Apocalypse, Now and Then

by Mikki Halpin

It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.

—Some pop band

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed--in a flash, in the twinkling of eye, at the last trumpet.

—Corinthians 15:51

You'd think with all the film theory going down these days that people would have thought more about how the world ends in film. If our cinematic output is so representative of our unconscious structures, with SHOWGIRLS revealing misogyny, and Oliver Stone's oeuvre revealing God knows what, why hasn't that feeling of dread, that knowledge that we are only one Bill Clinton finger-tap from being nuked to Kingdom Come, shown up in more films?

There are plenty of films about the future and more than one about the afterlife (HEAVEN CAN WAIT is among the most theologically risible), but very few about the actual Judgment Day. Is it too religious for our supposedly secular culture? The one film I could come up with that directly addresses the Big One is Michal Tolkin's much discussed THE RAPTURE (1991). Both hailed and lampooned by critics, THE RAPTURE was novelist Tolkin's first foray into directing. (His second, a sort-of-sequel titled THE NEW AGE, died with barely a box-office whimper.) The story is about a sexually active young woman, Sharon, played by Mimi Rogers, who gradually becomes involved in a cult religion. She brings her boyfriend and eventual husband Randy (David Duchovny, in the worst wig you've ever seen) into the cult with her, and soon they are living and breeding yuppie style while continuing to attend meetings.

Tolkin is a master of ethical ambiguities, as anyone who has seen THE PLAYER knows. THE RAPTURE hints that the cult might be evil, but the characters' precult life of sexual adventure is also presented as unappealing. (I've never been quite able to determine if the name Randy is a joke or not.) Sharon and Randy seem to be happy and even prosper during the middle years of the film. The heretofore ominous cult is seemingly in the background of their upwardly mobile lives. But Sharon becomes more and more devoted and begins having visions and receiving directives from the unspecified higher power.

After Duchovny is killed in an accident, Rogers becomes convinced that she must go to the desert with her daughter to die all so that they can go to heaven tout -suite. Despite the Franciscan resonances, the other characters in the film don't react to this idea with much enthusiasm. At this point, Tolkin forces us to consider whether she is hallucinating or receiving divine revelations (a common problem among saints). Out in the desert, she slaughters her daughter but doesn't have the nerve to kill herself. She explains this to the park ranger who arrests her, telling him that suicide would have prevented her from going to heaven (apparently murder isn't a problem). The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse show up right about here.

A near-catatonic Sharon languishes in jail and is romanced by the ranger. What at first seems to be an earthquake is actually Judgment Day. She and the ranger escape. They navigate a strange landscape filled with a great deal of debris and smoke. Eventually they reach a river (Styx?), where they see Sharon's daughter beckoning to them from the other side. To get to heaven, they must declare their love for Jesus, which the ranger does immediately. But Sharon, whose faith up until now has been the film's narrative thread, hesitates. She can't perform the auto de fe demanded of her, although she has asked others repeatedly to commit to her God.

Tolkin's vision of Judgment Day follows the classical Biblical prophesy in which zealots falter and the true faithful are rewarded.    </end>

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