Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Tribulation Force, the Movie, Part 5

There is about a minute missing between the last segment and this one. Fortunately one of the commenters supplies a different division of the movie that includes the missing minute and, better yet, has the characters' lips actually matching the sounds.

In the missing minute, Chloe tells her father why she is upset. Buck is engaged. Her father is sure that can't be true; if he were engaged, he would have told us. Chloe is angry, and who can blame her. Granted, she and Buck haven't made any formal commitment, but each has expressed an interest and encouraged it in the other. And now she finds the man she thought was interested in her has another woman who seems very possessive. Her natural reaction is jealousy. However, according to Fred Clark, in the book, at least, Chloe is not allowed to be jealous because Buck is not, after all engaged to her (or formally committed at all). Hence Chloe has no claim on him; only God has a claim on him. God demands abstinence until marriage; Chloe can demand nothing for herself until they are formally engaged. In the meantime, instead of being jealous, she is only allowed to be outraged that he is cohabiting out of marriage. Of course, that is really just jealousy in disguise. All of this seems awfully far-fetched to me, but then again, I am not an RTC and cannot claim to know how RTC's think.

Be that as it may, the movie mercifully skips it. Chloe is jealous, that is all. The phone rings again. This time Ray picks it up. He talks the way you talk on the phone if someone is standing right there who you don't want to hear the conversation. He also lies and says he doesn't know what the problem is. (I'll get to that later). He encourages Buck to come by without telling Chloe that is what he is doing. He tells Chloe he is taking a shower and going to bed and heads upstairs.

We now begin the clip Fred Clark links to, with its horrible lip syncing. Seeing the missing minute is useful because it explains what Buck is doing when he gets in the elevator. He is leaving the office in order to head over to the Steels. When I saw the segment in isolation, I thought he might be heading up to his apartment, where Ivy is. But instead of heading to the ground floor, the elevator heads up to the roof. Buck pushes buttons, trying to stop it, but in vain. At the top, two thugs greet him and escort him out onto the roof, where Carpathia is standing near the edge.

He starts by quizzing Buck to see what he remembers about the shooting. Buck vaguely answers that it was "a terrible thing that happened." He denies avoiding Nicolae, but stammers and can't give a very good explanation why he has been, well, avoiding him. Instead of pressing the matter, Carpathia then changes the subject. He announces that the UN is taking over the world media. (See many posts by Clark on the subject of how the hell they could possibly do that). Buck protests, says that a free press is the cornerstone of a free world, that without one there is no accountability. Carpathia argues that he is only taking control of the media to keep them from feeding people's natural desire for a scapegoat. And he brings up his old hobbyhorse, world peace. (And his lips maddeningly fail to match the sound).

"And if I refuse?" Buck says.

"I don't think you can," says Nicolae. "This is too important." He gestures to the landscape below. And here is where it makes a difference whether you are a Christian or not. According to Fred, this looks as though it is invoking Christ's temptation in the wilderness, with Satan offering Jesus everything if only he will worship him. To a heathen like me, he is simply pointing out how far down it is and making Buck an offer he can't refuse. Buck agrees, provided he can have complete freedom to cover any story he wants, and access. That is, as we know, exactly what Buck really wants -- access to the mysterious witnesses at the Wailing Wall so he can broadcast their message to the world. They shake on it. "Good choice," Carpathia says, and I think the threat is implied there as well.

I will say, though, that this scene and any other threat to the characters' lives runs into a little problem in a post-Rapture world. Normally, when the villain invites you to a meeting on the roof with his goons, makes you an offer, and gestures to the scene below when you ask what if you refuse, this is terrifying and quite effectively intimidating. No one expects you to be an open martyr on the spot (though you may accept and secretly work to undermine him from within). But the calculus is different in a post-Rapture world. After all, the world is going to end in a mere seven years. The will be, as Buck says at the end of the last movie, "the worst mankind has ever seen." There will be an endless succession of wars, famines, plagues, and who knows what else. And Buck, as a saved Christian, knows that if he is killed, he will go off to Heaven and spend those seven years cavorting with the RTC equivalent of his 72 virgins. His life is valuable only as a chance to evangelize. Still, old habits die hard, so I suppose we shouldn't blame Buck too much for wanting to stay alive.

Buck takes the elevator down to a vaguely ruined looking world (overturned chairs, posters of the missing and people burning candles to them, etc). He is greeted by his old boss, Steve Plank, who has nothing but praise for Carpathia. He knows Buck is going to Israel and says he (Plank) will be Buck's man on the ground. Buck wants to cover the peace treaty, but Plank says the Ben-Judah announcement will be most important, the biggest story of Buck's career. (Bigger than the entire Arab air force crashing over Israel? Bigger than the mass disappearances, including every child on earth? I don't think so). Besides, is there any reason for Buck to care what he covers? He just wants to get into Israel so he can find the Witnesses.

Buck then goes to the Steel's house. Chloe refused to talk to him. Buck refuses to leave until she does. Chloe goes up to ask her father to get rid of him. Rayford turns the shower on and says he can't, he's in the shower with soap in his eyes. In fact, he is standing fully clothed in the bathroom door. He lied! So she goes downstairs to confront Buck about his "financee" who she met at his apartment. Buck doesn't appear to know who this mysterious woman at his apartment is. So Chloe describes her, brunette (in the earlier movie, she was blond!), dressed in a bath towel and engagement ring. Buck, who is a bit slow on the uptake, realizes that she means Ivy and explains. They reconcile and hug. (No kissing. They are RTC's, after all).

Rayford's lying, though, first to Buck and then to Chloe, is a serious issue. It is a serious issue because in the book, the characters apparently think lying is a serious issue. Apparently, the book stresses on several occasions that lying is never justified, even to the Antichrist. And, in fact, just now Buck didn't lie to the Antichrist, although he was completely evasive. And, Fred is quick to point out, when Rayford begged Hattie for the job, he created a misleading impression, but took care not to say anything that is technically false. But here Rayford is, lying to Buck and Chloe to play matchmaker. St. Augustine apparently listed a taxonomy of lies from the most to the least sinful, but ultimately concluded that no lie is ever justified, even lies to prevent a murder or rape. Ah, but he never addressed lying to matchmake for your daughter.

Fred Clark's take is here.

Monday, January 30, 2012

What Does Jesus > Religion Mean, Really?

So, on the subject from less than two weeks ago of what is the distinction between religion and Christianity, apparently a video on You Tube by Jeffrey Bethke has gone viral, purporting to explain.

The intended audience is presumably young, liberal potential Christian who are put off by the fusion of Evangelical Christianity and conservative politics, by its judgmentalism and lack of compassion. It is spoken in rap to appeal to the young and starts out by addressing these concerns. But mostly it is an elucidation of the whole concept I struggled with last time:
This is what makes religion and Jesus two different clans
Religion is man searching for God, but Christianity is God searching for man.
And, to be fair, unlike Rayford in Left Behind, he goes on to explain what that means. What it means, in effect, is salvation by grace, substitutionary atonement taking Jesus Christ as your personal savior.

Thus Rayford Steel says:
Jesus took your punishment when he died on the cross. God did that so you don't have to go to Hell; that's how much he loves you. Eternal life is a gift. You don't have to do anything religious.
Jeffrey Bethke is more eloquent and, I would say, more comprehensible:
That's why salvation is freely mine, forgiveness is my own
Not based on my effort's, but Christ's obedience alone.
Because he took the crown of thorns and blood that dripped down his face
He took what we all deserved, that's why we call it grace.

These words have a beauty Rayford's words were completely lacking. It has an emotional resonance equally missing from Rayford. And whether because it resonates at an emotional level or because it makes a serious attempt to explain the theology behind the statement, it has meaning in way Rayford's statement lacked.

The video has drawn criticism from Christians, especially Catholics, arguing that Bethke is being unfair to the church. Their basic point -- that Christianity is impossible without a community of believers, i.e., a church -- is sound. But my criticism comes from the perspective of a non-believer, wondering how effective this will be as outreach to non-believers, as opposed to weakly committed Christians.

Because if you look at it with a remotely critical eye, he is saying two different things. In the first half, he chides organized religion for its hypocrisy, its judgmentalism, its moral failings, and so forth. He quite correctly cites Jesus as having said much the same to the religious authorities of his day. He appears to be offering a new kind of church, a radically subversive, non-ritualized church based on, well, what Jesus preached and lived in the Gospels. Then he shifts gear to a certain theology, the theology of Evangelical Protestantism (which is similar to, but not exactly the same as, other traditional Christian theology). In particular, it is the belief that the entire human race is sinful and deserving of Hell, but that Jesus, in being crucified, accepted the entire, eternal punishment of the entire human race, and that salvation is a matter of accepting this sacrifice.

It may very well not be apparent to Bethke, but criticizing the church for its moral failings and preaching this particular doctrine are not the same thing. Acceptance of this theology comes with a host of preconceptions that an outsider might challenge. Why does the entire human race deserve to go to Hell? Yes, granted, any religion that focuses on salvation ends up finding it problematic. Salvation is the imperfect aspiring to the perfect, the finite aspiring to the infinite, the limited aspiring to the absolute, etc. Small wonder, then, that every religion that focuses on salvation comes to the conclusion that humans cannot by their own efforts achieve the Absolute, but need some sort of help from outside to achieve it. Hinduism and Buddhism face this problem as much as Christianity. They differ from Christianity in not seeing the only alternative to salvation as eternal damnation. So, granting that we are not worthy of salvation, why couldn't God come up with some alternative other than Hell? The answer always seems to be that his hands were tied and that he was compelled by some power beyond is control to meet out a certain fixed quantity of punishment. So what was it that compelled God? What is strong enough to tie God's hands? And why does punishing the innocent Jesus relieve God of the need to punish guilty mankind that really deserves it anyway?

But these arguments in many ways are secondary. Most people find theology incomprehensible anyhow and are more interested on what this means for them in practical terms. So what does it mean? Presumably, religion refers to things like going to church, reading the Bible, and following the church's accepted moral precepts. Bethke is saying that salvation does not lie in these things, but in accepting Jesus Christ as your personal savior. First of all, what does it really mean to take Jesus Christ as your personal savior. What is the prospective convert supposed to do? How does the prospective convert know if it has worked? And second, is Bethke preaching antinomianism? In other words, is he saying that once you take Jesus Christ as your personal savior, you have your get out of Hell free card and no longer have to go to church, read the Bible or follow any moral precepts? My guess would be no, but he is going to say that you will relate to church, the Bible and moral precepts in a different sort of way. But he doesn't tell us.

And is it too glib of me to suspect that the constant Evangelical Christian argument that Christianity isn't about religion, but about grace is at least in part a marketing ploy? That Evangelicals have noticed that people they try to convert often express distrust of "religion," so they argue that they are not a religion? Because if this is true, a mere shift in semantics isn't going to change any minds at all.

A Brief Comment on Newt Gingrich

Have you ever noticed that columnists refer to other candidates by their last names, but Gringrich is generally referred to as "Newt"? Why is that? Is it because Newt is a sufficiently unusual name to be memorable? (Much more so than, say, Sarah, Michelle or Herman, let alone Rick). Or is it because they have a certain familiarity with Newt that they lack with other candidates?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Callista Gingrich in the Uncanny Valley

Really I shouldn't be so catty, but here goes.

It was Andrew Sullivan who introduced me to the bizarre concept of the Uncanny Valley. The concept is that we empathize and identify with normal, healthy human beings. We have a neutral emotional response to completely non-human machines. As a robot becomes more and more human looking (and acting), we tend more and more to emphathize and identify with it -- until it reaches a point of looking too human, at which point people react with horror and revulsion. Examples given of not-quite-human looking things that repulse include a corpse, a zombie, or a prosthetic hand.

Callista Gingrich
Or, I should add, Callista Gingrich.

So why the revulsion toward things that look almost, but not quite, human? Wikipedia offers several hypotheses. One (presumably favored by sociobiologists) is that your instinct is warning you that this would not be a healthy mate. But then again, Newt apparantly chose to mate with Callista in preference to his perfectly human wife. So that can't be it.

Another (in several forms) is that it reminds us of our mortality and vulnerability. That certainly makes sense why people would be appalled by a corpse -- it reminds us that we will die some day. A prosthetic limb reminds us that we can be severely injured. But I can't imagine any misfortune causing me to look like Callista Gingrich. If you ranked my fears, death would be number one, losing a limb would probably be in the top ten, but looking like Callista Gingrich wouldn't even make the top thousand.

Ah, but then there is "violation of human norms." "[A] robot stuck inside the uncanny valley is no longer being judged by the standards of a robot doing a passable job at pretending to be human, but is instead being judged by the standards of a human doing a terrible job at acting [or looking] like a normal person." That could explain it. Every time I see Mrs. Gingrich, I can only think that no human being could possibly look like that. She looks like a plastic department store dummy head grafted onto a human body.

Maybe we should add to the Uncanny Valley not only corpse, zombie and prosthetic, but woman wearing way too much makeup. I remember a similar reaction to Tammy Faye Baker.Tammy Faye Baker.

Views Differ on Shape of Planet

So, now that Left Behind is out of the way except once a week, let me walk a little on the lighter side about the Republican primary.

Paul Krugman famously commented that if a Republican candidate said the Earth was flat, the press would duly report, "Views Differ on Shape of Planet." But he has never really explored why this should be true, other than that the press is terrified of seeming biased.

While I believe there is a lot to that, after hearing about Newt Gingrich's secret of appeal to the base, I think there is more to it than that. Simply put, Republicans have a racket they can't lose (at least with the base) and the media are stuck in a role where they can't win.

Consider. A Republican candidate says the earth is flat. The news media duly report that opinions on the shape of the planet differ. Suddenly the shape of the earth has been recognized as a legitimate topic for public debate. Republicans win.

On the other hand, suppose a Republican candidate says the earth is flat and the media challenge him. They point out that this is not true, that the earth is, in fact, round. Suddenly the shape of the earth has become a culture war issue. Republican candidate assumes the role of a martyr, saying look how they persecute conservatives who dare challenge the orthodoxy of the elite liberal media on the shape of the earth. Belief in a flat earth at once becomes a Republican article of faith. To question the flatness of the earth is now a craven capitulation to political correctness. Fox News and talk radio denounce and mock any suggestion that the earth might be round. Any Republican candidate for office stands no chance unless he gives assurance in his belief in a flat earth. Any Republican currently in office who suggests that the earth might be round faces a primary challenge. Republican candidates who have referred to a round earth in the past are forced to renounce their error. All evidence of the roundness of the earth gets written off as an artifact of liberal bias.

Republicans win.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tribulation Force, the Movie, Part 4

First comment on part 4: they don't have the lip syncing any better. People's lips move without making a sound and then words come out without their lips moving. It's driving me crazy. But I will endeavor to ignore it an comment on the movie.

The threatened suicide scene continues and perhaps gives a clue as to how to evangelize more effectively after the Rapture and (hint) it isn't Buck Williams' approach of trying to convince people they are sinners. First Rayford talks about how wonderful the world is as proof of God. (Problem: It's going to stop being wonderful real soon). Chris is unconvinced, asks there is a Heaven why aren't we there. "Because we weren't right with God," Rayford says. That pushes Chris over the edge and he points the gun at himself (his heart, incidentally, not his head). (Hint: Telling people who are distraught that they aren't right with God is unlikely to be helpful). But when the chips are really down, when Chris is one hair trigger from death, Rayford moves to the subject he really cares about -- if he kills himself, he loses all possibility of seeing his wife again. If he trades the gun for God, then he can rejoin her. Chris puts the gun down and starts to cry. (Hint: When someone is upset about his wife being "raptured," maybe you should stick to the topic he really cares about, his vanished wife, as the most effective way to get to him).* We are left with the impression that Chris has opened his mind to Rayford's RTC preaching, but it will probably take a few more sessions to actually convert him.

Meanwhile, back at the church, Buck, Bruce and Chloe are meeting in Bruce's office.** Buck has confirmed that there were two men preaching at the Wailing Wall when the others burned to death. He will go in on the pretext of reporting on the new one-world religion and broadcast them worldwide on live TV. Rayford walks in and says Chris just got saved. Interesting that we didn't get to see that. I can think of two reasons why not: (1) It just isn't plausible. Chris needs more time to calm down and think rationally before he can convert. (2) Talking him out of the suicide was the emotionally intense part. Actually seeing him convert afterward would be an anti-climax. Or, quite possibly, both. Anyhow, the experience has finally convinced Ray to go ahead and take the job for the Antichrist. Bruce, contrarian as ever, argues a little against it. Chloe is appalled and asks him what makes him think he could get the job. "I've got a connection," Ray says. Of course, we know who his connection is, and why Chloe may not want to be reminded of her. She storms off.

She goes to look at an album of family pictures. (Kept at the church?) Buck tries to talk, but she is hostile, doesn't want to talk about her family. She can't handle the thought of him and her father hanging out with the Devil and storms off.

Ray meets with Hattie (now dressed in a slinky black dress, pearls and stiletto heels, with her hair down) in Nicolae's airplane hangar. Hattie is (understandably) hostile. She is also distrustful of Ray because the last time they spoke he preached to her and tried to convert her. The "Bible thumpers" are saying that Nicolae is the Antichrist. She greatly admires Nicolae and doesn't want to associate with Ray if he believes that. He appeals to her past knowledge of his character (probably not a good idea). It's an awkward spot for Ray. He has to convince Hattie that he's not a Christian in order to get the job, but, after all, his ultimate mission is to convert her.

Meanwhile, back at the church (trash on the lawn, hobo with a bag picking it up), Chloe walks into to Bruce's office to ask about relationships in the time of Tribulation. She is being hostile to Buck because she is attracted to him and doesn't know how to deal with it. He says that in times like this, she may have to let Buck go. He also suggests that if she is interested, maybe she should tell him.

So Chloe goes to Buck's apartment in a lowish-cut sundress and nervously primps and preens in front of a mirror before knocking. Ivy answers, in a bathrobe and engagement ring, clearly living with Buck and very familiar with him. She is as protective/possessive as she was with Verna and shoos Chloe away. Back home, more modestly dressed, she hears the phone ring, Buck on the caller ID, and hangs up just as her father answers. We are about to have a father-daughter confrontation when the segment breaks off.

Fred Clark's take here.

*The only problem here is the same one we have with everyone else who lost an adult family member. If Chris's wife, like Ray's, was a born again RTC, she must have been preaching at him constantly, just as Ray's wife was, so he, too, must recognize this as the Rapture.
**Fred complains that all those church people are gone now. I disagree. This is clearly Bruce's office, not the sanctuary. In fact, one might reconcile the first aid station and the sermon by saying that the first aid station is in the office, but the sanctuary is used only as a sanctuary. Except Bruce's office is just being used as an office. Maybe he has more than one office.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tribulation Force, the Movie, Part 3

The movie segments are apparently solely for convenient lengths and do not have any logical dividing places. We take up in the middle of the last scene -- Buck inviting Ivy to stay at his huge but stark apartment. Buck says her finance can stay here too. (Ivy is engaged? How come that was never so much as hinted at?) Ivy is vaguely disappointed and points out Buck has a phone message. It turns out to be Steven Plank, wanting to set that meeting with Carpathia. Buck never gave anyone his number. Sinister!

Ray and Buck meet "Chris" outside New Hope Church. I will have to admit I didn't know who Chris was, but Slacktivist was very helpful to me this time. Chris is apparently the copilot on Rayford's plane. They go into the church and Fred points out something else I would have missed. It looks like a church, with people assembling in the pews. What happened to the first aid station and all those wounded people we saw last time? This makes it about the fourth time the church has flipped back between a sanctuary and a first aid station, as per plot convenience.*

In the church, Pastor Bruce tells the congregation of skeptics that everyone who disappeared either chose to follow Christ or was too young to make that decision. People who believed in Jesus Christ are in Heaven with God; the rest of us have a second chance. This is good, really. The first movie talked about God quite a bit, but hardly mentioned Jesus Christ at all and never said a word about taking him as your personal savior. This is, of course, absolutely central to RTC theology, so it really needs to get some air time, even if it can be grating to non-believers, including many in the pews. He then warns then about the terrible judgments ahead, represented by the Four Horsemen. The first horseman, he says, rides out on a white horse to conquer -- the Antichrist. A woman in the congregation asks (reasonably enough) if he is going to kill them all. No, says Bruce, he will triumph not through force, but through diplomacy, through peace and the promise of world unity. Sound familiar? The audience recognizes that he means Carpathia and is outraged. Carpathia only talks of peace! He sounds like a savior! No, Bruce says, there is only one Savior, Jesus Christ who can save you from your sins. (All of this, by the way, quite accurately reflects what was in the book).

About the time Bruce mentions Jesus Christ saving you from your sins, Chris (who has been stirring uneasily up till now) can't take any more and walks out. Outside we see more signs of social breakdown -- trash scattered about, people huddling over open fires, etc. Ray and Buck follow. I am very grateful to Fred Clark and his readers for pointing out the flaws in the evangelism scene that follows, or I might have taken it at face value. Apparently Kirk Cameron, the actor who plays Buck, is a genuine born-again RTC, and the scene that follows was written by him from his advice on how to evangelize. This explains some of the oddities in the scene (which I am very grateful for the Slacktivist crowd for pointing out to me).

So, here is the scene. I will start by saying that something is really wrong with the dubbing here. People's mouths just aren't matching up to the words we are hearing and it is really distracting. But trying to overlook it, Chris is offended by the emphasis on sin and evil. He denies that people are unregenerate sinners; there are lots of good people, including himself. Here Buck jumps in, gets Chris to admit that he has, at times, lied, stolen (once) and lusted after women other than his wife, so he is, in the eyes of God, a liar, thief and adulterer. Defiantly, Chris says, "So what am I supposed to do, get religious?" And this time Ray says, "No, that's what we're trying to tell you. Jesus took your punishment when he died on the cross. God did that so you don't have to go to Hell; that's how much he loves you. Eternal life is a gift. You don't have to do anything religious." This is all a little more than Chris can absorb, so he walks off.

As I said, I might have taken that scene at face value if Fred Clark and his readers had not pointed out a number of its flaws. Thinking it over, though, they are legion. So here goes:
  1. Why is it Buck who's doing the preaching here? Rayford is the one who knows this guy; shouldn't he be doing the talking?
  2. Buck says what really got him was that whoever looks upon a woman and lusts for her has already committed adultery in his heart. Um, that may have been what brought Kirk Cameron to Jesus, but I'm pretty sure that what brought Buck Williams to Jesus was (a) seeing all those people vanish,** (b) coming across the Antichrist's plans for world conquest and finding out that they all matched Bible verses and finally (c) seeing prophecies he reasonably thought were impossible coming true. All of which leads to the next point;
  3. This proof that Chris is a sinner in God's eye may be fine and good for evangelizing under normal circumstances, but circumstances are not normal. Chris lost his family in the Rapture. That seems a lot more immediate and urgent than whether telling an occasional lie makes him a liar in God's eyes.
  4. What the hell does this business about Jesus being crucified so you don't have to do anything religious mean. It's obviously important to Evangelical Christians; I have regularly seen it in their literature that they are not about religion but about Christ. So what does that mean? God bless comments threads! I asked in the thread and was told that religion is man seeking God; Christianity is God seeking man. OK, that makes at least some sense, although I am not sure what it means in practical terms. But to Chris, as a non-RTC, it must be just as opaque as it is to me. So why don't Buck and Ray take that into account? Which leads to my final point;
  5. These guy have only been born again RTC's for a week. Where do they get all this from? The real answer, as I understand it, is that RTC's live in a sufficiently isolated cocoon that they don't realize not everyone know their lingo and outlook. If you want an explanation that fits within the movie, the possibilities might be (a) Rayford has had a born again RTC wife preaching at him for quite some time now. He probably picked up some of this stuff from her. (b) They have been meeting with Pastor Bruce a lot lately. He probably drummed a lot of this stuff into their heads. (Including, presumably, about Buck being an adulterer in his heart, not a subject that came up in the previous movie at all). (c) The authors of Left Behind may believe that once you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior, he will automatically lead you to the correct doctrine and make you understand this stuff. But even so, you would think that Buck and Ray, having been non-RTC's a mere week ago, would remember how confusing and off-putting this sort of talk is to non-believers and adjust their pitch accordingly. (Say, to discussing Chris's lost family).

Meanwhile, back in the church, Pastor Bruce calls everyone who wants to accept Jesus Christ up to the front. Some walk out, but others (including the man who was outraged at the suggestion that Carpathia might be the Antichrist) step forward to be saved.

Out on the street we see people, presumably the newly saved from New Hope Church (one of them is carrying a cross) gathering around the posters of lost loved ones, burning candles to them. (Do RTC's do that?) A mysterious woman in white (Rayford's new love interest?) asks him if he lost someone. Rayford is about to answer when he is interrupted by a call from Chris and leaves her standing.

Rayford rushes over to Chris's apartment and finds him spinning a gun on the table, clearly contemplating suicide. Apparently the evangelizing has gotten to him. Rayford assures him that he lost his wife and son, too, that he knows how much it hurts, but that he can take comfort in the knowledge that they are in Heaven. Chris doesn't believe that Heaven is real; he believes Carpathia, that there is no Heaven or Hell. I'm not sure which is driving this final break, Chris's fear that there is no Heaven (and thus no meaning in life), or his last desperate resistence against accepting it. Either way, we will have to wait till next time to find out because the segment abruptly cuts off in the middle of the conversation. (Incidentally, their lips and works are matched up even worse here; it's maddening).

So, now I am caught up to where Fred Clark is. I will now follow each of his posts on the latest installment with one of my own.

*I omit the scene with Ray alone in the church with candles on the altar, meeting Irene because that was a dream. Maybe the dream can account for the candles on the altar, too.
**Okay, so he didn't actually see them vanish, but he saw the empty seats in a closed airplane with only their clothes. Come to think of it, did anyone actually see people vanish in the movie? Everyone seems to have been asleep, out driving, or otherwise distracted when the vanishings occurred.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tribulation Force, the Movie, Part 2

We pick up right where we left off last time -- Rayford alone in the church, candles on the altar, his raptured wife, Irene, approaching him. They hug but don't kiss. (They kissed once in Left Behind, but Buck and Chloe had only hugs. Are RTC's squeamish about kissing in movies?) "May you walk in the faith of the Lord," Irene says, and walks away, leaving Ray with some sort of locket. He wakes up in bed. It was all a dream. There is a picture of him and a prominently breasted Irene by the bedside, and the locket in his hand. It is 12:09 a.m. I can't tell if it's all a dream and he had the locket all along, or if Irene made a visit from Heaven and left him the locket. (I'm pretty sure RTC's don't think loved ones visit from Heaven). He overturns the picture. The next morning he takes all the pictures of Irene and Raymie down, unable to face the memories. Chloe wants to keep them. Obviously being born again has not ended all conflict in their family.

They go to a private meeting with Pastor Bruce and Buck at the church office. Pastor Bruce is starting the Tribulation Force. If Fred Clark is giving the full story, in the novel, Pastor Bruce talks vaguely about making converts, but actually proposes nothing more heroic than holding private Bible study meetings, digging a shelter for the four of them and concealing it from the congregation! In the movie, he does better, proposing the only course that makes any sense -- acknowledge that Carpathia can't be stopped, that the Biblical prophecies must play out, and evangelize their asses off, trying to save as many souls as possible. He makes clear that this means persecution often death. But he has an idea how to begin. The Bible predicts two witnesses who will convert thousands, probably in Jerusalem at the Wailing Wall. He believes the U.N. shut down the Wall to prevent them from spreading the Word. (As you may recall, the U.N.'s pretext for shutting down the Wall was that two men were burned to death there. Bruce says the Bible tells us the Witnesses will have the power to defend themselves with fire from Heaven). Buck says he will go to investigate. Chloe, all clingy, asks him to let someone else go.

We need to think about this for a moment. It is the clear premise of the story that the prophecies of the Bible are predestined and cannot be stopped. Any attempt to interfere with Carpathia is futile. But the fates of individuals are not predestined, so we should try to save as many souls for Heaven as possible. OK, I follow that far, and from its own perspective it makes sense. But if the Bible also prophecies that the Witnesses will succeed in preaching and will convert thousands, then clearly Carpathia is powerless to stop them, and we don't need Buck to go risking his neck to turn them loose. Or am I missing something.

Anyhow, Carpathia now has a plane, courtesy of the U.S. government. Bruce proposes that Ray become his pilot in order to spy on him. Ray indignantly refuses and walks out, saying it would be like driving Jack the Ripper door to door to kill people. Bruce follows, telling him that Nicolae will do the same thing regardless of who is his pilot, and who would you rather have, someone who thinks he's a god, or someone who knows the truth. Ray walks off, still saying no.

Bruce goes back in, to see Buck and Chloe standing very close, but not actually touching, doing a standard scene in which she begs him not to go and he says he will stay alive for her. Bruce looks a bit suspicious when he walks in, and they guiltily move apart. Now we do about the opposite of the scene with Bruce and Ray. Buck says his old boss want to arrange a meeting with Carpathia. (So Steve Plank is Buck's really repulsive boss who we saw in the first movie. Score one for Carpathia giving him a makeover and some decent professional manners). This time Bruce tries to discourage him, says its just too dangerous. So when Ray wants to stay away from Carpathia, Bruce encourages him to get close, and when Buck wants to get close, Bruce wants him to stay away. Is there some logic here, or is Bruce just being mindlessly contrarian?*

Let me add for the record that I like the basic framework of the dual protagonists, especially if one has privileged access to the corridors of power and the other does not. It would work very well to have Buck playing the part of Carpathia's media liaison while secretly acting as a spy, and Rayford out leading the Tribulation Force. Ray could show us the End Times at the street level and Buck could show us the privileged perspective at the top. Unfortunately, as I understand it, both will get inside access to the corridors of power and we will lose sight of the street-level view of the end of the world.

So, while the men go off on their heroic missions (or heroic refusal), Chloe tries to contribute something by working at the church's first aid station, tending to the wounded. Alas, she is not up to the job. When the fire department brings in a seriously burned fireman, in great pain and to all appearances dying, Chloe loses her nerve and runs out. Overall, she seems pretty useless so far.

The cameras pass over what is supposed to be Chicago skyscrapers, but look suspiciously like miniature models to Buck's office. A woman walks in who is identified as Ivy from the last movie, and is apparently played by the same actress, but doesn't look like her at all. Ivy from the first movie had blond, curly hair, partly put up, and a triangle on her forehead. This Ivy has long, straight, brown hair and no triangle. Look, I know this movie was made several years after the first one and the actress may have changed her hairstyle, but what about a wig? And is it too much for the makeup artists to put a triangle on her forehead? But worse than that, she doesn't really act like Ivy. She might pass as a caricature of Ivy. In the first version, she dressed casually and looked faintly hippyish. Here she is wearing a mini-skirt, fringes and demin jacket and carrying a huge backpack. She looks much more out of place in the office than in the first movie. In the first movie, she teased Buck a little and played Scully to his Mulder. Her she seems really aggressive in a way we never saw in the earlier movie. I miss the old Ivy and don't like this stranger using her name.

Anyhow, Bucks new boss is the bitch from hell, a heavyset black woman called Verna Zee. She has taken an unaccounted hostility to Buck and doesn't want him to do anything, which leaves one wondering what he is doing there in that case. Buck's response is to dismissively ignore her, but Ivy (again, much more aggressive than in her earlier incarnation) lets Verna know that she isn't in charge either; orders come from New York. When Buck tries to tell Ivy the vanishings are the work of God, she plugs her ears (literally) and refuses to hear. Once again, I am not sure how the original Ivy would have reacted, probably with Scully-ish skepticism, but not with this sort of aggressive shutting-out.

Buck and Ivy agree to work on this secretly from his apartment. It turns out he has a huge high rise we didn't know about and invites Ivy to sleep on the couch (well, the guest room, but you get the picture). She squeals in enthusiasm and walks over to him, saying "Bucky, Bucky, Bucky." Can you say romantic triangle?

Fred Clark's take is here.

*To be fair to Bruce, the reason he gives is that Buck saw the murders of Stonagal and Cothran and is the only person Carpathia could not brainwash into thinking it was a suicide. What if Carpathia finds out Buck is not fooled?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Tribulation Force, the Movie, Part 1

Well, so much for Left Behind. The sequel is entitled Tribulation Force, from the organization the characters for to deal with the last days. Since Tribulation Force was made several years after Left Behind, Clip 1 is mostly just expository flashback, reminding the audience what happened in the original movie. As such, expecting it to be any good is really asking too much, but here goes.

During the credits, we see bulletin board with missing notices, asking about lost loved ones, then a fireball (huh?) and then switch to Buck, in his role as a TV reporter, reminding the audience what has happened. It has been a week since the Rapture. He reminds us of the situation as of the end of the last movie -- hundred of millions disappeared, including every child on the planet, car accidents, plane crashes, general breakdown in law and order, overwhelming crime wave, mass suicide (okay, we didn't see those last three in the movie but they do, indeed, seem a highly plausible reaction to the disappearances).

Carpathia is watching. With him are Hattie (now with her hair down again) and his press secretary, later identified as Steve Plank. I can't quite tell whether this Steve Plank is the same guy who was Buck's boss in the first movie. I raise the question because in the novel, Buck's boss, Steve Plank did, indeed, go to work for Carpathia. If this one is the same guy, he is a lot better groomed than in the first movie and more professional. (Buck's boss was really repulsive in the first movie). Anyhow, Carpathia is much impressed with Buck and wants him to work for him.

Buck ends his broadcast by saying that for the first time in his career, he doesn't know what to say or where to begin. This is apparently a deviation from script; a woman in the sound room doesn't know what to make of it. Rayford and Chloe are watching, and clearly being born again has not ended conflict in the family. Chloe still has a lot of resentments against her father.

As Buck leaves the studio, we see signs of the social breakdown that (Fred Clark constantly complains) were not present in the novel. Trashed streets, overturned cars, random fires, often burning cars. A handful of youths are breaking into a van. Uniformed men with machine guns (police? U.N. troops?) gun them down. Buck tries to stop them, too late. "They were just kids." Clearly stern measures are being used to stem the general breakdown. This, too, seems plausible.

Next morning a talk show is going on. Apparently the U.N. has shut down the Wailing Wall after three men were mysteriously burned to death there. The talk show participants debate whether the U.N. was justified. Bruce Barnes looks up with interest. As Buck walks in to work, past the broadcasters, Steve Plank (now identified by name) is waiting for him, gives Buck his card, and says Carpathia wants to talk to him.

Buck goes into his office, turns on his screen, and sees various U.N. delegates, begging Carpathia to become world leader and adopt a single world currency. Carpathia humbly and grudgingly agrees, then proceeds to call for universal peace and disarmament, and "to put aside all their racial, social, political, and, the deadliest of all, religious differences." He then says there is no Heaven or Hell, only us here and now. (Hm, somehow I don't think that is the best way to get people to set aside difference). And then, "Together we need not fear temptation or evil, for ours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever, amen." Buck and Bruce look on in alarm, apparently only realizing now that this is the Antichrist speaking. (Um, wasn't that made clear in the last movie?) It also really surpasses belief that Carpathia would think no one would notice the blasphemy and take offense or alarm at it. A crowd of indeterminate size applauds (close ups show a lot more people than we actually see in the U.N. when the camera pulls back).

In New Hope Church, at night, there are candles on the altar. (Do RTC's do that? I asked in the comments and basically got the answer that some do and some don't). Rayford is alone, praying. He sees and hears flashbacks, reminding us again of the Rapture from the last movie. And then Loretta, his raptured wife, walks up to him.

End of part one. Here is Slacktivist's take.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Left Behind, the Movie: The 11th and Final Part

So, we come to the end. Carpathia has just killed Cothran and turned the gun on Stonagal. After a little more taunting, he kills his primary prey. Then he tells his cover story, that Stonagal rushed the guard, grabbed his gun, and killed first Cothran and then himself, knowing that his evil plan to control the world's food supply was about to be exposed. Going over to Buck, Carpathia puts his hand on his shoulder and says he knew that Buck wanted to kill those men himself in revenge for his friends, but he (Carpathia) could not stand to have his new media liasion with blood on his hand. (Clearly he is counting on Buck being under his control here). And he says that the story on Stonagal is about to go on the air. Because of the story, everyone will feel sympathy for Carpathia and follow him, thanks Buck for exposing it.

Yes! This is the right way to show the prophecies coming about --Oedipus Rex style. The characters hear a frightful prophecy. They go out of their way to stop it, taking desperate action. But you can't escape inexorable fate -- the very actions they take to stop it only act to bring it about. Buck has tried to head off Stonagal's evil plans, only to learn that his attempt has facilitated Carpathia doing something even worse. (It's also a useful lesson for any future sequel to remind people of the futility of trying to stop the inevitable). So kudos here for a job well done.

Then we get to see Carpathia's mind control powers in serious action. After giving his account of what happened, he says, "How terribly sad," and makes his mind control gesture at everyone in the room. Everyone starts saying, "How terribly sad," except Buck, who looks around, baffled. "It's time to change history," Carpathia says. Guards standing outside hear a shot (how come they didn't hear the earlier shots?) and everybody scream. They rush in to see general pandemonium and Carpathia, weeping over Stonagal's body. They drag him off and tell the others to leave.

As everyone files out of the room, Buck asks Rosensweig and Hattie what happened. They are both fully under Carpathia's control and saw only what he wants them to see. They both (especially Hattie) have a sort of fake sound, like someone not speaking his or her own words, but canned lines they have been fed by their controller. Nicolae puts a comforting hand on Hattie's shoulder. In the book, it is made clear she is his kept woman. Here, there is nothing to suggest their relationship is anything other than purely professional. Buck walks out as other reporters gush about how wonderful Carpathia is.

The rest of the movie is decidedly anti-climactic. We hear a voice over of Buck saying, "Everything the Bible predicted is happening. If this is true and the Antichrist is coming to power, then this is just the beginning. The next seven years are going to be the worst that mankind has ever seen. Our only hope is to join together and trust God." As he speaks, he leaves the U.N. and returns to Chicago and the New Hope Church. Chloe greets him with a hug that looks more like friendship than a promise of future romance. Rayford and Pastor Barnes are both there, too. We end with soaring music and a soaring view of the church, and go on to the credits.

This is not, of course, a very satisfactory ending. It is a resolution only to the extent that the main characters have all been born again and Buck has safely escaped the Antichrist's clutches. But it strongly suggests horrors (much worse horrors) to come and so ends on the sort of note that is meant to set you up for a sequel. That, of course, will come next.

Here is Slacktivist's take.

Left Behind, the Movie: Part 10

The last segment of Left Behind was so much fun I fear this one can only disappoint by comparison. In fact, I had to go back to Slacktivist to remind me when the segment leaves off and the final one begins.

Back in Chicago, Chloe is worried about Buck and wishes there was something they could do for him. Her father suggests they pray. They pray in the church sanctuary. Incidentally, in the last segment Fred Clark complained that a church that had been empty days ago is now serving as a first aid station and crowded with injured people. I didn't think it was all that implausible. But now the sanctuary is empty again, so they can pray in private. No that's implausible.

Buck stumbles into the restroom, dazed, realizing now that it's all true. He sits down, uncertain and issues his uncertain prayer, "God, I've never prayed before. I don't know what to say. I'm so sorry. Please forgive me. I just know I need you. And I believe. Just show me what to do." That is, as I understand it, the sort of prayer RTC's encourage new converts to make, except that it does not invoke Jesus Christ or taking him as your personal savior. Has Buck done that? They really haven't said much about Jesus at all, much less taking him as your personal savior. Either way, Buck has been crying. He gets up, looks in the mirror, dries away the tears, and goes to face what lies ahead.

Stepping out, he sees Carpathia, Hattie, Rosensweig, the sinister guard and other escorts. Carpathia says he has a private meeting before the press conference and wants Buck there when he confronts Stonagal and Cothran. Buck does not show any fear or revulsion, so he may still not suspect, despite Carpathia's bizarre remark about seven years of peace. Carpathia tells the guard to stay close to Mr. Williams, so I can only assume he does not fully trust Buck.

They go into a room of conspicuously international-looking delegates sitting around a table, along with Stonagal and Cothran. Carpathia takes a seat, along with Buck and Hattie, while the guards stand. The bankers are not happy about Buck's presence, but Carpathia tells them that Buck will be their new media liasion. Carpathia, pacing around the table, says we are going to turn the world into a paradise, with 10 oasis regions, where each delegate will have complete control and there will be true global peace and community. Buck is looking increasingly uneasy as he speaks, apparently beginning to suspect. But it is only when Carpathia yet again says, "This marks the beginning of our seven years of peace,"* what Buck's suspicions become clearly identified. We get a flashback to Bruce Barnes taking about the prophecies, and Buck sees how clearly Carpathia fits them. And, indeed, Carpathia is now telling the delegates that they will be kings and queens in their new regions (the 10 kings!). The prophecy also said that the Antichrist will declare himself God. We get to that when Stonagal protests -- he never agreed to that. Carpathia says the bankers are serpents in his garden of paradise, using unity and prosperity for their own gain. At this point, he drops the mask and makes clear he is a power-mad despot, ready to crush anyone who stands in his path.

What follows comes directl from the original. Carpathia asks a guard (not the sinister one, an innocent fellow) for his sidearm. The bankers begin to be alarmed. Rosensweig rises to protest. "Sit down, Chaim," Carpathia says, and Rosensweig sits down, holding his hand to his head in a way that suggests he is not in complete control of his actions. This is our first real indication that Carpathia has mind control powers.** "Ms. Durham," he says to Hattie, "would you please step back. I wouldn't want that suit to be soiled." I can't tell whether she steps back of her own volition, or under his mind control. Stonagal is apparently not under Carpathia's mind control; when ordered to kneel, he refuses. Cothran starts to stand, and Carpathia blows him away. (Off camera; it is apparently against RTC rules to show actual violence on camera, a reasonable rule in most cases, but a bit awkward when making a movie about the end of the world!)

Buck rises to his feet, "Someone has to stop this!" Carpathia makes the same gesture and command to him, and the sinister guard pushes him back into his seat. Presumably Carpathia believes he has Buck under his mind control, too. So now he prepares for the final showdown with Stonagal.

I think in this case the final segment begins in the same place for both Fred Clark's version and mine.

*I'm sorry to keep coming back to this, but it is truly mind-boggling that anyone, even the Antichrist, could say such a thing, and that he would not expect it to raise suspicion.
**So why have I alluded to them before? Because the intended viewers of the movie presumably had read the book, and I read Fred Clark's review of the book, so we both know about them in advance.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Left Behind, the Movie: Part 9 continued

To continue.

Buck has gone off to the U.N. to warn Chaim Rosensweig that Stonagal and Cothran are going to use his formula to corner the market on food. Buck arrives just in time to see Carpathia elected Secretary General. As Buck heads to see Rosensweig, the same sinister assassin who has been stalking Buck but taking care not to kill him steps in the way. He is under orders not to let Rosensweig be disturbed. We do not learn what dreadful fate he has in mind for Buck because Hattie, now dressed in a suit with her hair in a bun, intervenes. She is no match for him in a muscle and intimidation contest, but she says she acts on behalf of Carpathia, so he backs down. In the book, Hattie promptly becomes Carpathia's kept woman. Here, there is nothing to suggest their relationship is anything but purely professional. She is radiantly happy in her new job. A little too happy. And her admiration of Carpathia is a little too worshipful. Clearly she, too, has fallen under his spell and is under his mind control.

Buck reports the plan to Rosensweig, who is suitably horrified and says they will have to tell Carpathia. Carpathia reads it on Buck's laptop and is stunned. He paces about, appalled, saying it is unbelievable, and how painful it is to turn against his mentors and his friends. But he agrees that Buck has no reason to lie and orders the story published. Conspiracy exposed! Catastrophy averted! Buck breathes a sigh of relief as Carpathia leaves to have it done.

His relief is short-lived. No sooner has Carpathia left, then Buck sees that Rosensweig has the plans for the Jewish Temple. Buck is alarmed. Rosensweig assures him that they won't have to tear down the Dome of the Rock after all; the Temple's true location is right next to it. He makes clear that this is every Jew and Israeli's fondest dream. I'm not convinced. Yes, in theory every Jew is supposed to live for the day the Temple can be rebuilt. Some would actually do it if only that pesky mosque were not in the way. But others believe that only the Messiah can rebuild the Temple, and that to rebuild it without the Messiah would be blasphemy. And others recall that rebuilding the Temple would mean a return to an archaic religion of priesthoods, incense, and animal sacrifices and kind of sort of don't really want it back. Naturally all this gets glossed over. Rosensweig is a little uncertain what will happen now that the conspiracy has been exposed.

"We proceed," says Carpathia, walking in. He says they will make food for everyone and begin rebuilding of the Jewish Temple as planned. "This marks the beginning of our seven years of peace." Buck realizes now it is all true!

Second head explosion.

This is nuts! I can't think of anyone, the Antichrist included, who would say such a thing! Granted, people do sometimes negotiate temporary cease-fires. But the goal is, in all cases, to use the break to agree to something more permanent. Often the attempt fails. But to specifically negotiate a seven year peace, intending from the beginning for it to fail?!? After all, as one commenter on the site remarked, when you say you are marking the beginning of seven years of peace, that means you intend to start a war in seven years. But that's sheer lunacy! It makes no sense, no whatever, if you intend to start a war to run around giving people seven years advance notice! That gives them seven years to prepare for it. I suppose, once again, one might say that Carpathia had read ahead and knows that the Battle of Armageddon lies ahead seven years from now. But if he knows that, why doesn't he know how it turns out? And, for the love of Mike, given that he knows the outcome, why is he going along with it?!?!?

Left Behind, the Movie, Part 9

When the last clip ended on Slacktivist, I found that I was really getting into the story. I spent the intervening week anxiously waiting the next installment, wondering what Buck would do when he learned about the prophecies. The movie did not disappoint. The next segment is my favorite. By favorite, of course, I mean the one that calls for the most trashing. Fred Clark often remarks that the movie, although bad, is nonetheless better than the book. However, the book never rises to the heights of lunacy that we see in this particular segment.*

It appears that Buck's collapse was more from exhaustion than the severity of his wounds, because we next see him in an office at the church, looking much recovered and getting his leg bandaged. Rayford, Chloe and the pastor face him, almost confrontationally, about the disappearances. The show him the videotape of the pastor, assuring his viewers that the disappeared are in Heaven, according to First Thessalonians, "The Lord himself shall descend from Heaven with a shout, with the voice of the Archangel and the trumpet of God. The dead in Christ shall rise first. Then, we who are alive and remain shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall be ever be with the Lord." (This is the usual passage cited as predicting the Rapture).

Buck is skeptical. He says the scriptures are so vague they could mean just about anything. Then Barnes drops his bombshell. Pastor Billings disappeared with the others. The video comes from three years before the disappearances. Buck is stunned. Bruce says the Bible foretells everything, including the picture on Buck's laptop that appears to be open, showing the attack on Israel. That is Ezekiel, Chapter 38. Buck realizes that the mysterious codes on each picture are actually Bible verses.

Head explode. This makes absolutely no sense whatever! Think about how those Biblical verses came to label the three pictures of the plot. I can think of three explanations, two of which are so insane they lead to head explosions.

(1) Stonagal labeled them. They are, after all, downloads from his computer. This makes no sense whatever. First of all, Part 3 makes abundantly clear that the attack on Israel was not part of his plan to control the world's food supply. In fact, it seriously disrupted the plan. So what is it doing in his computer? Come to think of it, what is the attack on Israel doing in the movie at all? Seriously, if the movie had omitted the attack altogether and simply had Buck reporting on the magic formula, the plot would have unfolded in exactly the same way. The attack has no further part in the story whatever. Its only role appears to be (a) to have some really cool explosions, and (b) to be one of the items on the PMD checklist. Second, Stonagal is clearly a very secular guy who has presumably never read the Bible and certainly doesn't know he is in a Biblical prophecy. The proof of this (as if we needed any) is that when the Rapture occurs, he has no idea what it meant and is astonished that his distribution networks are unaffacted.

(2) Carpathia labeled them. As the Anti-Christ, he presumably does know that he is living a Biblical prophecy. Um, we'll skip over any questions about the attack on Israel, except to say there is no more evidence Carpathia is involved than that Stonagal is involved. The next question is why he would put his plans in Stonagal's computer. Won't that lead to trouble when Stonagal finds out about them? But then again, maybe he figures that being the Anti-Christ, he can deal with little complications like that. But that only raises the bigger question. WHY IS THE ANTI-CHRIST DELIBERATELY FOLLOWING THE PROPEHCIES OF THE BIBLE?!? Hasn't he peeked ahead to then end?!? Doesn't he know how those prophecies turn out for him?!? Maybe we should add this to the list of things I would do as an evil overlord. I will never base my plans for world domination on any set of prophecies that culminates in my defeat. In short, this is more plausible than Stonagal labeling his plans with Bible verses, but a whole lot crazier.

(3) Dirk Burton labeled them. This one could at least potentially make sense. Of course, it would require Dirk to be an RTC. That could explain a lot. Dirk would see these plans in Stonagal's computer and realize he was dealing with the anti-Christ. He uploaded them, adding the Biblical prophecies they fulfilled. No wonder he was so frightened when he met Buck! Done right, it would make the whole thing make a lot more sense. You would have to add a few lines to signal to the audience that Dirk is one of them. He could give just a few garbles PMD prophecies, talk about "the ten kings" and "just like Daniel said." That should alert the audience, but sound like incoherent ramblings to Buck. Then he would warn Buck that people are going to start disappearing. Buck would naturally ask if that means Stonagal will be "disappearing" people. Dirk says no, they will vanish into thin air, leaving their clothes behind. Naturally Buck would take this to mean that he was completely nuts. But it would add a creepy air when his seat mate is gone, presumably to the restroom, but his clothes are still there. Now that would be alarming. It would also explain why Buck was so desperate to talk to Dirk after the vanishings, and why he would link Dirk's rants to what happened. It would make perfect sense if Dirk had foretold all that. And for those of us who are slow on the uptake, they could throw in a line or two to indicate that Dirk must have labeled the pictures. So this explanation could actually work. It has two shortcomings. First, there is nothing in the movie to indicate that Dirk is an RTC. He never says anything RTC. Presumably he was killed before the Rapture, but it is my understanding that dead bodies are raptured as well. Second, it would suggest that RTC's are crazy, or at least may reasonably seem crazy to outsiders. So much for that theory.

But I digress. The attack on Israel is foretold in Ezekiel 38. The ten useless tracts of land** will soon belong to Stonagal, as foretold in Daniel. The plans for the Jewish Temple fulfill Second Thessalonians, predicting that the Antichrist will sit in the temple of God and proclaim that he is God. Buck says whoever this Anti-Christ fellow is, he can't possibly rebuild Solomon's temple because the Dome of the Rock is there, and it will lead to all-out war. But Bruce is emphatic. The Bible says so. Logic and reason are besides the point.*** The Jews and Arabls will make peace. It says so in the Bible. "And he will confirm a covenant with the many for seven years." The exact words of the mysterious prophet right after the planes crashed in Israel! Eerie music. Buck is shaken to the core, the way people are when their world view is challenged.

And like most people whose world views are challenged, he resists. Buck says they can't just sit by and let it happen. He has to get to the U.N. and warn Chaim. The others warn him not to go, to put his faith in God, but he head out. Outside of the office, the church sanctuary is being used as a medical ward. Fred Clark is baffled. Wasn't the church empty right after the Rapture? I don't see that as a serious flaw. It simply means that Rev. Bruce Barnes needed some time after the Rapture to pull himself together. Once he did, he set up an emergency first aid station for the numerous people injured in all the accidents that had been taking place.

There is another major piece of lunacy ahead in the same segment, so I had better continue in the next post.

*On the other hand, Fred never even mentions these bits of lunacy in his review, so maybe there is some lunacy in the book that he overlooks as well.
**Some viewers looked at the tracts and found them to be a mixed bag. They cover much of the Sahara Desert, which looks pretty worthless for farming. Ditto much of the Himalayas, and the Australian outback. The same can be said for much of the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico that are included, but the land appears to extend into our bread basket in the Midwest. They also include the Argentine pampa, another great bread basket.
*** And now the segment runs out and we begin
Part 6.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Left Behind, the Movie: Part 8

As we last left our characters, Hattie had just knocked on Rayford's door, telling him she was going to the U.N. unless he gave her a reason to stay.

As they talk, Chloe appears on the stairs and overhears them. Incidentally, I should add, in the original Chloe learns about her father's flirtation with Hattie when he confesses it to her. Fred Clark is appalled at this indecent exposure. We get to avoid that distasteful business in the movie by instead having Chloe accidentally overhear their conversation. Hattie wants to get back together, now that Irene is conveniently out of the way. But Rayford is now a born again Christian and tells her this is something much bigger, and that everything he needs is right here (holding up the Bible). Rayford is apparently played by Brad Johnson, who Clark often praises for being a good enough actor to bring Rayford to life as a credible, human person. Up till now, I would agree, but he fails here. Apparently he can play a husband who is so put off by his wife becoming a born again Christian that he buries himself in work and other women, but he can't play a convincing born again Christian. Every time he tries to be sincere and passionate about his new found faith, he just ends up sounding like a phony actor. Anyhow, Hattie shows no interest in his religion. When he rejects her, she walks out, gets into the U.N. car with the U.N. driver and heads for the U.N.

Chloe, on the stairs, confronts her father. "Is that why you never had time for us?" He denies it and tries, not very successfully, to explain his estrangement from his family. He says he resented Irene's church not because he didn't understand it, but because he was jealous and didn't want her to need anyone more than she needed him. That reeks of revisionist history to me. I think the earlier part of the movie makes perfectly clear that he resented her church the same reason most people do -- he couldn't stand the preaching. Except now her church has turned out to be right, so a little revisionism is in order. He says Irene loved them very much to put up with their ridicule and still keep trying to convince them of the Truth. But Chloe raises that awkward question why they should convert, because God will send them to Hell if they don't. He insists it isn't about Hell, but that just isn't convincing. Under normal circumstances you might talk about greater love or meaning or whatever. But right now the world is going to end in seven years and if you don't take Jesus Christ as your personal savior before then, it's down to Hell with you. So yeah, it's hard to see this as anything but bribing God not to send us to Hell. Chloe is unconvinced, but alone in her room, she takes out her mother's Bible and starts to read.*

Meanwhile, in New York, Google-challenged Buck is watching Ivy's parrot while the girls do all the work. It turns out the ten tracts of land belong to the U.N. as part of its "Disarmament and Peace" initiative. (And no, the real world U.N. does not own any land). Stonagal and Cothran are underwriting an archaeological research foundation in Israel that is presumably responsible for discovering the plans to the Temple. "Why is it that these two keep coming up as good guys?" Buck asks. Ivy thinks maybe they are, but Buck knows better. Buck's phone rings, and it is Alan Tomkins in Chicago. He is heading back to New York, but Buck says no, he will come over to Chicago. (How is he getting to New York if air traffic is down? And can he rearrange his professional schedule just to accommodate Buck? Never mind, Buck going back to Chicago is one of those pieces of plot necessity you just have to accept).

Buck takes his private plane back to Chicago and meets Tomkins, an FBI agent (in the novel, he was Scotland Yard) in a bar. Also in the bar is a loud, drunken old lady attracting just a little too much attention to herself to be a mere backdrop. On the subject of the disappearances, Tomkins says (credibly enough) that officially it's radiation. Unofficially, the Agency's running scared from the top down. In other words, they don't have a clue, but have to have some sort of story to sell the public.

Dirk has been talking to Tomkins too, but not about the planes crashing over Israel. Instead, he has revealed that Cothran and Stonagal have loaned the U.N. huge amounts of money that they now intend to call in. Apparently they have a mortgage on the ten useless tracts of land the U.N. owns and now they mean to foreclose. (How?) Why do they want ten worthless tracts of desert? Buck realizes that with Rosensweig's formula the worthless desert can become a bread basket, just like Israel. They are trying to corner the market on food! (Yeah, I figured that out back in part 3. What I didn't think about was where they would find the land to use the formula. And what Buck doesn't realize is that they are artificially creating the famine in the first place). Buck says that they are using Carpathia like a puppet, and he has to warn Rosensweig. As the bar keeper a little too conspicuously escorts the drunken old lady out, Tomkins tells Buck to let the professionals handle this; they are going to a safe house.

The two of them step outside. Tomkins gets in his car, but Buck is accosted by the drunken old lady, begging for a little money. As Buck deals with the very insistent old lady, Tomkins gets into the car. As soon as he turns the keys in the ignition, it blows up. Buck is knocked down by the explosion and injures his leg. The creepy stalker who shot at Buck looks down from the window, pleased. We also get a closeup of the old lady, looking knowing. So it appears, once again, that the stalker wants to frighten but not kill Buck, and that he sent the old lady to create a diversion and keep him from getting into the car when it blew up. Don't ask me why.

The next morning, he staggers to the Steele's door, saying he is sorry to come here, but the Steeles are the only ones "they" don't know. While Rayford looks out to see if anyone has followed Buck, Chloe helps him to the couch. Buck struggles to warn them about the plot, but falls silent. Presumably he either passed out or is in too much pain to speak. Chloe says they have to get him help. Rayford, recognizing that it would be too dangerous to take him to a hospital, proposes the emergency center the New Hope Church has set up.
I must admit that watching this for the first time and reading Fred Clark's comments, I was sitting on the edge of my seat by the time this segment ended. What would follow was obvious. Buck was about to learn about the PMD prophecies. What would he make of them? Would he start to suspect Carpathia. I passed an anxious week, wondering what was going to happen next.

*Actually, we see this after the scene in New York with Buck, but I though it would be more economical and show more continuity to put them together.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Left Behind, the Movie: Part 7

To continue.

We see the Reverend Bruce Barnes, who has been Left Behind. That raises the obvious question of why. The real answer, of course, is plot necessity. Someone has to be around to explain the PMD prophecies to our main characters and let them know what to expect. But anyone who knows this stuff should have been raptured, leaving the Left Behind to flounder. So the story needs some sort of fallen RTC who knows all the prophecies but was excluded. And since you can't actually say he was left behind as a matter of plot necessity, you ought to have some sort of dramatic story about how he went wrong. According to Fred Clark, he just doesn't cut it. He confesses to a host of petty sins like skimping on his tithes and lying to his wife about it; just dropping a few dollars in the collection plate to look good; only visting the sick, studying scriptures and evangelizing as part of his job and not on his spare time; and reading pornographic magazines. Look, I understand what they are trying to do here, really. They're making the point that God has high standards, and that their church is full of people who meet them. But God's high standards and the high quality of people in their church have to be offset against the basic Christian principle that we are all sinners in need of foregiveness (or, less harshly, all imperfect and God understands). I mean seriously, do they actually expect us to believe that in the entire church not one member other than the assistant pastor ever skimped on tithes; lied to his wife; passed up opportunities to visit the sick, study scripture or evangelize; or looked at pornography?!? Really!?!? Sorry, I don't buy it.

Anyhow, the movie doesn't even try to explain why he didn't make it. It does, however, give him quite a powerful seen to rant and rage at being Left Behind. He rages at himself for not making the cut, which is plausible enough. But really, I would expect him also to rage at the rest of the congregation for being better than he was, at God for not accepting at him, at himself for being angry at God, and really at everyone. He does show a flash of what could be seen as anger at God -- throws a ball at the cross on the alter and knocks it down -- but mostly his anger is directly at himself. "Knowing and believing are two different things," he says. It sounds profound, but I don't have a clue what it means. Finally, he drops to his knees, tearfully begs God's forgiveness, and says "Use me, please." Rayford has quietly walked in during all this and taps him on the shoulder. Barnes turns around, presumably expecting to see Jesus behind him and sees Rayford instead and sees he can be of use.

Together they watch an "in case of rapture" video the chief pastor, Rev. Vernon Billings left. Rev. Billings is also black. (Fred assures us that this is highly unrealistic. Black people do, indeed, tend to be Evangelical Christians, but PMD theology is almost entirely a white phenomenon). He assures viewers who have lost loved ones that they were not seized by an evil force or an invasion from outer space.

Meanwhile, in New York, Buck has vainly tried to reach Alan Tomkins.* When he is unable to get through, he heads for Ivy's apartment. She first tries to bean him with a frying pan, but he ducks. When she sees who he is, she hugs him, relieved. She and her black roommate (lesbian partner?) let him in. He says someone tried to kill him, and Ivy goes right back to their Mulder and Scully routine. That was bad enough after the entire Arab airforce fell out of the sky. After the disappearance of so many people, it just doesn't work at all. Ivy seems to understand that things aren't normal, why else would she have attacked any stranger at the door with her frying pan and then been so glad to see it was Buck? So why is she still doing the skeptic role?

"I've got a lead on the vanishings," Buck says, pulling out the mysterious disk. The trouble with that, of course, is that so far there is nothing, not a thing whatever, to suggest that Dirk Burton's paranoid ravings had anything to do with the vanishings. Granted there is evidence they are more than just paranoid rantings. He warned about a world currency, after all, and shortly after Europe joined currencies with Korea. And someone obviously thought he was getting close enough to something big that they killed him. But none of this in any way shape or form has any logical connection with the vanishings. (Buck himself admits that it is "shaky" and "insane.")

They gather around the computer. First we see arrows moving in on Israel indicating the recent attack.** Next, we see a map of the world with some areas shaded. Ivy's roommate notices that the map is labeled "dan7" and wonders what it means. Buck assumes it is "some kind of code." The intended audience presumably recognizes it as meaning Daniel, Chapter 7. That is, in fact, very strange, but since the three of them understandably fail to recognize its meaning, that can wait till later. Then they see a mysterious building. Buck wonders what it is. As Ivy researches further, we cut to the United Nations.

At the United Nations, Carpathia is showing the plans for that very building to Rosensweig. It is none other than the Jewish Temple. (With a cross in the floor plan?) Presumably Carpathia took Stonagal's private jet from London to New York and was thereby spared any inconvenience from the Rapture. How and when Rosensweig went to the UN, let alone why, is not explored. Rosenweig is stunned and overcome with gratitude. Rebuilding the Temple represents everything he has ever dreamed of. But he still won't give up the formula because Israel's enemies surround her enemies, the disappearances, the turmoil. (What does any of that have to do with the formula? Don't ask). Carpathia assures him that Israel's enemies will lay down their weapons when they receive the formula. He isn't very logical or convincing, and Rosensweig looks most uncomfortable, but ultimately appears to yield. I think the point is supposed to be that Rosensweig is falling under Carpathia's spell and no longer in control of his own actions.

Meanwhile, Ivy has figured out that the plans are for the Jewish Temple. She and Buck explain to each other (or to Ivy's roommate?) that the site is occupied by the Islamic Dome of the Rock, and that tearing the Dome down would cause a major war. Buck (who apparently doesn't know how to do a Google search) asks the girls to tie all this to the international bankers, so they say, "Follow the money, honey."

Rayford, coming home from seeing the video, knocks on Chloe's door.*** He tells her he knows where Mom and Raymie are -- in Heaven with God. He tries to get her to watch the videotape, and to at least pretend to take an interest for him, as she did for her mother. Chloe is unconvinced.

On TV, Carpathia is blaming the disappearances on radiation from nucular (yes, the great, polished, cosmopolitan Carpathia says "nucular") weapons testing and he is therefore calling for complete "nucular" disarmament. He is also working with his friend, Chaim Rosensweig to make sure that everyone is fed. "At last," Ivy says, "someone is making sense." She calls him "a good man." Buck is about to agree when Carpathia stands up and two anonymous figures who were standing behind him turn out to be Stonagal and Cothran. (They must have gotten over to New York in their other private jet). Buck watches them shake hands and for the first time begins to doubt Carpathia.

Hattie knocks on the door at Rayford's house. At first he seems happy to see her. She tries to act concerned, asks about his family. He says his daughter is still here, but his wife and son are gone. Hattie comes in and expresses an obviously insincere regret. She says she's going to the UN unless he offers her a reason to stay.

End of part 7. Slacktivist take is here.

*I simplify the chronology a little. We actually see the church scene, then Buck trying to call Tomkins, then the video, and then Buck visiting Ivy.
**But Cothran made very clear to Stonagal that they were not involved in the attacks, and that the attacks actually interfered with their plans. So what are they doing in the computer, as if Stonagal planned them?
***And here we end this clip and start
part 5.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Brief Note on Ron Paul (Since I Seem to Be Obsessed on Him)

Another thing that worries me about Ron Paul. I am not really worried about Ron Paul or the followers he inspires ending the Fed or instituting a gold standard. I am worried about them tying the Fed's hands to ensure that the next time we have a financial crisis, it can't keep us from plunging into a new Great Depression. That has been the whole, overall thrust of the audit the Fed crowd. They are furious at it for saving the economy and want to make sure that never happens again.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Left Behind, the Movie: Part 6

On to part 6.

Back at the airport, Ken Ritz is a private pilot auctioning off a ride to a large crowd of desperate people. Consider what this says about Ritz. We know now what it is to have all air traffic shut down following 9-11. There were, indeed, a lot of stranded passengers desperate to get home. But the roads were working. The phone systems were working. Original casualties were overestimated by a factor of more than three because of mistaken reports of people in the World Trade Center or Pentagon, but unless you had family or friends working in (or visiting) either place, you could be confident they were safe. Left Behind raises that by a a factor of, well, many. Not only is all air traffic stopped, the highways are littered with wreckage. Instead of four planes crashing, there are more than anyone has counted. The phone lines have crashed under the sheer volume of calls. Every child has disappeared. No one knows which adults have or have not disappeared. Everyone is going crazy with anxiety over loved ones. And Ritz is exploiting the tragedy by auctioning off a ride to a frantic mob. So why does he come across as so likable?

Anyhow, while everyone else is bidding in the 4 to 5 thousand range, Buck offers $25,000, which no one else can approach. Ritz recognizes Chloe (he knows her father, remember), and she points out that Buck is "Mr. GNN himself." "Oh, yeah, you're the guy who does the news updates during football games." I like that detail. It reminds us that not everyone follows the news; lots of people think of it as just an annoying distraction from football games. Buck and Chloe say their farewells that faintly hint of romance to come.

Ritz takes Buck off to his private plane, talking about what caused the disappearances. He thinks it's aliens, which, he points out, is no crazier than what anyone else has proposed, "Alternative dimensions? Terrorist kidnappings? Nostradamus prophecies? Come on." These all seem like a reasonable response. So why haven't we heard about these theories from anyone else? Why isn't everyone asking exactly the same thing? Ritz says that someone on the radio suggested it was from the Bible, that two men could be standing in a field, one taken and one left standing, or two women in the kitchen, one taken, one left with the dishes.* He also comments that all children are gone. Buck tries to figure out what all the missing adults have in common. Ritz wonders if they are coming back, or if other people are going to disappear, too. And, if so, how do you hide from it. All very good question that you would expect most people to be asking. In fact, really, the fear of more disappearances should be leading to rampant paranoia. Buck, thinking, then says, "Maybe the common factor isn't in those who were taken. Maybe it's in those who were left behind."

I think this is supposed to sound profound, but actually it makes no sense at all, least of all from the perspective of the movie. The common factor, is, in fact, among those who were taken and not among those who were left behind. All adults who were taken were born again RTC's. All those left behind had only two things in common -- (1) they were all adults and (2) they were not oorn again RTC's. Unless the point is supposed to be that not being an RTC is a bigger common factor that being an RTC, this sentence is nothing but a red herring that never goes anywhere.

Back in Chicago, Chloe is in Raymie's school, sitting at his desk, looking at his things and crying. Her father shows up frantic looking for her. Chloe says she had to go looking for them, anywhere they could be. Rayford is starting to get an inkling that maybe Irene was right and suggests that they go to the church. Chloe either thinks he is making fun of Irene or doesn't want to face it; she walks off to be at home when they get back. Rayford looks at the pictures on the wall, saw that his son proudly drew a picture of his father in his pilot's uniform, and once again regrets all the times he neglected Raymie while he was still around.

Meanwhile, in New York, Buck goes to Dirk Burton's house to find it trashed and Dirk on the floor, dead. Buck briefly indulges his grief, then takes the secret disk out of Dirk's watch. Presumably the house was trashed as Cothran's men searched for any evidence of their scheme that Dirk might have taken home. They missed the secret disk in the watch. Buck goes into the study and starts looking to files. Nothing there. The computer beeps, so he looks and sees that Dirk has sent a message to Alan Tomkins. When Buck first met with his friend, he assured him that he or "Alan" would investigate if Dirk found anything. This is apparently the "Alan" that Buck was referring to.

What Buck doesn't realize is that in the street below, the same sinister figure who was watching him and Dirk meet in the abandoned warehouse is now training his rifle on Buck and following him throughout the room. He finds out when he goes to follow the e-mail Dirk send and the assassin turns the scope from Buck to the monitor. The monitor blows out. Buck dives to the floor. The assassin then shoots out a picture, a flower vase, and possibly other targets, not including Buck. (We hear several shots, but only see these three hit their targets. For the other shots, the camera is on Buck hiding on the floor). Then the assassin smiles. Apparently he was not supposed to kill Buck, just give him a good scare. Mission accomplished.

In Chicago, Rayford pulls up to the church and hesitates to go in. I am no connoisseur of churches, but Fred Clark assures us this one looks nothing like a typical RTC church. Typical RTC churches look like auditoriums. This one is clearly not a Catholic church. There are no niches with statues of saints, no Stations of the Cross, no stained glass windows with Biblical scenes, no crucifix. But their are pews. A vaulted, soaring ceiling. Stained glass windows with abstract designs. An alter and communion rail, with a bare cross behind them. These are apparently the marks of a mainline Protestant church -- Lutheran, Presbyterian, Methodist, or something of the sort.

And in the church, there is one person. The rest of the congregation has disappeared. All alone and Left Behind is Bruce Barnes, the pastor we saw coming to Raymie's birthday, sitting in a carven seat in front, bouncing a ball, and saying, "Oh, God, what a fraud I am." The Slacktivist version cuts off before the rant really gets going, so I will cut off here to.

*Matthew 24:36-41. "“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left." This really does sound like a description of the Rapture. Yet the doctrine of the Rapture dates back no further than the 1830's. So how did Christians interpret this passage before then? Clark does not say, except to call it "a good description of the human condition throughout the entire history of this mortal race." I think this means he interprets it to mean you should always be ready to meet our Maker because we never know when you might die. You could be out working in the fields (if you are a man) or in the kitchen grinding grain (if you are a woman) and drop dead from a sudden heart attack.