Thursday, May 26, 2011

Whoops, No Apocalypse

"You hate your job. You hate your life. But you want to feel something special ... You're rushing off to something that's not even there."
-Randy (David Duchovny) in The Rapture.

It happens every decade - some Christian guy says The Rapture is coming and I pack up all my valuables into an end-of-the-world knapsack... and then absolutely nothing happens. It's enough to make me question religion. These guys have a worse forecasting track record than local television weathermen. I, for one, want some accountability. Whoever is crying wolf, or end of days in this case, needs to be punished, or at least subjected to a shaming of biblical proportions. Now, I've discussed this matter with the two soft-spoken, over-dressed gentlemen who ride bicycles around my neighborhood and knock on my door every Saturday, but they just can't seem to give me specific dates and times when stuff is going down. Even if they could, their judgement is highly suspect already, I mean, what kind of a goofball wears dress slacks while riding a bicycle? So I  figured I'd tweek the Lord's nose this time, and in an attempt to help The Rapture arrive, I watched the movie The Rapture on Saturday when The Rapture was suppose to occur. Even if it didn't occur, I could say in all honesty, "I saw The Rapture on Saturday" (In your face Gabriel!). Now, if you're reading this post, it means the real Rapture didn't occur again, so please, let the shaming begin. If you're not reading this post due to the apocalypse, see you in hell y'all ;-)

Long before Mimi Rogers worked with David Duchovny in The X-Files, she co-starred with him in Michael Tolkin's 1991 film, The Rapture. Set in modern times, the film tells the story of Sharon (last names of characters are conspicuously absent in the film), a 411 operator, played by Rogers, who spends her days in a tedious, soul-deadening job. The subdued opening camera shot of numerous phone operators in a myriad of cubicles spoke volumes and really emphasized Tolkin's skill of storytelling and tone-setting by using a single shot. He does this again and again throughout the film in lieu of a lot of expository dialogue and it's tremendously effective. Sharon tries to make up for her dull days by spending her nights in hedonistic debauchery with Patrick Bauchau's super cynical and super sleazy Vic. I love Bauchau in everything he's in as he always seems to bring a knowing complexity to every role,  rarely playing a character that's simply good or evil, but one that always has depth. Together, Vic and Sharon prowl late night spots to find fellow swingers with which to indulge their decadents. One can easily imagine that this has been Sharon's life for many years. She is the perfect candidate to be "saved" or "born again" as her life completely lacks any spiritual component or meaning in general. Tolkin, who also wrote the script, begins her journey towards the light in a very incidental, almost random, but very believable way. First, Sharon overhears a conversation among three believers in the lunch room at work, then two evangelist solicitors show up at her apartment, then a couple she's sexually cavorting with reveal more insight into the supposed coming apocalypse. The information Sharon gleans from these people, coupled with her growing sense of existential and emotional emptiness set her on a path that will seemingly either lead to self-destruction or redemption. This is basically the first half of the film and it appears on the surface to be almost an advertisement for Christian Fundamentalism. Sharon's sordid life is the stuff hardcore Christian nightmares are made of and it's easy to see how an otherwise non-religious woman would consider a spiritual path out of her loneliness and despair. Tolkin deserves a lot of credit for creating characters who are never two-dimensional props, be they Christian or otherwise. He does not set up any straw-men or supply easy answers. In fact, the strength and point of the screenplay is in the questions it raises as a result of Sharon's decisions. Does Sharon repent? Is she saved? Does The Rapture occur? What is her role in it? And what is Fox Mulder doing sporting a mullet?

Very spoiler-ly questions, so I'll discuss in the section below. However, if you haven't seen the film, I'd highly recommend checking it out on the blind as there are some really surprising moments in the latter half that are better experienced in the dark. 
The Rapture is very well written especially the roles played by Rogers and Duchovny. Rogers does a solid acting job given the fact she really has to run the gamut emotionally. Bauchau is superb as I've said, and even former Penthouse model Carol Davis is believable in a role which oddly parallels Roger's character. Duchovny has his acting style set on low key, but it works for him here. Much of the supporting cast is excellent, particularly the bike evangelists played by Scott Burkholder and Vince Grant, the disgruntled employee, played with just the right amount of anger, by Patrick Dollaghan and Will Patton as the compassionate, but skeptical, sheriff's deputy. The movie looks very good overall, but Tolkin had to substitute symbolism a lot toward the end. That's fine since the movie is more of an intellectual piece that lends itself more to symbols than a literal visual thriller. The front-loaded sex scenes are suitably sleezy, but never get too explicit and are pretty tame by today's standards. The MPAA actually was on target for once warning of only "Strong Sensuality" in the rating's box. For those that enjoy being challenged theologically and otherwise, I'd highly recommend this film.  Score 8/10

 Spoilers for The Book of Revelation and the movie The Rapture below -

If the first half of the film is an ad for Christianity, the second half is an argument against it IMO. First off, Sharon does receive a sign from God in a dream and becomes a fervent believer. She convinces former lover Randy to also become a believer. She is filled with religious ecstasy by her new found faith, but is told by a young prophet known as "The Boy" that The Rapture is still several years away at least. In the meantime, Sharon and Randy have a daughter and several years go by. Randy is then tragically killed in a workplace violence incident. This scene is one of the most effective in the movie as it is so cold-blooded and sparks one of several engaging religious discussions in the film. Despite her loss, Sharon's faith remains as strong as ever. She subsequently sees images of her late husband in the desert. "The Boy" tells her she must go to the desert with her daughter and wait for a sign. Sharon believes this means The Rapture is coming and drives out to the desert with her daughter. With no supplies, Sharon and her daughter begin to starve and suffer from exposure. Sharon's daughter begs to go to heaven and to see her father. Sharon ultimately kills her daughter so that she will go to heaven, but can't bring herself to commit suicide, because it is the one sin that will not be forgiven. Sharon is then taken to jail. Then, in one of the ballsiest screenwriting moves ever, The Rapture comes! I love the fact that Tolkin went this far when he already had a thought-provoking and solid film completed. He could have ended the movie with Sharon in jail, ironically meeting up with a swinger who has also become born again. But Tolkin really pushed it by bringing on the apocalypse as it's laid out in The Book of Revelation. As I said, there's a lot of symbolism used, but the general idea is conveyed. Sharon winds up in a place akin to limbo where she meets her daughter who says she can go to heaven if she'll love God. Sharon refuses.
End of movie.

What should Sharon have done? Would things have worked out if she waited? Was she sincere in her conversion? Should she have converted at all? Was she insane? Was she selfless or selfish?
I've tried and tried to get my Fundamentalist family to watch this movie as I genuinely think it would spark an interesting dialogue. I've also tried to get non-religious friends to watch this for the same reason. Neither group is interested, and that's a real shame as there are many theological and non-sectarian points of interest in the film that would foster real discussion and debate about the most important of life's questions. When it comes to art like this, I guess instead of believers and non-believers, it comes down to open-minded and closed-minded. For those open to spiritual questions, I can't recommend this film enough. But even as an entertainment, it is excellent and engaging and much more interesting than waiting for the real Rapture. I think.


  1. SO glad to see someone writing about this film! I watched it last year and totally agree that it's so rich to discuss, whether you're religious or not. The film doesn't really condemn anything, but it opens up SO many questions for both sides.

    For example, did Rogers 'cheat' by killing her daughter? If she WAS being tested, then wouldn't she have failed? But WAS she being tested? It's so old testament that it's truly fascinating. I'm always intrigued by hardcore Christrians because I simply can't get over anyone using some of those earlier stories--Job, Abraham--as basis for a religion. This is a faith that has, in print, that slavery is ok, that women are lesser creatures, that a man can offer his daughter up for rape or that the very entity he worships might just destroy his life over a bet with his frenemy. And yet people use this as the basis for existence.

    The Rapture works with THAT Christianity, which might be one of the many reasons so many actual Christians would never watch it.

    Anyway, excellent post! I also love that I spent the Rapture with Last Night while you sat down with this one.

  2. Thanks Emily! The Rapture has been a favorite ever since I stumbled across it on cable back in the 90's. I know Roger Ebert is a fan, but I'm surprised it isn't at least a cult classic that gets talked about much more. You make an excellent point about the brutality and inhumanity that's rampant in Christian mythology. It does lead me to believe the religion was inspired more by powerful men with property to protect than a omnipotent but benevolent God.

    If the world really was ending, however, I'd pick Last Night as the last film I'd ever watch. It's good and bittersweet, much like life.