Saturday, July 26, 2014

Classicis Revisited: The Rapture (1991)

The Rapture (1991)
Directed by: Michael Tolkin.
Written by: Michael Tolkin.
Starring: Mimi Rogers (Sharon), David Duchovny (Randy), Patrick Bauchau (Vic), James Le Gros (Tommy), DeVaughn (First Boy), Christian Benz Belnavis (Older Boy), Will Patton (Deputy Foster), Kimberly Cullum (Mary).

Given how big a role God and Religion play in American life, it’s somewhat odd that there have been so few films made that take questions of faith seriously. Older, European filmmakers like Carol Dreyer, Robert Bresson or Ingmar Bergman took questions of faith seriously, and built their careers around exploring them through film. But in America, there haven’t been many. Perhaps it’s because of the fury that greeted a film like Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) – that dared to portray Jesus as a man plagued by doubt, and was tempted by a normal life, before accepting his place on the cross. The recent reaction to Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is another example – Aronofsky followed in Scorsese’s footsteps and made a film about a man who isn’t sure he can do what he is being asked by God to do – and was attacked by idiots who didn’t like that Aronofsky didn’t use the word God (although he did – once – and referring to him as The Creator is more in keeping with Jewish tradition) or that he didn’t make a shiny happy version they remember from their children’s books (because a story about nearly all of life on the planet being destroyed should, of course, be happy). When religious films are made at all in America, they’re usually those low rent, indie movies like the Left Behind films or the recent God’s Not Dead that (by all accounts, since I’ve haven’t seen the later yet) don’t really challenge their audiences, but rather congratulate them on their beliefs.

Michael Tolkin’s The Rapture from 1991 is that rare American film then that actually does take questions of faith and God seriously. In many ways, the film is deeply flawed – and not just by the admittedly poor special effects near the end of the film, that can be explained by the film being fairly low budget. It’s also flawed in that every character other than the main one – Sharon played by Mimi Rogers – is one dimensional, and rather flatly acted (the little girl in the film delivers one of the most annoying child performances I’ve ever seen). The film doesn’t even seem to address one of its main characters conversion to Christianity – it just uses a flash forward of several years and he’s been magically converted. Yet flaws aside, The Rapture is a fascinating film – and one that has the courage to follow the path it set to the only logical conclusion. It is hardly a great film – yet perhaps it’s something even more rare – an film that offers a completely unique view on God and religion.

The film stars Rogers as Sharon, who leads a life that has become monotonous and repetitive. Her job is as a phone operator, where she says the same basic sentences over and over again as she looks up numbers for callers. At night, she and her “boyfriend” Vic (Patrick Bauchau) head out to the bars and find couples to swing with. The non-stop party and sex have become boring to her though – and she starts to think that perhaps there is more to life. She overhears people talking about “The Pearl” and “The Boy” – and knows that this is something to do with God. She becomes determined to find God and leave her life of sin behind her. She finally has the visions the others have been talking about – and becomes obsessed with The Rapture. She wants it come now. She pretty much drags Randy (David Duchovny), one of those men she met while swinging with Vic along with her – even though he expresses the belief that there is no God. The film then flashes forward 6 years – and Sharon and Randy are now married (and he’s now apparently as Christian as she is) – and have a daughter Mary. A tragedy in their life makes Sharon convinced that she has received another message from God – so she and Mary head out into the desert to await The Rapture.

The Rapture has the audacity to take those Bible thumpers who proclaim “The End is Nigh” literally – there really is a full scale Rapture at the end of this film, complete with Horsemen, the Grim Reaper, earthquakes - the whole nine yards.  Yet while it takes those doomsayers literally, it also questions their belief system as well. Sharon’s faith is proven to be correct in the film, but it also leads her to some terrifying actions – actions that she takes no responsibility for – right to the end of the film when she still demands more from God than he is willing to give.

The Rapture didn’t make a large impression on audiences in 1991 – and has pretty much been forgotten in the years since. Perhaps this is because Tolkin never became a major director – directing only one other film (The New Age in 1994 – a film I’ve never been able to find) and because Rogers never really became a major star. Rogers’s performance in the film is great though – going from hedonist to holier-than-thou and making the transition seem natural. Her performance in the final act of the movie is quietly, subtly terrifying. The rest of the performances aren’t very good though – with Duchovny a boring monotone, as is Will Patton in the final act as a kindly cop. Patrick Bachau isn’t given a real character to play, and poor Kimberly Cullum is given nothing to do but annoyingly whine through the scenes in the desert. Perhaps the film never found an audience because it was too sexual in its opening act for the religious types, and too religious in the final acts for the non-believers. Or perhaps it’s because The Rapture is a deeply flawed film on many levels. This is clearly one of those films that is far more interesting to talk about than it is to actually watch. But it is fascinating to talk about – it is fascinating to ponder its implications and should inspire lively debate among those people who aren’t absolutely convinced that their approach to God (or lack thereof) is the only one worth having (so pretty much everyone who doesn’t go on television to talk about their faith or their atheism). The Rapture is far from a great film – but it’s utterly fascinating one that takes its questions of faith and God seriously. If for no other reason than that, it deserves to be more widely known.

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