Sunday, January 29, 2012

What a Revelation!

If nothing else, the 1991 movie The Rapture deserves credit for being the one of the few films critical of Fundamentalist Christianity that dares to ask the question: if such a religion is so bad, why are so many people attracted to it?

It promptly gives at least one answer in the opening sequence in which we view Sharon (played by Mimi Rogers) doing a customer service job that requires her to mechanically give the same information over and over again to different customers. In other words, Sharon works in a dehumanizing environment.

Every so often, Sharon goes off with Vic, a male friend, to blow off some steam by picking up strangers for casual sex. But even this doesn't satisfy her.

Then one day Sharon witnesses a group of people in the company cafeteria who appear to have a special bond. She soon finds out that they are in a special church and she finds herself being drawn to them more and more even though she doesn't consider herself a religious person.

Sharon hears talk of a mysterious black pearl but she is not allowed to join the group until she has seen the pearl herself. Soon afterwards, she goes into a near-suicidal depression and just when she is at the darkest part of her dark night of the soul, she sees a pearl.

She joins the group soon afterwards and becomes so enthusiastic about it that she converts her latest boyfriend, Randy (played by Fox Mulder himself, David Duchovny), into the group as well and eventually marries him.

For a while, life goes better for her. Her husband gets a better job. She quits her job to become a stay-at-home mom. She leads her family in daily prayer sessions. In short, religion seems to work for her.

Then one day a disgruntled office worker kills Randy in a tragic scene which unfortunately includes some of the worst acting in the movie. (For what it's worth, Duchovny is quite adequate but the actor who plays the homicidal maniac is just awful.) Sharon is heartbroken and eventually turns her back on her church when none of the religious people prove up to the task of consoling her.

Instead, Sharon becomes obsessed with seeking her own means of salvation by going off into the desert to make a Kate Bushian deal with God. Unfortunately, it is never quite clear whether such a deal actually exists or whether Sharon merely imagines one in her mind. Ultimately, she makes the Supreme Being an offer she thinks he can't refuse -- only to find...

Ah. But that would be telling. But surely it's not much of a spoiler to note that the movie does not exactly end on a happy note.

It says something about how well The Rapture works -- apart from the one scene I mentioned above -- that both religious people and confirmed atheists can draw lessons from it. Indeed, despite a quite literal interpretation of the Book of Revelations toward the end, the movie remains quite ambiguous as to who actually is to blame for Sharon's final situation. If you're an atheist, you wish to believe it was God. But if so, why weren't all the pearl-worshippers out there in the desert imitating Sharon? If you're a religious person, you wish to believe that it was Sharon. But you can't help but wonder whether it was a cruel joke for Sharon to find more senseless cruelty pursuing what she believes to be the path of religious virtue than she ever did pursuing the path of secular vice. Either way, the answer to Sharon's dilemma is up to the individual viewer. And, of course, the most obvious lesson of the movie is not to go out and do likewise.

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