With Judgment Day less than 24 hours away, I thought it was a good time to revisit Michael Tolkin’s 1991 fundamentalist schlock-fest, The Rapture. And I’m so glad I did: among other things, I learned that the apocalypse will be foggy, that Mimi Rogers had very nice breasts, and that Jesus hates plaque.
Spoiler Level: Total. But it’s a little late to worry about spoilers, isn’t it? Let’s face it, if you haven’t seen this already, you probably have more important things to do with your last few hours on earth.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing Of Gods and Men, one of the best movies ever made about the Christian faith. This week, I have the pleasure of reviewing one of the absolute worst.
Written and directed by Michael Tolkin (novelist and screenwriter of The Player), The Rapture stars Mimi Rogers, David Duchovny, Patrick Bachau, and assorted yak-riding, flaming-sword-wielding, nonsense-spouting others. Half soft-core porn, half fundamentalist dogma, The Rapture is an equal opportunity film: it takes the opportunity to be equally stupid about sin and salvation.
As the movie opens, Sharon (Mimi Rogers) is a telephone operator by day, skanky swinger by night, and she finds both roles strangely unfulfilling. She spends her day in a cubicle saying, “city and state, please,” and she spends her nights cruising the airport bars with her creepy wing-man Vic (Patrick Bachau), looking for open-minded couples to engage in some meaningless and joyless group sexcapades.
On one of these scouting trips, Vic and Sharon meet Randy (David Duchovny), a mulleted stud, and take him and his (never-to-be-seen-again) girlfriend back to Vic’s furniture store for some naughty ’90s fun.
But Sharon is dissatisfied…or disaffected…or something. “Everything just seems so empty,” she says (not counting, I presume, her various orifices). She keeps swinging with Vic, and she starts a relationship with Mulleted Mulder, but darn it, she’s just not feeling fulfilled.
Fortunately, she’s heard some pious folks at work whispering about this whole God thing, including rumors of a dream people across the world are having that involves a Pearl, a Boy, and a Trumpet. (Make up your own dirty joke here. I’m far too mature.) Sharon also gets a timely visit from some clean-cut Jehovah’s Witness types, and meets a swinging tattooed woman who explains to her—while they’re both getting fucked, naturally—that everyone is having the Dream, and it means Jesus is coming back any day now. (There’s apparently nothing like an anonymous penis to drive home divine messages.)
Sharon—more or less instantly—becomes obsessed with the Dream, and desperately wants to have it. Operating on a solid Sunday School level of theological thinking, she decides that her swinging, morality-mocking, furniture-store defiling lifestyle may be part of the reason she hasn’t gotten the spiritual wake-up call. In one of the most unintentionally hilarious scenes from this or any other movie, she decides to clean up her act. She throws Mulleted Mulder out of bed— “The bed is unclean!”—changes the sheets, takes a scalding hot shower, and STARTS FLOSSING MANIACALLY.
Because Jesus hates plaque; everyone knows that. There’s nothing worse than having a little Satan stuck between your teeth.
Before long, Sharon has gone from whore to saint, from sin to salvation, from Madonna to Madonna. She starts speaking only in really annoying beatitudes, and she starts religiously harassing the poor people who are unfortunate enough to get her when they call information. (“Have you met God?” she asks them. Um, no, actually I haven’t. Maybe you can give me His number, after you give me THE OTHER FUCKING NUMBER I ASKED YOU FOR. Look, I’m just trying to order a pizza here, Tammy Faye.)
At first, Mulleted Mulder isn’t buying her conversion. “It’s just a drug,” he tells her. “You’re in pain, and instead of doing heroin, you’re doing God.” (This is really bad writing, but a reasonable observation: it is also what passes for a deep theological discussion in The Rapture.) But he comes around, and soon we’ve flashed forward six years. Mulder has lost his mullet, become an insurance agent, and married Sharon. They have an annoying 5-year old daughter named Mary (Kimberly Cullum), a wardrobe that shows off the softer side of Sears, and a boring, piously perfect life. (Though, frankly, you can’t help but wonder how much better their sex life was in the mulleted, amoral days of old.)
One day at work, Formerly-Mulleted-Mulder has to fire a disgruntled employee named Louis (Douglas Roberts), who takes it badly. Louis fights back: first with snappy comebacks— “I’m not doing my job? You’re not doing your job, Banana Head!”—and then (much more effectively) with a shotgun-powered killing spree. Yay, all Reformed Mullet Wearers Go To Heaven!
Following Randy’s death—which doesn’t seem to bother Sharon and Mary very much, because of, you know, the whole Heaven thing—Sharon gets visions of him that she interprets as a message to go stand around the desert waiting for the rapture. So she and her brainwashed daughter go do just that—though Mary doesn’t understand why they have to wait. “Why can’t we just die, and go there really quickly, and be with Daddy?” she whines. “Why do we have to wait around here?…C’mon, Mom, let’s die.” (Kid, from your mouth to God’s ears.)
But wait around they do, for weeks, wearing the same clothes and apparently not eating very much, or bathing at all. “God will take care of us,” Sharon says, totally disregarding that whole cleanliness-is-next-to- thing. A kindly sheriff’s deputy (Will Patton) comes to check on them once in a while, seemingly ignoring not only their stench but also Mary’s obvious truancy and Sharon’s criminal parenting. (“Hey, just thought I’d come say hi to my favorite smelly mom and her starving little girl! Don’t worry, I’m too busy checking out your large, dirt-encrusted tits to even think about calling child protective services. So, how are things in the land of batshit crazy today?”)
Alas, Sharon eventually decides she’s waited for God long enough, and gets out her gun so she and Mary can reenact the final scene of Of Mice and Men. I think that this is supposed to be some kind of Abraham-and-Isaac type moment, but it doesn’t play that way: Sharon just seems pissed off that God is late, and sick of her daughter’s whining, and—did I mention?—totally batshit crazy.
If the movie had ended right there, The Rapture might have been an interesting film. Embarrassingly bad, but interesting: a psychological horror story of a not-particularly bright woman so desperate for belief that she embraced this extreme fundamentalist cult and ended up killing her child. In fact, on my first viewing of The Rapture, that’s where I thought it was going; I thought it was a female, religion-tinged version of Falling Down, or an earlier, far less intelligent film in the mold of Todd Haynes’ Safe. (With this ending, it also would have been vehemently, vitriolically ANTI-Christian, which would have made a lot more sense with everything that came before.)
However, no sooner has Sharon popped her daughter, and been thrown in jail by the least responsible cop ever, then the rapture does in fact, erupt. Erapt. Whatever. An angel with a flamey sword appears, and all the jail cells magically open, and Sharon hops on a motorcycle with Deputy Shithead to go check out the end of the world.
What does the rapture look like? Well, it looks like the film ran out of money. There are some silly looking horsemen (one of whom—in accordance with scripture of some kind, no doubt—seems to be riding a yak), and otherwise there is just fog. A lot of fog. Forecast for Judgement Day: foggy, with a chance of extra fogginess.
Since there’s apparently nothing remotely interesting to show about the end of the world, Sharon and the Biker Cop of the Apocalypse quickly get “raptured,” which involves not so much “rising up in the air” as “standing on a forklift while being shot from a low angle.” They arrive in the Gravel Quarry of Limbo, where Sharon’s annoying daughter interrogates them both about how much they love God. The formerly agnostic Barney Fife—not as big a fool as he appeared—quickly says, “Sure, I love God, you bet!” and is unceremoniously ushered across the Bridge of Death into Heaven. But Sharon suddenly has a crisis of faith and wants to know why God allowed such bad things to happen on earth. “Why should I thank him for the gift of so much suffering? For all the pain on the earth that he created?” Specifically, she’s pissed off that God let her kill her daughter.
Wait, I’m sorry…What?
That’s right, Sharon decides she can’t love God because God let her kill her daughter. There is so much wrong with this I don’t even know where to begin, but let’s start with the fact that, as far as I can tell, God never told Sharon to ventilate little Mary; that was Sharon’s idea, when (after about a month) she got sick of waiting for the damn rapture to rapture already. But even if we excuse that, there’s also the problem that IT WORKED. Look, lady, you’ve just been fucking raptured, and you’re reunited with your daughter, and presumably your mullet-headed hubby is awaiting just across the river. You never questioned this crap before—not even when you chose to SHOOT YOUR DAUGHTER IN THE HEAD—but now you have your doubts? At the exact moment that all your crazy-ass apocalyptic bullshit has been DEFINITIVELY proven in the MOST OBVIOUS WAY POSSIBLE?
But nope, Sharon can’t buy it, and at the precise moment when she gets everything she ever wanted—the moment when she has all her nutbag actions justified and her loony fringe beliefs proven correct—she decides she’s miffed at God and elects to stay in Limbo: forever.
Sigh. When I reviewed Of Gods and Men—which shouldn’t really be mentioned in the same breath as this, so I apologize—I said that films don’t often deal with faith very well. The Rapture is the perfect example of what I meant. In this world, sinners all are joyless and shallow, and believers are all boring and lobotomized. The proof of God’s existence must be shown in the most literal (and least expensive) way possible, and crises of faith never rise above the level of If God exists, why do bad things happen, Mommy? (Also, for the record, Limbo looks a lot like Yucaipa.)
What did I learn from The Rapture to prepare me for the upcoming rapture? Mostly, that I don’t want to go. I couldn’t stand being in the company of people this stupid for two hours; the thought of spending an eternity with them sounds like absolute Hell.
Please, God, leave me behind.