Oh, rumors of- God, we've watched so many rapture movies over the past week. I must love you guys. One of the ones we watched from the Left Behind movie that just came out this year.
CLINT: Mere weeks ago. So Jey, for the uninitiated, what is the rapture in your own words?
JEY: So the Rapture is this concept in, I guess, evangelical Christianity?
CLINT: Pretty much exclusively,
JEY: It's not like Catholicism or anything.
CLINT: Oh no. The rapture is a relatively new belief held primarily by evangelicals. Now most Christian sects believe in an end time scenario of some kind, but most don’t believe that all of the Christians are going to magically disappear beforehand.
JEY: For the uninitiated who weren't raised in Christianity, the Rapture is the concept that the end of the world is coming soon, and at some point there will be all the Christians taken to heaven and everyone else is left on earth and earth devolves into chaos. And then there will be, like, wars and rumors of wars and plagues and famine.
JEY: That's where you get the concept of the four Horsemen of the apocalypse.
CLINT: But that’s where this gets a little sticky. Because while most Christian beliefs about armageddon come from Revelation, the rapture is not actually mentioned. It isn’t even alluded to. It’s not part of the Biblical armageddon narrative.
JEY: We don't even know who wrote Revelation either. They say it’s John but…
CLINT: It reads like a psychedelic nightmare which like, it probably is if we’re being honest. But the concept of the rapture - that born-again Christians will disappear from the planet preceding the rise of the antichrist - actually comes from a hodgepodge of grossly misinterpreted verses. And if you asked a Christian 200 years ago about the Rapture, they would have no idea what the fuck you’re talking about because the rapture was actually invented by a man named John Nelson Darby in the 1830's.
JEY: Was that like a preacher that just had a specific interpretation or something? Tell me more about this guy.
CLINT: He was a dispensationalist, British minister and he put forth this idea in a series of sermons and eventually books. And just to reiterate - you will not find the word rapture in the Bible nor will you find a description of the rapture as popularly portrayed today. This is entirely made up. Anyway, skip ahead a century to the early 1900’s - a guy named Sidney Watson, also British, published a trilogy of books - Scarlet in Purple, The Mark of the Beast, and In the Twinkling of an Eye. These pushed the idea a little deeper into evangelical thought. But the rapture’s watershed moment came with the publication of Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth, which became one of the bestselling nonfiction books of all time despite it being entirely a work of fiction. That pushed the rapture into the mainstream. That’s when we start seeing movies made about it. A couple decades later, you get the Left Behind books, and now we have a never ending stream of rapture related evangelical media. It’s one of their absolute favorite topics. Left Behind has sold over 80 million copies.
JEY: That’s lot of damn books. Jesus Christ.
CLINT: Yeah, 16 books in the series, plus an entire separate series of books written for children, which I read when I was a kid.
JEY: Yeah. We had those in my public school library.
CLINT: Of course they were. But here’s the thing to understand about rapture media, especially cinema - it isn’t about actual eschatology or doctrine or anything like that. The rapture is, and has always been, a vehicle to explore the existential fears of evangelicals. Anytime there is a major cultural shift or tragedy, rapture content has a huge spike in popularity. The first big wave came on the heels of the civil rights movement and the summer of love. The next batch came in the 90’s leading up to Y2K. Then we have a slew of post-9/11 rapture movies. And most recently, the rapture has taken on the guise of a pandemic. I think a big reason evangelicals like using the rapture is because of how flexible it is. They aren’t tethered to the Bible or history or anything like that. It’s pure fantasy and almost torture porn in a way because rapture books and movies always portray horrific events that the target audience presumably won’t be on earth to witness.
JEY: Also, it's really weird how America centric left behind was
CLINT: Oh yeah. America is a major player in the evangelical rapture narrative.
JEY: Those Bible people didn't even know that North America existed.
CLINT: Yet America is somehow one of the ten nations mentioned in Revelation. It just comes out of the whole “America is ordained by god” nonsense.
JEY: And I feel like a lot of the Zionist stuff comes out of Revelation, too, because it's like if you don't support Israel, they're worried we're going to lose God's favor.
CLINT: Absolutely. And that’s why we see this very weird dichotomy among white American conservative evangelicals where they are often simultaneously anti-semetic and pro-Israel. They want to retain god’s favor, like you said, but also, the sovereignty of the nation of Israel is one of the necessary conditions for Revelation to come to pass, so on some level, they are purposefully working to bring about the end of the world.
JEY: Yeah. And that's what's so interesting with climate change and then them being like, it's not real, but you know, what is? The rapture. Because all of the early climate change denial and the Al Gore movies were going on at the same time as Left Behind is.
CLINT: My own mom has used this argument for years. A popular belief among conservative evangelicals is that we don’t have to worry about climate change because we already know how the world is going to end. Therefore, it is impossible for us to destroy the planet and kill ourselves because then the events of Revelation couldn’t happen. And that allows them to throw away the very real Biblical commandment of stewardship in favor of just trashing the planet until Jesus takes them all to heaven.
CLINT: Now there have been dozens and dozens of rapture movies in the past half century, both Christian and secular. Left Behind, which we’re focusing on today, is arguably the most famous but there are many others. And like any sub-genre of movies, rapture films have their own tropes that are repeated over and over. So before we get into Left Behind, we’re going to talk about 1972’s A Thief in the Night because it established the formula for every piece of rapture media that came after. This was a low-budget, independent film that screened primarily at churches throughout the 70’s but later became popular on home video. It’s the first of four movies actually. I’ll read a quick synopsis here:
This is the story of Patty, a young woman living for the present with little concern for the future. She meets and marries a young man and her life seems great, until one morning she awakens to find her husband gone and the radio reporting that millions of people have mysteriously disappeared. As dramatic, earth-shaking events unfold around her, Patty realizes that she is living in the end times spoken of in biblical prophecy. Adventure and suspense build to a thought-provoking climax in this powerfully gripping film.
So Jey, what were your impressions of this movie?
JEY: So this movie was a little bit weird to me because it didn't follow the normal ways of making a movie, you know, like, the plot and camera angles and, they just set up a camera and let the pastor go at it for like 10 minutes. And then the movie continues and then they do that with the pastor again. So it's almost like a sermon. But then in between the sermon segments, it's people getting the mark of the beast tattoos and a one world government that says you can't buy anything unless you're a citizen.
CLINT: Yeah it’s a little all over the place. My favorite thing was how quickly everything happened. After the rapture, there was a one-world government within like 24 hours. People are getting mark of the beast tattoos the next day. And it all feels pretty standard for a rapture movie if you watch it now, but this movie is actually the origin of many of these tropes. The first big thing we see in A Thief in the Night that is repeated in basically every rapture movie is the idea that only the right kind of Christians get raptured. If you aren’t a true born-again evangelical believer, then you’re gonna be stuck here with the rest of us heathens.
JEY: It's a cult.
CLINT: Yeah that’s a caveat that got incorporated in the 70’s it seems. Before, Christians just got raptured. There weren’t any denominational qualifiers. The second visual cue we see established in Thief is that clothes are left behind.
JEY: Yeah. You get raptured naked, but then they show you in heaven you're wearing clothes.
CLINT: It feels so tacky to me.
JEY: There's like an old lady, she's like, can you, can you go check in the airplane bathroom? But also, could you take my husband's jacket? I think he went naked,
CLINT: But also, we've been living by these evangelical purity rules our entire life. And you're telling me that now we're all just going to show up at the pearly gates buck ass naked? After all that? What was the point?
JEY: You'll be wearing cloud clothes.
CLINT: It's like the leaves for Adam and Eve, but they're just little clouds.
JEY: Yeah, yeah.
CLINT: Thief set up the idea of people getting saved after the rapture. So earlier in rapture theology, there wasn't salvation after the Rapture. If you miss the boat, you miss the boat. Of course, that isn’t very good for drama. It also set up the persecution and martyrdom of those Christians during the tribulation period after the rapture. One thing that’s really interesting about this one is that in the second or third movie, a guillotine is used to execute Christians. And guillotines continue to show up in other rapture movies all the time to the point that if you didn’t know better, you would probably assume that guillotines are specifically mentioned in the Bible but they’re not. It’s literally from A Thief in the Night. Also, guillotines literally hadn’t been invented yet when Revelation was written.
JEY: It's like some weird French Revolution thing like oh, the left.
CLINT: You think so? Maybe. Because a lot of the early rapture media, especially Thief in the Night has a lot of red scare elements. A Thief in the Night started the crashing planes trope, which is repeated in almost every rapture movie. It’s a huge plot point in Left Behind. And it makes sense. It’s a scary scenario. But I mean, come on, how many evangelical Bible believing born-again commercial airline pilots could there possibly be?
JEY: Maybe it's like how they have, like, cowboy churches? Maybe there's, like, some pilot churches.
CLINT: I’m almost certain those don’t exist but maybe! Now the ideas of a one-world government and the 666 mark of the beast do actually come from Revelation but the way those concepts are portrayed in this movie persist to this day. The one-world government is a type of communist dictatorship forcing conformity under the guise of unity. And the mark of the beast is technologically based in some way. This fear of new technology remains very popular among evangelicals. In Thief, the mark is a binary code tattoo meaning 666.
JEY: Yeah, it's the zeros and ones and yeah.
CLINT: But in the years since, evangelicals have claimed that everything from barcodes to RFID chips are going to be the technology underlying the mark of the beast.
JEY: Well, that's because it says, like, the mark will be on your forehead or your…
CLINT: Or your wrist, yeah. My thing with that is like, who is going to get it on their fucking forehead? It just seems inconvenient. You're at the grocery store and you're going to put your head down on the counter to scan it or whatever? It's ridiculous.
JEY: Well, some people would have it on your forehead. I just don't think that everyone has hands.
CLINT: I just feel like those are exceptions that we can make as we go along on a case by case basis. It doesn't need to be an official option.
JEY: But like enough to mention the Bible. Yeah, I guess not.
CLINT: It just feels like wrists should be the default and if that won’t work for some reason, we can figure it out from there. OK so one of the big big things that first appears in this movie is what evangelicals call the age of accountability. Are you familiar with this concept?
JEY: I don't think so, because we had to get saved as a kid.
CLINT: Sure but there's this belief that if a kid under a certain age dies, they go to heaven because they're not mentally developed enough to understand their need for salvation. Same applies to the rapture.
JEY: Okay, but does it say that anywhere in the Bible, none of those words are in the Bible?
CLINT: Absolutely not. And not everyone believes this necessarily, but Thief is the first time it comes up in relation to the rapture to my knowledge. There’s an interesting little twist with this though. In Thief, kids only get raptured if they have at least one parent who’s a Christian. Otherwise, they stay on earth with their parents. That is not a belief that is held these days. Now every kid under the age of accountability gets raptured. And this shift coincides directly with the evangelical right’s evolving view of abortion. Back when Thief came out, evangelicals were not generally anti-abortion. The SBC was officially pro-choice back then. But as abortion became a flashpoint, it seems evangelicals were no longer comfortable with the idea that god would leave any child behind.
JEY: Yeah, because God wouldn't hurt innocent people. That's bad.
CLINT: No, no, not like all of the first born children in Egypt.
JEY: Those people weren't Christians.
CLINT: Well that’s the other thing. Evangelicals view Christianity as the default. Kids are born Christians and at the age of accountability, they either reject Christ or choose to continue following him. So in their mind, every kid under a certain age is Christian on some level. They just brush past all the genocides god perpetuated in the Bible I guess.
CLINT: But yeah, if you're interested in this kind of shit at all, I highly recommend A Thief in the Night. It’s a classic. It traumatized a generation of people and set the stage for an entire genre of Christian apocalypse content. Oh wait. I do want to talk about one more thing. What did you think of that completely bizarre photo montage of their early days of marriage?
JEY: Yes. How? Who was taking those pictures? It was insane because the photo montage was like them in their bed, them on the couch, them doing gardening or something. It was just like-
CLINT: For context, the couple gets married like halfway through the movie and then there is this extended photo montage of the first year of the marriage. Like in a contemporary movie, it’s clear that someone is taking the photos, right? But it didn’t make sense for there to be a third person present in any of the scenarios.
JEY: Exactly. I feel like if you see honeymoon photos, it's obvious the couple’s like taking selfies. No, not this one.
CLINT: I guess we just have to assume it was the holy ghost cam.
CLINT: OK, now for the main event - the Left Behind movies. There are six of them. We’re going to be discussing five. The sixth is a spinoff teen movie which I did watch but really isn’t worth talking about. The first Left Behind film came out in the year 2000 with a budget of $4 million. It grossed $4.2 million so probably lost money in the end. It stars the Tom Cruise of Christian cinema - Kirk Cameron and is based on the immensely popular book series of the same name written by Jerry Jenkins and you guessed it -
BOTH: Tim motherfucking LaHaye.
JEY: Tim LaHaye or his wife, Beverly - their little tendrils are in everything.
CLINT: Ya know, Tim was very unhappy with this movie. He was expecting a big-budget major motion picture and that is not what this Left Behind movie is at all. The rights bounced around and it ended up being produced by a little studio called Cloud Ten and LaHaye hated it so much that he tried to sue the studio for breach of contract after the fact.
JEY: What? The plane one?
CLINT: No, this one, the original from 2001.
JEY: But the 2001 goes hard compared to the rest of them. That's the best Christian movie I've seen.
CLINT: Hey I totally agree. I think this one is actually pretty good. But he was expecting Roland Emmerich and he got Kirk Cameron so I understand the disappointment. But let’s be honest Tim, the source material was a big part of the problem.
CLINT: At the time of its release, this was the most expensive evangelical movie ever made at $4 million, which is quite a bit of money for an independent film at that time.
JEY: But at the same time, I feel like a lot of Hollywood movies are like, 30 million, 40 million?
CLINT: For sure. And I think the quality of this one matches the budget for the most part. A quick synopsis:
The Biblical Prophecy of Armageddon begins when the Rapture instantly takes all believers in Christ from the Earth. A reporter who's left behind learns that the Antichrist will soon take power. That reporter is, of course, played by Kirk Cameron. So Jey, what did you think of Left Behind: The Movie. That is the official title by the way. Left Behind: The Movie.
JEY: Honestly, best Christian movie I've seen.
CLINT: I think so too.
JEY: I really liked it. It was. It was like an action movie.
CLINT: Yeah it had a global conspiracy thriller vibe, like in the vein of The DaVinci Code or something. They're traveling around the world, they're uncovering mysteries. They're trying to figure out what's going on with this supernatural occurrence.
JEY: Yeah, there are car bombs…
CLINT: Not the drink.
JEY: No, like, actually, like some guy gets blown up. All of these have the sinner’s prayer, so you can turn to God. And like all of them are still preachy, but this one wasn't like, Oh, my God, you don't like me because I'm Christian. You think I'm crazy. And the Left Behind with Nic Cage, it was definitely that.
CLINT: I think that is what made this movie so much better. The persecution complex aspect is almost entirely absent and the movie assumes a secular audience for the most part. The big problem with evangelical movies now is that they are literally preaching to the choir.
JEY: Yeah. They're not getting persecuted. They were saved from the purge is the way they see it.
CLINT: The conversion scene really got me though. Right before act three, Kirk Cameron gets saved in the bathroom of a UN building and that needle drop music cue was just completely out of left field. Like the movie has a decent score and then all of a sudden it’s just shitty 90’s CCM.
JEY: Yeah. Yeah. Getting saved and then he immediately gets God powers so that he's not tricked by the evil world leader Nikolai Carpathia.
CLINT: Also, we have no reason to believe the antichrist will be from any particular place, right? Obviously, contemporary nationalities are not part of the Revelation narrative but he’s somehow never American in any of these movies.
JEY: Which is ironic because they think every Democratic candidate is the Antichrist.
CLINT: Exactly! It's like, on one hand, they don't want to believe that the Antichrist could be American. But also any American who disagrees with them either is the antichrist or is paving the way for the antichrist. Which they see as a bad thing. But also want the end to come and do other things to hurry it along. It gets very confusing. So all of the Left Behind movies center on three main characters - Buck Williams, the reporter played by Kirk Cameron, Ray Steele, an airline pilot, and his daughter, Chloe Steele, who eventually falls in love with Buck, of course.
JEY: Usually she's in college, right?
CLINT: College/early twenties. These three characters are in all the mainline Left Behind movies. But something that really sent me over the edge with this one was a very subtle choice they made. So in the beginning of the first film, Chloe has a nose ring. Later in the movie, she gets saved. Cut to the following scene and her nose ring is gone.
JEY: Uh huh.
CLINT: They never comment on it. It just disappears.
JEY: It's just a visual cue to show that she's now Christian and doing the good thing and not piercing her body.
CLINT: Another subplot that appears in all of the movies in some form is Ray’s planned affair with a flight attendant coworker. He and his wife are in a rough patch over her faith, he’s planning to bang this flight attendant on an overnight, but then the rapture happens during the flight. But here’s what’s crazy - his wife gets raptured, so she’s not in the picture anymore, and then he decides not to have sex with the flight attendant despite the fact that he really isn’t cheating anymore and also the world is literally ending.
JEY: Yeah. No. And instead, he thinks his wife is crazy and, like, clearly her religion has, like, become a problem for them in their relationship. But now you're gonna feel sad nyour wife's gone, so you're going to believe that what she thought happened happened like, no.
CLINT: And like, his wife was literally telling him about the coming rapture and then it happened so that pushes him to believe but still, it still feels completely unbelievable. He’s fully committed to cheating on his wife. His wife literally disappears from the face of the earth. And then he doesn’t go through with it. It made it feel like his only motivation was the cheating aspect and not the cumming aspect.
CLINT: Another thing related to that - Buck Williams, Kirk Cameron’s character, who is a famous secular TV news journalist for GNN, the Global News Network, is canonically a virgin. It’s implied in the movie but explicit in the book. He’s never had sex despite being a famous globe trotting TV personality.
JEY: Excuse me?
CLINT: And he does not have sex until the third movie when he finally gets married to Chloe.
JEY: I'm dumbfounded. I did not realize that. And he's not Christian, so, like, why would he be saving himself for marriage?
CLINT: He wouldn’t! It makes no sense. It just shows how out of touch with reality these people are. And it also undercuts the power of his conversion a little bit. Like, it’s not a big deal to become a Christian if you’re living by all their rules already. He didn’t have to make any lifestyle changes.
JEY: It doesn't make any sense.
CLINT: One last thing I want to mention before we move on is that they had a really weird strategy for releasing this movie. So in 2000, it released straight to video but every VHS tape came with a ticket to see the movie in theaters when it released the following year. So they released it on VHS to build hype. They also did church screenings and stuff. Then in 2001, they tried to convince all of those people to go to the theater to see it again, to support the movie and evangelical filmmaking in general. It didn't really work at all in terms of a marketing strategy, but it was an interesting idea. I got to give them that.
JEY: Right. And they know that every one of these bitches has eight kids so even if they give one free ticket away, they're still getting nine more.
CLINT: But it's not like fucking Star Wars. Yeah, people are going to go back to the theater and pay to see the Empire Strikes Back again because they want to watch it on the big screen. But you're not going to convince a fundamentalist evangelical family with 12 kids that they need to take everyone to go see a movie they already own on VHS at home.
JEY: Especially when a lot of them aren't even allowed to go to the movie theater.
CLINT: This is not something you have to see on the big screen. It isn’t Avatar. It's a low budget Kirk Cameron movie. Theater not required.
CLINT: Ok let's talk about the Left Behind movie with the best name and worst plot - Left Behind 2: Tribulation Force. It came out two years later in 2002, well one year later depending on which release we’re counting from.
JEY: You don't think they took this to the Cannes Film Festival in France?
CLINT: I don’t think it made the cut. No Palme d'Or for Kirk Cameron. So…literally nothing happens in this movie. It is just a bridge between the first and third movies. The only thing that really stood out to me - and I'm interested to hear what you think about this - is the very, very weird dynamic between the three main characters - Buck, Ray, and Chloe. Like we said before, Buck and Chloe develop a romantic relationship. It’s really the only plot progression we get from this one. But all through the second movie, there’s this weird wink-wink relationship between Buck and Ray where Ray is trying to facilitate this relationship with his daughter on Buck’s behalf. It’s very uncomfortable, very purity culture. It’s like she has no agency around her own romantic relationships. Ray wants to pass ownership from himself to Buck.
JEY: Well, that's how it is. That's the Christian courtship culture that we talked about.
CLINT: I know but seeing it play out in the movie was just so uncomfortable. And there's also the sexual competition thing that keeps coming up. At one point, Chloe shows up at Buck's apartment and Buck's lesbian hacker friend is there staying with them.
JEY: Yeah. And then she's like, I didn't know he had a fiancee.
CLINT: Yeah Chloe immediately assumes she's his fiancee just because she’s alone at his house. And it’s not like she answered the door in his button up shirt or something.
JEY: Yeah, she's literally like, just because you have a person at your apartment, like, they could have been playing card games from work or something.
CLINT: I just don’t understand why she jumps to fiancee. She skips right past girlfriend.
JEY: Well, that's because it's the Christian way of thinking. Like, you can't even show the mistaken girlfriend because he would never live with a girlfriend. But a fiancee is a little more passable.
CLINT: I guess. It's still not really allowed but I guess it’s a step closer.
JEY: Like, Jesus, we all have lesbian friends who need places to crash every now and then.
CLINT: We should be clear that this character is not explicitly gay but she is definitely queer coded. In an extra layer of problematic, she also had a bindi on her forehead during the first movie.
JEY: But it looks almost like it's like a nine or a six or something. I thought it was supposed to be the mark of the beast when I first saw it, I was like, What is she doing? This white bitch?
CLINT: It was a classic evangelical send up of a 90’s hippie lesbian chick stereotype but they somehow found a way to be offensive to an entirely different people group at the same time. It’s almost impressive. Here's a fun fact - when they were in pre-production for this movie, Tribulation Force, a few weeks out from shooting, Kirk Cameron decided that they needed to squeeze in more evangelical ideology so he hired Ray Comfort to help him rewrite the script.
JEY: Uh oh.
CLINT: So that’s at least part of the reason the relationship shit is so weird. Ray Comfort is certifiably insane.
CLINT: OK. It’s time for Left Behind 3: World at War.
JEY: Give me a synopsis really quick cause I was scrolling on my phone a lot.
CLINT: Absolutely. So this is the finale of the OG LB trilogy. Everything after this gets into reboot territory. It came out in 2005. Synopsis:
The world falls into chaos as Nikolai Carpathia detonates nuclear devices across the globe and stages multiple devastating attacks against both the Tribulation Force and an international militia led by US President Gerald Fitzhugh.
Now here’s the thing about this movie - it doesn’t make a lick of sense.
CLINT: It’s complete fucking nonsense, very hard to keep track of what's going on.
JEY: Yes, absolutely. It opens up to like the White House burning and he's sitting in the Oval Office. The president would not be in the Oval Office if they're burning down the White House. They would have gotten him into a bunker somewhere. Like, what is going on?
CLINT: The Secret Service is seemingly nonexistent. But that isn’t the half of it. At least a third of the movie follows the President of the United States as he goes on espionage missions himself with zero backup.
CLINT: He’s breaking into the Antichrist’s poison facilities. He’s meeting up with Kirk Cameron in burned out warehouses.
JEY: It's like the American president is a superhero.
CLINT: The president can’t take a piss without being monitored.
JEY: Everyone is watching the president of a country like Jesus. I just…
CLINT: The other thing that makes no sense is when the antichrist turns on everyone. I know they have to include this plot point to shoehorn Revelation into the story but narratively, it just doesn’t make sense. Nikolai Carpathia spent the first two movies working to unite the entire world under his rule.
JEY: Right. And like, create world peace. And one world government.
CLINT: And then, about halfway through the third movie, he just starts nuclear bombing the shit out of the countries who have already pledged fealty to him without explanation.
JEY: Yep. Doesn't make a lick of sense
CLINT: Like, why did he do all this work?
JEY: Because wars and rumors of wars and it's based off of Revelation. So that's what he has to do. It's a fever dream! On top of that, like you don't even have the legal scholars agree on if it's talking about the past or the future.
CLINT: It's really hard to even describe how little connection there is between the Bible and evangelical beliefs about end of times. There is almost no overlap.
JEY: I was really into like the end of days as a child because of the Focus on the Family magazines There was another series by Jerry Jenkins that wasn't in the Left Behind universe, but it was talking about in 2012, when it's illegal to be Christian and everyone's hiding out in a mall and then they have to go to forced to like all this stuff. Anyway.
CLINT: If Jerry Jenkins could really predict the future, he would have known that malls don't really exist anymore. Oh, what about the poisoned Bible subplot? So when the movie opens, the Tribulation Force is stealing Bibles that were scheduled to be burned by the New World Order. So they break into a facility and steal pallets of Bibles. But then later in the movie, we find out that Nicolae staged it all to let them steal those Bibles because he had poisoned the Bibles. That's how he planned to kill all the Christians, because when they opened the Bibles, it would blast them with this anthrax kind of thing. Later in the movie, Chloe is dying from the anthrax bible and she wants to take communion one last time. Which she does. And it miraculously heals her. That’s how they figure out that red wine is the antidote for the poisoned Bibles. They do not explain why that’s the case though.
JEY: Uh huh. So everyone has to start drinking
CLINT: You're telling me that we're years into the tribulation. You guys are camped out in the basement of a burned out church, dying of an unknown disease. You've got a fucking cellar full of communion wine over here but nobody is even cracked into it?
JEY: No they'd been drinking grape juice the whole time.
CLINT: Honestly, the only thing I took away from it is that sometimes alcohol is the answer.
CLINT: Okay, Left Behind the reboot, starring Nicolas Cage as Ray Steel and Chad Michael Murray as Buck Williams. What did you think of this one?
JEY: There's a movie where this girl is on a plane and her daughter gets abducted while she's on the plane.
CLINT: Yeah. With Jodie Foster.
JEY: Yeah, I don't know the name of it, though.
CLINT: Flight Plan I think.
JEY: And this was just the Christian version of that. Or like the Christian version of Snakes on a Plane. Like, the entire movie is about Nic Cage just trying to land the plane.
CLINT: Yeah this entire movie is the first 15 minutes of the original Left Behind movie in terms of plot. This is like an expanded version of the first act of the original.
CLINT: It takes place almost entirely on a plane. And this one has a disaster movie vibe. It came out in 2014 and has a 0% on Rotten Tomatoes. Synopsis:
"Left Behind" finds commercial airline pilot Ray Steele (Nicholas Cage) struggling to keep his passengers calm and his plane afloat after the Biblical Rapture strikes mid-flight. Meanwhile, GWN reporter Cameron "Buck" Williams (Chad Michael Murray) becomes Ray's reluctant co-pilot, and Ray's terrified daughter Chloe (Cassi Thomson) braves the chaos of the city streets in search of her brother and mother.
This whole situation would have been way scarier if the pilot got raptured.
JEY: Well, the copilot got raptured, and one of the flight attendants and a bunch of kids
CLINT: But I feel like the scariest scenario in the Rapture is that your pilot gets raptured,
JEY: Right? No, absolutely.
CLINT: I don't care if the guy sitting next to me gets raptured. Who gives a shit?
JEY: Well, see, the pilot of the other plane got raptured, and so that's why they hit it. But I'm like, you're a pilot. you could have redirected your plane. Jesus Christ.
CLINT: So remember when I said Tim LaHaye hated the original Left Behind? Well he fucking loved this one which should tell you everything you need to know about how bad his taste is. In an interview at the premiere, he said this is the best movie he has ever seen about the rapture.
JEY: Like the first movie was actually good. I mean, not good, but, like, relatively.
CLINT: It's fine, but this one is actively bad.
JEY: Yeah, The first 15 minutes of it reminded me of God's Not Dead.
CLINT: It’s interesting you say that because - same. I really think God's Not Dead was a genre establishing moment for Christian movies. It set a tone that has been repeated by so many films. Evangelical movies have a feel now in the way the noir has a feel. You can immediately tell if you’re watching one.
CLINT: And it's bad. It's a bad vibe. Did you notice that the credits song was I Wish We'd All Been Ready by Larry Norman? The song that's in A Thief in the Night?
JEY: I did not notice that.
CLINT: It's a new cover but the same song. There were a couple other little nods to Thief in this one actually.
CLINT: So the best story surrounding this movie - at the 2015 Razzies, which is that worst of movie awards thing, this Left Behind was nominated for worst picture, worst actor, and worst screenplay. But they lost all three categories to a movie called Saving Christmas, which just so happens to star Kirk Cameron.
JEY: Trolled again!
CLINT: Absolutely hilarious. Did you spot Tim LaHaye in the movie? He makes a cameo.
JEY: No, I don't know what he looks like.
CLINT: He's in the background in the airport scene. He's going up the escalator behind Nic Cage I think.
JEY: That's why he liked it so much. He was like, because I'm in it.
CLINT: I will say that they definitely went for more sex appeal on this one. There was not much in the way of sex appeal and the Kirk Cameron trilogy. But everyone in this movie is like, ripped.
JEY: Yeah, they made the flight attendant, like she was so Jezebel coded.
CLINT: It was a caricature. I thought her tits were going to pop out of that shirt.
JEY: It was very like Hooters-esque. But she was an airline pilot.
JEY: Oh, right, attendant.
CLINT: We couldn't have a woman flying planes in this movie. Are you kidding me?
JEY: My bad, my bad.
CLINT: All right, one final thing. Talk to me about the drug scene in this one.
JEY: Okay. So this is what's so stupid. I don't even do drugs. And I know this. Well, like, I've only ever smoked weed. But, like, you can buy that in a store in Colorado. You know what I mean? So I don't really count it. What were you talking about?
CLINT: The woman doing drugs in the airplane bathroom.
JEY: Yes. so she's like, oh my God, this can't be happening. She's like, sees everyone that's like disappearing. And she was like, this must be a bad trip. Trip implies acid or shrooms, something with hallucinogens. But no one trips acid then goes on a plane for however many hours across the Atlantic flight.
CLINT: I’m sure people have, but it's rare and also a bad idea. But her solution to this “bad trip” is to go to the airplane bathroom and do more drugs. Yes, with some drugs, doing more drugs is the answer when you start coming down but that is absolutely not the case with psychedelics. If you're having a bad trip, there is no part of you that is going to want to take more psychedelics.
JEY: Right. So she goes into the bathroom and pulls out a dime bag of what looks like white powder, which I can only assume was cocaine. But she doesn't do a line of it or anything. They just show the powder and then she goes back out and all of a sudden he sees where she's just shot up.
CLINT: Yeah. She's got track marks on her arm.
JEY: And that's not how you use cocaine. But cocaine wouldn't be a trip.
CLINT: It was like three incongruent drug things. She was having a bad trip, specifically referring to it in trip terminology, then she pulls out a bag of powder in the bathroom but comes out with track marks. You never see a needle anywhere. I don't know how you would get the needle on the airplane anyway. I mean, a little baggie of drugs, sure, but like a full blown heroin kit? Unlikely.
JEY: No, It's my travel heroin. It comes in a nice container.
CLINT: But officer, it’s under four ounces!
CLINT: Lucky for us, a brand new Left Behind was just released. It’s subtitled Rise of the Antichrist. It stars fan favorite Kevin Sorbo as Ray the pilot and some insufferable asshole as Buck. Fun fact - the entire budget of this movie was less than what they paid Nicolas Cage for the previous movie.
CLINT: Synopsis for this one:
The only light after the world falls into chaos is a charming new leader who rises to the head of the U.N. But does he bring hope for a better future or is it the end of the world?
The plot of this movie basically covers the second half of the story told in the original. So plot-wise, the Nic Cage one and this new one combined tell the same story as the first Kirk Cameron film, as if we needed more time dedicated to this story instead of venturing into new territory. But what keeps happening is none of the movies are successful enough to really warrant a sequel. So every ten years they reboot it from the beginning, hoping this one's going to catch on. But they really just keep making the same movie over and over. Here's the craziest part - this movie has a 97% on Rotten Tomatoes.
JEY: Because they actually use lighting and a camera that was okay.
CLINT: No I think it’s because no actual critics bothered reviewing this piece of shit. And all of the crazy evangelicals went online and gave it five stars.
JEY: Yeah, yeah.
CLINT: This is undoubtedly the craziest Left Behind movie of them all by far. The whole thing is a very thinly veiled COVID allegory. It’s really a perfect snapshot of contemporary evangelical conflation of faith and politics.
CLINT: They latched onto so much buzzword bullshit. Pandemic of evil. There's a fake second wave of raptures.
JEY: And they're like, where did you get this data from. Yeah. Well these people were paid by this data, blah, blah, blah, blah blah. And it's just like, Yeah, but you guys don't even know what data means because you don't even know what science is like bruh.
CLINT: At one point, YouTube censors all of the videos about Jesus. All Souls Matter can be seen spray painted on the sides of buildings.
JEY: Oh, yeah. Oh, god, it made me so mad. Like, right outside the church.
CLINT: And there was so much like, winking at the audience as if it’s a big inside joke. I didn't feel like I was really in on it all of the time though. Like there was one point the narrator - yes, there's a narrator in this one and it was a terrible idea. Constant telling instead of showing. He just straight up tells you how the characters feel about everything.
CLINT: But at some point, he says, “They'll take it and bury it in a warehouse somewhere. You know the one.” Do I? What do you mean? Like the Indiana Jones Ark of the Covenant Warehouse?
JEY: I felt like there was a lot of rhetoric. Like it reminded me of a lot of the, I don't know.
CLINT: It was very Qanon.
JEY: There was this anchor that reminded me of Tucker Carlson. And then when they're all, like, in this heaven scene and then there's, like, this shitty white Jesus.
CLINT: Oh my god, it’s like a parody level, Halloween costume Jesus.
JEY: He looks like a Duck Dynasty character in a robe.
CLINT: They never revisited that or, like, explained that scene either.
JEY: It was just that she was getting nightmares about the rapture, which is a common theme. So in A Thief in the Night, this girl starts screaming because she's freaking out that her mom might have gotten raptured because she doesn't see her mom for a minute and her mom and her aunt come running in.
CLINT: Dude, when I was a kid, people would play rapture pranks on each other. Like if the kids were at home alone or whatever, one of them would go to the bathroom and the rest would like, go hide somewhere but leave clothes lying around the house to make it look like the rapture had happened and the one kid had been left behind.
JEY: That was like an April Fool's joke. That was one of the classic ones.
CLINT: How fucked up. My God, the trauma.
JEY: This is why I think some of this stuff is a little bit death culty.
CLINT: Okay but the most ridiculous part of the movies when Ray, Kevin Sorbo, goes online the learn more about the rapture. He searches YouTube but anything Jesus related has been banned. He tries a bunch of search terms. No luck. He finally get a Bible app to work and searches for the word rapture. Of course, it doesn’t come up because it isn’t in the fucking Bible, but the movie does not make that clear. The implication was that it had been censored.
JEY: That's what I thought they were saying. But later in the thing, the girl is like, it's not even in the Bible.
CLINT: Well they did not adequately address that fact. Let’s take a second to dig into this and maybe read the actual verses that the Left Behind movies reference. They frequently cite 1st Thessalonians 4, not Revelation, as evidence of the forthcoming rapture. OK here we go, 1st Thessalonians, 4:13-18:
Brothers and sisters, we don't want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind who have no hope, for we believe that Jesus died and rose again. And so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him according to the Lord's Word. We tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep for the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the Archangel, and with the trumpet call of God and the Dead in Christ will rise first. After that we who are still alive and left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.
Now, you might be confused at this point because what I just read does not describe in any way the narrative of the Left Behind movies.
CLINT: They read this verse word for word in the movies and act like that's what has just happened. And yet it's not. There are no angels, there is no trumpet, there is no Jesus, there is noone floating into the air. There are no bodies coming out of the ground.
JEY: Left Behind is more A Thief in the Night fanfiction than I think it is Biblical fanfiction.
CLINT: Alright, let's wrap this up. One final thing I want to talk about here - we mentioned this a little bit earlier, rapture anxiety. So is a thing. It's recognized by mental health professionals as a type of religious trauma. And it describes people who live in constant or periodic fear of everyone they love disappearing.
JEY: Well, I would have that fear, except it happened in my life just because I changed my name.
CLINT: Yeah, I feel like queer people aren’t really afraid of the rapture.
JEY: Yeah. We've already gone through it.
CLINT: I found a good quote about this from Darren Slade. He is president and CEO of the Global Center for Religious Research. He said, “This is a real thing and it's a chronic problem. It is a new area of study but in general, our research has revealed that religious trauma leads to an increase of anxiety, depression, paranoia and OCD like behaviors. You know, something like I need to say this prayer of salvation X amount of times or I need to confess my sins every so often. Now imagine on top of that that you're taught that at any minute you could be left here on earth. What does that do to a teenager who's just had premarital sex or took the Lord's name in vain?”
JEY: Yeah it just scars you but what happens to the age of whatever, the age of accountability?
CLINT: The age of accountability for most evangelicals is pretty low. I was six or seven when my children's choir director took me aside and told me that I was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong and that if I didn't accept Jesus into my heart right now, I would burn in hell forever if something happened to me. So, you know, you don't have to be that old. OK, are we done here?
JEY: Let's wrap it up.
CLINT: OK, thank you so much for tuning in once again everyone. As always, you can find us at our website, howgaythouart.com. We have a merch store there as well. We are on all social media platforms @howgaythouart. We are also on Patreon. We’ll be back in 2 weeks with a brand new episode about everyone’s favorite summertime activity - Vacation Bible School.
JEY: I was a vacation Bible school leader. I'm excited. Tell us your favorite VBS craft and thank you to everyone who's just submitted, like, encouraging voice messages and stuff like that. Just appreciate you. Love you all. Thank you so much.
CLINT: Thanks y’all. We’ll see you at VBS!