by Eric Forthun of Cinematic Shadows
Left Behind is another big-screen attempt at tackling the best-selling series of novels. This time, however, the story centering millions of people disappearing from Earth during the biblical Rapture aims to tell a character-driven tale for all audiences.
The film stars Nicolas Cage, Cassi Thomson, Nicky Whelan, Chad Michael Murray, and Jordin Sparks, and is the directorial debut of long-time stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong. I recently talked with the director and most of the central actors about some of their inspirations, the motivations behind the characters, and the re-emergence of religious film in cinema.
Armstrong said he loved his cast, following with: “You need a good crew to make a movie and I got Jack Green, one of the greatest cinematographers in the last few years (he was nominated for Unforgiven). I only see things big in film worlds and film visions, and I wanted to shoot this film in wide-screen. Wherever we put the camera down was a wonderful frame and we didn’t go in for all the crazy tight close-ups and things. We shot it to give the characters breathing space and we shot it with enough time for them to establish their characters and tell their stories.”
Cassi Thomson remembers a scene that utilized some stunning visuals, and remarked on the challenging nature of doing her own stunts. “I luckily got to do all of my own stunts on the film. At one point Vic had me climb this 400’ bridge, so I free-climbed to the top with a helicopter circling me with a camera and that was amazing. That’s something that I probably will never get to do again.”
Thomson plays the lead, Chloe Steele, a character that distances herself from faith and deals with the ramifications in a world now full of only non-believers. “Chloe doesn’t really have any kind of spiritual beliefs at all,” Thomson said. “Her family growing up didn’t have any faith, didn’t go to church…and then her mom (played by Lea Thompson) found her faith and it threw a wedge into the family that pushed Chloe away. Her mom and her belief in God were warning Chloe of what was coming.”
Thomson’s character remains on the ground for most of the film while other characters deal with the aftermath of the disappearances. The film largely jumps between the instances on the ground and the plane holding an eclectic batch of passengers.
One of them is Shasta, played by Jordin Sparks. “Shasta is a mother and her backstory involves her attempting to take her daughter to a safer place,” Sparks commented. “She’s trying to take her away from what’s going on with her ex-husband, so she’s just very weary of everybody on the plane. She thinks everything is a conspiracy, that everyone’s out to get her, so when she wakes up after taking a nap and her daughter’s gone, it’s upsetting. And it was really interesting for me because I’ve never played a mother before.”
Many of the characters on the plane must develop themselves in such a confined space, leading to some interesting manifestations. Nicky Whelan plays flight attendant Hattie, a promiscuous woman introduced in the first scene having a fling with pilot Ray (played by Nicolas Cage). “It’s a character-driven script as well as [an] action-packed [one],” Whelan remarked. “I think Hattie seems to be at the beginning a very basic character that’s immersed in the world of an air hostess. She loves her job, she dresses up for work…it’s a whole production. And I think the beautiful thing about this character is you want to hate her since she’s going against all of the rules. It’s clearly obvious why she doesn’t get taken in the Rapture.”
Whelan elaborated on the developments her character gets as the film progresses, delving into some specifics best left for the viewing experience of the film. There are plenty of surprises as the film goes along, particularly when the other characters realize the extent of what has happened and how it has drastically affected their world.
Nicolas Cage plays the captain, a man who has been unfaithful to his family and must learn to better himself as a man after making so many life-altering decision. “I think that that’s what I want, for people to realize that we all make mistakes but in a moment of crisis what we really want and go back to is our love for our families. That’s what pulled me into this project.”
Cage also commented on the difficulty of making such an ensemble-driven, narratively realistic story. “How you make such an extraordinary set of circumstances authentic and how you make that real was a tremendous challenge,” he said. “We had to play it almost cinéma vérité, in that this is really happening, we’re believing in this situation, and we need to convey that to the audience. I’ve always been attracted to movies that aren’t afraid to venture into the unknown.”
The cast and crew are passionate about their film and believe that it is an important story to tell, particularly as other shows and films in popular culture embrace religious ideas. Heaven is for Real, God’s Not Dead, and The Leftovers are just a few that have explored similar themes and elements, but Left Behind hopes to appeal to believers and non-believers alike.
Left Behind opens nationwide on Friday, October 3rd.