The RaptureThe Rapture (1991)

Starring Mimi Rogers, David Duchovny, Will Patton, Patrick Bauchau, Kimberly Cullum.
Written by Gerald Di Pego and Michael Tolkin.
Directed by Michael Tolkin.

Grade: D

Review by Carlo Cavagna.

Suppose that everything in the Bible is true. Literally true. If that were the case, writer/director Michael Tolkin wonders, what kind of deity is God, and what does that mean for humanity? Intriguing questions, but writer/director Tolkin fails to turn his concept into an interesting movie. The Rapture at first plays like a religious propaganda film and later a misconceived parable with bad  special effects. Although there are many possible interpretations, Tolkin likely intended The Rapture to be a criticism of the God worshiped by fundamentalist Christians, but he misses his mark by failing to fulfill the first responsibility of a filmmaker: telling a good story. Thus, his criticisms fall flat.

Mimi Rogers plays Sharon, a telephone operator bored with her monotonous job. To add excitement to her life she and her boyfriend Vic (Patrick Bauchau) have sex with other couples. One of Sharon's sex partners is David Duchovny, who cuts a rather bizarre figure as a pouty beefcake, if you're used to his persona on The X-Files.

Sharon is a lost soul who is a stereotypically lost as she can be. Her life is like a televangelist's bizarre idea of how people without Faith must live their lives. But Sharon is not lost for long. She is visited by missionaries. She overhears work colleagues in her office talking about something called "the pearl" and a boy who prophesies the future. Suddenly Sharon wakes up in the middle of the night and has an abrupt conversion. Just like that. While revelations are supposed to be sudden, Sharon's feels hollow. Tolkin leaves too much unexplained, and doesn't build sufficiently to the moment.

After Sharon's conversion, the movie turns into a question and answer pamphlet on Christianity. In clumsily-written dialogue, the characters respond to all the basic questions. "How can I be sure there is a God?" Tolkin gives us the answer. "Why should I love God?" Tolkin gives us the answer. "Why should I love God in the face of tragic events?" Tolkin gives us the answer. Then Sharon has a vision that the end of the world is coming, and God tells her that she must go out to the desert to wait for it. There, she meets a curiously sympathetic and kind-hearted sheriff (Will Patton), who may or may not be God's true answer to her prayers.

Mimi Rogers' strong, varied performance is one of the few bright spots of the film. However, her character is extraordinarily irritating and unsympathetic. Before her conversion she is detached and aloof. After her conversion, she becomes one of those vacantly happy people who try to convert everyone around them. I have nothing against religion--I honestly don't--but the film seems like it is proselytizing, uncomfortably so. Finally, out in the desert, Sharon makes a horrible decision that strips away any shred of sympathy that one might still feel for her. At the end, when Tolkin wants us to conclude that the fundamentalists' God is not much of a god at all, you might find yourself more inclined to criticize Sharon.

It's awfully difficult to tell a story about an unsympathetic main character. Unless it's done masterfully, the audience won't want to follow the protagonist on her journey. In fact, The Rapture is vastly more intriguing if you suppose that Sharon's conversion is an elaborate self-delusion. If Sharon never has a genuine revelation but convinces herself that she does in a desperate attempt to change her life, it would explain the idiotic and unforgivable decisions she makes later, when she starts believing that God owes her something, and it would explain her attitude at the very end.

Unfortunately, there isn't much room for this sort of interpretation. For one thing, the events Sharon sees in her prophetic vision do come to pass--as do all the events foretold by the boy prophet. This suggests that her revelation is supposed to be genuine--and that's where Tolkin began to lose me. I do believe that it is possible to have a revelation. I believe that there is Something--a greater truth, a oneness, a meaning or order to the universe--and I further believe that there are those rare people who are able to see it. But I fervently hope that whatever God exists doesn't bless only half-wits like Sharon with a vision of that Something.

Review © July 1999 by AboutFilm.Com and the author.
Image © 1991 New Line Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.

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