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DEEP FOCUS: Michael Tolkin's THE RAPTURE (1991)

Press Play By Steven Santos | Press Play October 25, 2011 at 2:00AM

We each have our own image of God, whether it was formed from reading the Bible or just having the notion that he is a nonexistent, mythical figure. Michael Tolkin's 1991 film The Rapture challenges all those perceptions and forces us to consider who God really is. It's the story of a truly spiritual -- and, more importantly, intellectual -- awakening.
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[Editor's note: This video essay explores the themes of The Rapture in detail, and requires knowledge of its plot points from beginning to end. Both the video and the following transcript of its narration contain spoilers. To read Matt Zoller Seitz' 1991 Dallas Observer review of The Rapture, click here.]

We each have our own image of God, whether it was formed from reading the Bible or just having the notion that he is a nonexistent, mythical figure. Michael Tolkin's 1991 film The Rapture challenges all those perceptions and forces us to consider who God really is. It's the story of a truly spiritual -- and, more importantly, intellectual -- awakening.

Sharon, played by Mimi Rogers, is someone whose life is adrift. She lives an existence numb to human emotions, trying to get whatever cheap thrills she can find. Only when Sharon begins to notice how others are at peace with themselves does she begin to find her purpose. Sharon completely embraces the beliefs of Christianity, finding a way out of her past life.

Now, The Rapture does not let her off the hook. It questions Sharon's steps towards God. It articulates the responses you would expect from an atheist. It suggests that she is being brainwashed, or perhaps replacing one addiction with another. Rogers' powerful performance makes it difficult to tell whether Sharon is incapable of thinking for herself, or if she really believes deeply in every platitude she offers.

Sharon marries and has a daughter with one of her early sex partners (David Duchovny), saving him from his own aimless existence. This is where the film starts to challenge the beliefs of Christians and non-Christians alike. After Sharon loses her husband in a mass shooting, both she and her daughter are not deterred. They are both fully convinced that the rapture is soon approaching. Sharon believes she receives a message from God to take her daughter to a remote park until the rapture happens.

At this point, some of us skeptics may question whether Sharon shaping the child's religious beliefs constitutes some form of child abuse. This begins a lengthy section of the film where they both hold steadfast to their beliefs that the rapture will eventually come. In fact, a police officer (Will Patton), a non-believer at that, shows more concern for their well-being than they do. And yet the film does not even make it that easy for the non-believers. Running out of food and options -- and, in Sharon's case, her faith -- she decides to do the unspeakable to her daughter to end her suffering, as well as demonstrate her devotion to God even more. God becomes less a mythical figure and more of a human one. Sharon slowly comes to the realization she may have wasted her life appeasing someone who is only toying with her feelings. This would be easier to dismiss if we discovered that God did not exist. But this is where Tolkin's film becomes braver, and challenges us with the notion that God is indeed real.

The thesis of The Rapture is that God is a narcissist, giving us life for the sole purpose of demanding unconditional love in return, no matter how much damage his demands have inflicted on human lives. The film posits the theory that God is undeserving of our love even if he does exist, that he is in no way any less fallible to pettiness and power trips than the human beings he created. Like many humans, God lives by a set of rules and laws that he applies arbitrarily at his own moral convenience. Tolkin illustrates this by showing the non-believing cop immediately being accepted into heaven by declaring his love for God in a last ditch effort to be saved. He's merely saying what God wants to hear to save his own skin.

Sharon, on the other hand, I consider to be one of the bravest characters in film. Even when confronted with the truth of God's existence, Sharon's resistance shows her to be more spiritually and intellectually awakened than she has ever been in her entire life. And it's that resistance -- not only to a belief system, but to an all-powerful being -- that makes me consider The Rapture a truly inspiring film.

Steven Santos is a freelance TV editor/filmmaker based in New York. His work can be found at StevenEdits.com. He writes about films at his blog The Fine Cut. You can also follow him on Twitter.

This article is related to: Michael Tolkin, The Rapture


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