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#40: the rapture (michael tolkin, 1991)

(This is the 11th of 50 pieces that originally appeared in a Facebook group devoted to three of us choosing our 50 favorite movies. I’ll present them un-edited except for typos or egregious errors. I’ll also add a post-script to each.)

It’s a bit hard to write about The Rapture here, because I’ve written about it before, and I don’t want to repeat myself. But I think I got it right back in the day, so I confess to a bit of cut-and-paste here.

One warning: it is impossible to discuss this movie without revealing key plot points, so there will be spoilers for this 20-year-old film.

The Rapture is a movie that refuses the easy solution. Mimi Rogers plays Sharon, a bored and jaded directory-assistance worker who becomes disillusioned with her life, and discovers a religious cult that believes in the upcoming 'rapture' whereby the true believers will be whisked up to heaven forever. The hook is that writer/director Michael Tolkin takes this scenario and goes for something more complicated, more disturbing. He accepts the apocalypse; the rapture in his movie is real, not imagined, and he does not condescend. The believers are correct, the rapture does happen. But by the conclusion of The Rapture Tolkin has demonstrated in no uncertain terms that the demands of the God of the apocalypse are too great, too inhumane, too ghastly to accept. When Sharon refuses salvation, she does so because God is wrong; God exists, but God is wrong. She turns her back on God, and the audience is fully aware of what she is giving up: eternal life in heaven.

To appreciate how groundbreaking Tolkin’s approach is, imagine how the movie would play if it were just another film in the “Left Behind” style. The rapture would reward the righteous, and the sinful would be punished. Or imagine how it might look as a standard “Hollywood godless liberal” movie. The rapture would never happen, and the believers would be seen as deluded fanatics. To instead make a film where the rapture is real, but God is bad? That’s a different kind of movie entirely.

After The Rapture, most other attempts to confront the apocalypse seem a little shallow. Confronted with salvation, real and tangible, yet also with full knowledge of what is demanded of the believer, The Rapture simultaneously believes and rejects. To do one or the other is simple; to do both is impossibly heartbreaking and startlingly brave.

As Tolkin once commented on my blog, “The scandal of the film was that those who don't believe in God could tell themselves that Sharon was delusional, until the end.”

Mimi Rogers delivers in the starring role, and David Duchovny also pops up. The special effects at the end of the film, when the apocalypse occurs, are very inexpensive (I wouldn’t say they were cheap, though, and I find them quite evocative). But in this case, the low budget is probably essential to the film’s greatness, for, as Roger Ebert noted, a higher budget would have required a safer, less daring production.



Comments were generally positive about the movie, although in most cases, people couldn’t remember much about it. I guess that’s to be expected; they hadn’t obsessed about the film for 20 years like I have.




As I probably didn't say on the original comments thread for this (I know I commented, can't recall what I said, though), your thoughts on this movie over the years have been extremely persuasive and thought provoking. I know I'm going to watch this movie at least once more before I die (I've seen it twice, ten years or so spread apart), and I'll no doubt be referencing your review(s) of it when I do.

Steven Rubio

That's pretty much what you said in the comments (I'm cheating, I've gone back and re-read them).

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