I recently saw the movie This is the End with my husband after hearing its creators, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. I have since heard it called Left Behind for potheads.
Years ago, I listened to the thirteen books (just found out about the prequels) in the Left Behind series. Truthfully I think I have to give Rogen and Goldberg a little bit of an edge in accuracy over Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins in their depiction of the biblical end times, because at least Rogen and Goldberg get human nature right.
In Left Behind after all the people who have accepted Christ are initially raptured, one character, a flight attendant, who remains on earth faces a terrible wasting illness that could be cured by saying the magic, “I accept Christ as my personal savior.” She refuses to do so because she is stubborn. The last book basically depicts Jesus as Godzilla squishing his enemies underfoot, so their blood spurts up and stains the hem of his robe, while all the protagonists in the novel are cheering him on as they quote Bible verses.
In This is the End, on the other hand, once the narcissistic Hollywood characters realize that all this God and Bible stuff they didn’t believe or care about is true, they immediately scramble to catch up. When Jonah Hill is possessed by the devil, actor Jay Baruchel, playing his Jewish self, picks up a cross, approaches Hill and says, á la The Exorcist movie, “The power of Christ compels you.” He has that point of reference and he uses it. Like a normal person in a horrific situation he does whatever he can think of to alleviate it.
In the real world, if people were racked with the sort of pain described in the Left Behind Series and told they could end it by saying a sentence, they would say it. They wouldn’t continue to suffer unbearable agony out of sheer stubbornness. LaHaye is betraying his own limited vision here. He doesn’t understand why people don’t become Christians when he says they’ll go to Hell if they don’t. Stubbornness is the best reason he’s been able to come up with (and I won’t even get into Left Behind’s Greek and Chilean Christian martyrs he has going to their deaths singing American Gospel songs in English. Or the fact that the “best biblical scholar in the world” studies Revelation in “all the ancient languages” even though Greek was the only ancient language it was written in, unless you count the later Latin translation, or… let it go, Kathy, just let it go…). I shudder as I think of Christians cheering the slaughter by Godzilla Jesus described in climax of Left Behind. Most well adjusted people wouldn’t. Thousands of bodies being squished under foot would look, sound and smell awful.
But LaHaye, Jenkins, Goldberg, or Rogen— none of them really understand what Revelation is all about. I think the writer of Revelation would be sad about the way Tim LaHaye, Jerry Jenkins and their progenitor, Hal Lindsay, trivialized his magnificent apocalyptic vision. (This is the End would be utterly incomprehensible to him.) Revelation was, at least partially, a letter of comfort, written in code, to desperate people who had seen their loved ones persecuted, tortured and killed for their faith—probably under either the Roman Emperor Nero in 68-69 AD or under the Emperor Domitian around 95 AD. It told them that even if it looked as though the Roman Empire was invincible, God was ultimately in control and would bring it down (btw, just where is the Roman Empire these days?) And all who had suffered and died would be raised again and God would wipe away their tears. God would create a new heaven and new earth where they would never suffer again.
So how would you make a movie about that? I wonder what trials the first century faced might still be applicable? We still have empires—economic and political that say human lives are worth less than mineral wealth or cheap labor. Could someone make a movie about God vanquishing those empires and alleviating the suffering they’ve caused?
Call me, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. I think the position of biblical exegete for your next film would be quite close to my dream job.