The Rapture February 7, 2020
1 Hr., 40 Mins.
haron (Mimi Rogers), the protagonist of Michael Tolkin’s provocative, depressing The Rapture (1991), doesn’t believe in anything. When we first meet her she’s doing her usual day’s work as a Los Angeles telephone operator. All day she repeats the same prompt: “Operator 134, what city, please? Is that a business or residence? Please hold for the number.” Come 5 she'll usually link up with her lover, Vic (Patrick
Bauchau), and they'll go prowling local bars, looking for other couples to meet up with. (They’re swingers.) Sharon doesn’t really know herself. At work, she’s disposable. And although her hedonistic evenings gives her some pleasure, she doesn’t do much outside of them to pass the off-hours. Sharon has no special skills, no hobbies. Nothing drives her. Her apartment, scarcely and generically decorated, is a reflection of her emptiness. If she died tomorrow, what mark would she leave?
Something changes in Sharon near the end of The Rapture’s first act. It’s 3 in the morning and she’s in bed with Randy (David Duchovny), a man she met through one of her swinging sessions who’s since then become more than a one-night lay. She wakes up, freakishly alert, and exclaims that she’s different now. She’s found God. She wakes up Randy, runs her bedding through the washer, takes a shower. She wants to feel clean. This is a fresh start for her. Her profligate lifestyle will be no more. She’ll devote herself to the man upstairs from now on. We look at Sharon with some skepticism. We suspect that after overhearing some religious coworkers talking about a looming Judgment Day the other afternoon, she was inspired not just by her fear that they could be right and what would happen to her soul but also by their enviable way of believing in something.
The Rapture jumps ahead six years. I won’t go into detail about what Sharon experiences, but what can be said is that she will become even more loyal to the Christian cause — eventually so loyal that the loyalty will give way to deadliness — and that the Judgment Day so talked about will actually arrive, shots of death-hungry horsemen and Purgatory and all. The Rapture isn’t the first Hollywood production to explicitly deal with faith, but I can’t think of many others that both literalize the fears even the atheistic have to varying degrees — a spiritually guided apocalypse, with God taking some and not others with Him to His Heaven — while also giving a serious outlet to the pious doubts which accompany them. Rogers formidably embodies a woman on a difficult spiritual quest.
Sharon spends so much of the feature working to find bliss; finally she finds something to give her life meaning. But when her suffering becomes even more pronounced than it was before her religious transformation, she starts to wonder what it’s all for. Even if God is real, she thinks, isn’t it hard to express your unconditional love for Him at the pearly gates when so much time on Earth has been spent, essentially, being a pawn in His games, made to suffer and hurt? There are too many rules, too many contradictions, to successfully be one of His acolytes. At the end of the film, some find redemption by merely declaring their love for God in a time of need without having spent their lives much thinking about Him, rendering the faithful’s life’s work futile, almost. The prospect of spending eternity suffering is unbearable. But it’s also unbearable to think about spending an eternity in ostensible peace while still being a mite under the thumb of a being more powerful. Can peace be true under such conditions?
The film’s unsubtlety has the potential to polarize. Personally I was shaken up by Tolkin’s boldness and conviction. Although The Rapture verges on didacticism (though Tolkin isn’t trying to persuade us to subscribe to a certain line of thinking), I welcomed it, because few movies give a voice to religious frustration with a similar directness. One is unaccustomed to watching films that ask difficult, existential questions so forthrightly — and questions that have gnawed at me most of my life, as someone who was disillusioned with religion rather quickly. The movie was unsurprisingly a commercial failure; even positive word of mouth like the kind I’m trying to espouse now still doesn’t make the feature sound that enjoyable an outing. It’s a shame for The Rapture to continue going on little seen: It’s one of the most unforgettably tantalizing movies about religion I’ve seen. A