TOERIFC: The Rapture (1991)

Director/Screenwriter: Michael Tolkin


By Marilyn Ferdinand

The 1980s and 90s were an interesting time, a time when the pendulum swung away from the rebellion and hedonism of the 1960s and 70s. In many countries, and especially in an already religiously oriented United States, God and traditional religion made a big comeback in the larger culture. On television, religiously oriented shows, previously confined to Sunday-morning children’s programming and preachy talking-heads discussions like “30 Good Minutes,” were developed for prime time. Dramas like “Highway to Heaven,” “Touched by an Angel,” and “Seventh Heaven” became big and enduring hits. Yet, while these shows were unabashed in their faith in God and angels, they followed the television formula of wrapping conflict up in a tidy bow by the end of the hour, leaving a warm afterglow of harmony and goodness without really engaging religious dogma and belief.

The big screen was slower to get on the religious bandwagon, and when it did, the films that resulted (for example, Dogma and Michael) engaged in feeble mocking of sanitized religion without really challenging it, or exploited scripture for titillation, as with Mel Gibson’s graphic The Passion of the Christ. Eventually, a subgenre of religious films that follow the television formula was established, with The Blind Side reaching the pinnacle of recognition for these efforts.

To my mind, the only film to come out of this period that truly, literally wrestles with scripture itself—not morality, not social problems, not biblical stories—is Michael Tolkin’s dramatic and thought-provoking The Rapture. Combining the apocalyptic predictions from The Revelation of John with a brand of evangelical Christianity, Tolkin explores the journey of a woman who literally fills her emptiness with belief in and love of God and Jesus Christ in the final few years before the end of the world.

Sharon (Mimi Rogers) is a directory-assistance operator who lives in Los Angeles and works in a windowless room of cubicles fielding hundreds of calls for phone numbers with a rote rapidity that make us feel as numb as Sharon looks. Sharon spices up her life after hours cruising with her male friend Vic (Patrick Bauchau) for couples to have sex with. They end up in a downscale bar, where they pick up Randy (David Duchovny) and Paula (Terri Hanauer). Tolkin lets us in on the preliminaries to sex, as Paula dances topless, and Randy, Paula, and Sharon eventually tumble into bed as Vic watches.

At work, Sharon becomes curious when she hears three coworkers talking about “the boy” in the lunchroom. One night, she and Vic meet a pair of married swingers. When the woman unzips her dress, she reveals an elaborate tattoo crowned with a pearl that fascinates Sharon so much that she ignores the husband grinding away at her and asks the woman, Angie (Carole Davis), about it. Angie says, “Don’t you know?” and then says the pearl is a sign that the Rapture is coming, and Christians everywhere are dreaming about it.

Sharon has started to see Randy regularly, though she’s dissatisfied with mere sex and wants to discuss her deeper problems of pain and emptiness. One night, she dreams of the pearl and overnight realizes a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In her uplifted zeal, she tries to convert the people who call her for phone numbers at work. When she starts proselytizing to Randy he retorts angily, “You hate your job; you hate your life; but you want to feel special. Instead of letting me do that, you’re rushing off to something that’s not even there.” Yet, Sharon meets people who believe in the coming apocalypse, including her boss (Dick Anthony Williams), who takes her to meet the boy (DeVaughn Nixon), a prophet who interprets God’s signs.

Six years pass. Randy and Sharon have married, have had a daughter they named Mary (Kimberly Cullum), and have devoted themselves to God. The boy is a teen now (Christian Benavis) and says the Rapture will be upon them within the year. Randy fires an incompetent employee who later comes back and shoots him and several other employees dead. Sharon hardly seems to grieve, believing that Randy is with God and that she and Mary will see him again very soon when the apocalypse comes. Yet, she sees photos of Randy beckoning her to come meet him in the desert. Certain that she and Mary have been called early, she drives them out to Vasquez Rocks County Park where they pray daily to ascend.

Only they aren’t taken. After more than two weeks, they run out of food. Mary asks Sharon why they can’t just take matters into their own hands and die. Mary, pleading how much she wants to see her daddy, how much she loves God, and how she doesn’t want to wait, eventually persuades Sharon to shoot her. Sharon, crying, fires the fatal shot, but hesitates to kill herself because suicides don’t get into Heaven. She is arrested for murder by the cop (Will Patton) who has been keeping an eye on her and Mary in the park and thrown in a holding cell. Then the first sounding of Gabriel’s horn rings out, announcing Judgment Day, the day Sharon has been waiting and praying for. And despite this, despite the evidence of her own eyes that God and Heaven exist, Sharon chooses to deny God and remain in the darkness. Forever.

The Rapture is a remarkable film that avoids the mundane, the extraneous. It’s not important how Randy and Sharon decide to keep seeing each other after their initial hook-up. Randy’s conversion isn’t important either. This isn’t a story about a couple or even a corrupt world. It is a story about faith—why people seek it, how they find it, and how they lose it.

Sharon’s desperately empty life is communicated economically. Her office environment is characterless and grey, her home spare and provisional, and her relationship with Vic, about whom we neither know nor need to know much, loose and convenient. The stepping stones to her conversion are in plain view, but she can’t pretend she has seen the light until she actually has. Mimi Rogers’ entire demeanor changes the morning after she dreams of the pearl, moving from an affectless shadow to a woman glowing with happiness and self-possession. Her conversation with Vic about falling in love with Jesus is coy, in the language the pair understood before Sharon’s conversion. It’s a clever scene played with conviction that sets up Sharon’s future actions.

Rogers’ sincere central performance makes the questions Sharon asks worth considering, even for an atheist like me, because they are asked without irony from a place of deep yearning. Why do we have to suffer the pain of the world? Why does salvation have to come through Jesus Christ and not any of the other world religions? Why does God demand that we love Him? Tolkin doesn’t answer the questions he poses with reason, but rather by showing that the prophesies of John were true. The apocalypse does come as it was foretold, therefore Christianity is the only true religion. Tolkin’s depiction of the darkness enveloping the world is eerie. Close-up shots of hooves and their hollow clopping stir a real terror before we share with Sharon the dread sight of Death perched upon its white horse, its scythe at the ready. When Sharon makes her fateful decision to refuse God, then, we really feel the gravity of that decision whether or not we are Christian believers. Tolkin’s Rapture is a persuasive cinematic tour de force.

But what of Sharon’s decision? All she has to say is that she loves God and she will never be parted from her beloved daughter and husband again. Is God’s decision to let her kill her daughter really so grievous considering that He overrules His own law against murder to give her a chance to enter Heaven? Was it even God who put her in the desert in the first place? The boy prophet said that Sharon’s visions of her husband in the desert might have been the work of the Devil. Who was Sharon to decide that it wasn’t?

The Rapture dignifies free will even as it ruefully illustrates the disasters of pride. Killing Mary ruptures something in Sharon that had gotten shaky as she waited in vain for God to call them to Him. Is faith that fragile, or is it asking too much for a mother to abandon concern for her child? Humans live in the world, not in eternity, and a loving mother does not want to see her child go hungry, does not want to see her child die before her, and certainly does not want to be the instrument of that death. When faced with what seems like the petulance and immaturity of a god who demands to be loved, Sharon can only protest His cruelty and His pride through refusal.

Although John is a New Testament book, the God of the Revelation is the God of the Torah, who shares a good deal in common with the Greek and Roman gods. That is, the God of Israel is vain, demanding, cruel, capricious, and not as loving of His creations as they are of Him. It has been said that a person who marries for money pays for it every day of married life. Had Sharon accepted the riches of God without feeling love, she would have paid for all eternity. Her choice, to accept the happiness she had before the desert as enough, was, in fact, the right one.

Of God and Sharon, Sharon is by far the better parent. And if our goodness is known by how we treat the least among us, Sharon is the one who belongs in Heaven, not God.

  • bill spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 8:26 am

    Great write up, Marilyn. What I love so much about THE RAPTURE is that it really digs deep. These days, cinematic criticism of religion is pretty much at the level of presenting a teenage girl who practices abstinence, and then making fun of her. THE RAPTURE cuts right to the heart of faith and asks the big questions.

    One thing that struck me while watching it again yesterday was the style, which, as you point out, is compellingly economical. The fact that, in the world of the film, there seems to be only two types of people — those who believe the Rapture is right around the corner and atheists — is not a case of Tolkin stacking the deck, but of paring down his story to the essential arguments, so that the film has a sort of parable tone.

    Work’s busy write now — more later.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 8:38 am

    I’m not sure that everyone who rejects the Rapture is an atheist. We’re not really privy to what, say, Vic thinks about religion. It’s not important in any case because in this film, God is fact.

  • bill spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 8:46 am

    It may or may not matter to the film — I think maybe the atheism, as expressed in the film, is worth talking about, though I don’t know in what way yet — but every character who rejects Sharon’s point of view does so because they don’t believe in God. Except Vic, who, you’re right, we don’t know about one way or the other.

    Actually, Vic says she’s joined a cult, and needs to be deprogrammed. And there’s all this stuff about “the boy” and “the pearl” that doesn’t have anything to do with standard Christianity as it’s practiced by most people. So what about the cult atmosphere of this religion? If it is a cult, it’s an undeniably Christian cult (it’s also undeniably right on the money, but anyway…) and the fact that THE RAPTURE is also an LA movie, which has had its share of cults over the years?

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 8:59 am

    I don’t think atheism really comes up as strict counterpoint to the Christian belief. Remember, Sharon also questions why Muslims and Hindus etc. would be judged harshly, why it HAS to be Jesus. The Revelation is a Christian document (though it reads very pagan), so the story must be told in the context of Christian doctrine.

    For me, the cult aspects of the film took me back to my class on primitive Christianity. The Rapture isn’t really mainstream Christianity these days, nor was it in 1991. There were always sects of Christianity, particularly at the dawn of the religion, that were called “heresies.” This cult of The Rapture, which exists and supports Israel precisely because of its important role in End of Days, is pretty entrenched.

  • Pat spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:04 am

    Marilyn –

    Excellent write-up. I’m staring a busy day here, but want to offer a few random thoughts.

    When I saw “The Rapture” on its initial release, I had recently come out of several years participaing in a Catholic Charismatic prayer group (people spoke in tongues, gave prophecies, had visions, etc.), an experience which had made me cynical and critical of religious zelaots and shaken my faith to some degree. (long story there). Sharon’s converion and (to me) blind allegiance to Christianity felt authentically hollow to me, and still do, even after almost 20 years. New believeres tends to be naive, to interpret everything and anything as God speaking to them. (The scene in the desert where Sharon and Mary interpret the car alarm as God’s trumpet call is dead on.) The scenes with the prophet boy are – again, to me – just about as creepy as the group sex scense, but that reaction is inescapably influenced by my own experiences.

    In the first half of the film, I think Mimi Rogers is fantastic. I particularly liked the subtle changes in her delivery of the canned, phone operator spiel after a night with Randy or Vic – you could read her frame of mind exactly based on the slightest variations in her tone and inflection. And of course, the morning after she dreams of the pearl, she’s a whole new person. I was less impressed wtih her portrayal of anguish in the latter scenes, it felt a little overwrought and hammy to me.

    Would love to wrtie more now, but must get to work. I’ll be back.

  • Greg F spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:04 am

    But to Marilyn’s point, and the movie’s, whether it’s a cult, a religion or a circus doesn’t matter: The film absolutely goes with God and Heaven being real for it’s story to work. The atheists were wrong about God’s existence but were right all along in their suspicions that if he did exist, he was a selfish monster.

    I like Marilyn’s line about the two being parents because as a parent few things can rile me more than hearing about “God’s plan” when bad things happen. You see, as a parent, no plan I would come up with for my children, EVER, would involve their pain and suffering. Not even if the ends were great and they didn’t get it at first. I’d find another way. No plan ever involves their suffering. Ever. But God’s plans very often do. Sarah rejects that kind of cruelty.

    I think making God and Heaven real was a masterstroke and allows the morality of God and Humanity to be explored more fully than just questions about faith in the abstract.

  • bill spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:18 am

    It WAS a masterstroke to make God and Heaven real. I said to my wife that it’s the kind of movie where, if you start watching it blind, or even if you have some idea what it’s about, you’ll have no idea where it’s heading.

    I also hate when people talk about “God’s plan” or (even worse) say “everything happens for a reason.” I’m not an atheist, but when I hear that, I think “So some little girl is crossing the street, and a drunk driver flattens her, that happened for a reason? What reason? Justify that to me.” I’m not an atheist, but I don’t believe that sort of thing is part of any plan (and truthfully I don’t even know what I do believe).

    But THE RAPTURE is asking “What if those people are right?” That’s what is so brilliant about it. It takes the most easily dismissable aspects of easy faith and takes them seriously.

    If I may be slightly prurient for a second, but for a reason, I’ve always thought it was interesting that a film whose first half hour or so is about a woman who spends her free time looking for group sex, and casts Mimi Rogers in that role, then seems to go out of its way to not expose Rogers, although it keeps making you think that’s going to happen. To be honest, her appearance in this film is probably one of the main reasons I initially sought it out as a 17 or 18 year old.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:23 am

    Pat – I didn’t feel Rogers was hammy in the later part of the film. I really liked her growing unease, how she behaved when they were hungry seemed right to me. Her “who forgives God” line was delivered beautifully, in my opinion.

    I’ve had an experience like Sharon’s of feeling a conflict resolve (I thought I was “cured”) and then have it recur. The pain of the world is hard to keep at bay unless one can find absolute devotion to something.

  • Greg F spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:25 am

    Bill, stop being prurient. And now I will just be stupid for a second. All morality and questions of faith aside, I think the Revelation would make a hell of a cool action/fantasy movie, and not like the LEFT BEHIND series, I mean like a Peter Jackson full-on upscale production. I’d love to see that.

    Now I must go attend to my stupid brake pads. Be back later.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:27 am

    Bill – I’m sure that Rogers did not agree to nudity, but I think the sex was purposely toned down for a couple of reasons. One might expect a religiously inclined audience to attend the movie, so too much explicitness would have been offensive to them. But more importantly, I think, the film paints Sharon’s sexual exploits as a way to forget her pain and emptiness for a short time. It should not look too fun or stimulating. It is an expression of her pain, not her joy in life.

  • Pat spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:29 am

    The pain of the world is hard to keep at bay unless one can find absolute devotion to something.

    Very true, and I think that comes through effectively in the scenes leadind to Sharon’s conversion.

    And while I’m not as impressed with Rogers’ performance, I AM definitely impressed with the character’s choices in those final scenes. To witness everything that the Book of Revelopation predicted come literally true – to stand across the river from Heaven and gaze on it but refuse to make the choice to be admitted – that’s a powerful choice and one of great integrity, and I admire Tolkin’s originality and audactiy for creating that scenario. And that final scene of Sharon standing in the darkness… forever… is haunting.

  • bill spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:34 am

    One might expect a religiously inclined audience to attend the movie, so too much explicitness would have been offensive to them.

    Well, not necessarily. Not all religious people are that uptight.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:38 am

    Yes, that’s what people say there’s a plan. They can’t bear to descend into the chaos of randomness. Personally, I think it is more of a comfort to think that a loved one dies in an accident nobody meant to cause rather than to think that there is a guiding hand ordering a death to fulfill a plan only He knows about. That’s one of the reasons why I cannot believe in an intelligence at work in the universe. What grand purpose could that kind of pain possibly serve. There was a PBS presentation called “Steambath” in which god is a Latino bathhouse attendant who looks down and just decides to zap someone as they’re walking to work. That’s about how it seems to me and guiding force.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:39 am

    Bill – You’re right, but in general, that kind of sin would be against their religion.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:43 am

    Mimi Rogers was divorced from Tom Cruise in 1990. Do you think his Scientology (was she ever a part of that) might have played a role in her casting and choices?

  • Pat spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:46 am

    May I just add, I think there is some signifcance in the fact that Sharon feels she and Mary are called to go “to the desert.” Being called to the desert is a common Biblical theme: Moses and the Isrealites wandered in the desert for 40 years, Jesus went to the desert for 40 days (and was tempeted by Satan while there and prevailed.) It’s not unusual to hear some Christians speaking of going throught a “desert time” in their lives – being called away from active service in the church to a time on contemplation or experieincing a spiritual dryess for a time that ultimately leads them to a deeper faith. So I find it particulary interesting that Sharon and Mary are called in to the desert but so cruelly left there without further guidance and come to such tragic ends. Even if Satan was leaidn them there, seems like God should have intervened in some way to help them or get them home. It’s an interesting twist on a ocmmon theme.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:46 am

    Actually, I see that her first husband was a Scientologist. Maybe she got Cruise into it.

  • Pat spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:47 am

    Please forgive the many and heinouse typos in my posts – I am rushing too fast this morning to stay on top of work AND this discussion.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:47 am

    Pat – Maybe God doesn’t deal with mortal time very well. He knew the end was nigh. A being who lives in eternity can’t really understand impatience, I would think.

  • J.D. spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:56 am

    I always felt that THE RAPTURE would make a great double bill with JACOB’S LADDER which also seems to wrestle with notions of spirituality, not mention it refers to the biblical story of Jacob’s ladder, or the dream of a meeting place between Heaven and Earth. A very different film but I find it interesting how both came out within a year of each other.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:59 am

    Tell me more, JD. I haven’t seen it.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 11:00 am

    Well, that seems to have about wrapped up this discussion.

  • Kimberly Lindbergs spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 11:25 am

    Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always thought that THE RAPTURE was one of the creepiest horror films of the ’90s.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 11:31 am

    You really think it was a horror movie?

  • Greg F spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 11:58 am

    So I’m back for a minute. In answer to a question you asked yourself further up, yes, Mimi got Tom into Scientology, which is why she wouldn’t have a problem playing a role like this.

    What about the officer played byWill Patton? He clearly feels for Sharon even after she kills her own daughter. He does rescue them from the desert, unlike God, and seems much more forgiving as well. He’s the “God” she’s looking for but doesn’t know it. What I mean is, there are people, kind and loving and forgiving people, that can help her, but she ignores them all in favor of this God who talks so big. When it’s too late she realizes she was duped and can’t let that slide. I think the Will Patton character is the Jesus figure most people want to envision, and the God who makes her kill her daughter is the Old Testament God most modern Christians try and forget.

  • Kimberly Lindbergs spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 11:59 am

    No, I just said that for shits & giggles…

    But seriously, yes. I suppose other people might see it differently but I’ve always thought of it as rather horrific. I think it could make a good double bill with something like Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond. Both films have an incredibly grim view (IMO) and deal with what some folks might call “the end times” or “end of days.” I guess I’m in the minority, but I personally saw The Rapture as a very terror driven film with elements of mystery & the fantastique.

  • Greg F spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 12:00 pm

    As to Kimberly’s statement, that’s goes towards what I was saying about the Book of Revelation being a great action/fantasy movie. Treating the Bible as a literal thing allows for a lot of creepiness so yes, I can see the horror elements. When I first saw it, back in 1991, the scene with Duchovny in the photos creeped me out. That was downright eerie, and later, with the horses and horn sounding, there’s also a fundamental sense of dread all about. It’s a very effective movie atmospherically, not just intellectually.

  • bill spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 12:04 pm

    I absolutely agree with Kimberly. Which isn’t to say that I would blame anyone for not seeing THE RAPTURE as a horror film, or even that I thought of it as such any of the three or four times I’ve seen it, but that element is certainly there. It all depends on how seriously you’re willing to take that genre, and how intelligently you think it can be handled.

    But it’s all there. As Kimberly says, especially in the last third or so, terror is a big part of Sharon’s motivation — she kills her daughter based partly on that, and desperation, which itself is fed by fear. And, after all, the frickin’ Grim Reaper shows up.

  • Pat spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 12:12 pm

    I’m with Kimberly, too. The depiction of the end of the world is pretty horrific and frightening

    And Greg, I really like your take on the Will Patton character because it did occur to me that he is easily the most “Godly” character in the film – at least the kindest and most loving. And also the most rational, interestingly enough. He takes care of Sharon’s basic needs (bringing the blanket and food, for example) in non-mystical, common sense ways, and you could see him as being sent by God to help Sharon, but she is so focused on the fantastical, mystical version of God that she misses it entirely. Or he could be a benevolent force entirely apart from the God Sharon is waiting to hear from. I think you’re on to something when you compare him to Christ (New Testament)) in contrast to the Old Testament, wrathful version of God.

  • bill spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 12:19 pm

    Those are great points about Patton. And it’s interesting, too, because when Sharon (or is it Mary?) asks him “Are you with God?” he says, “No, I’m with the Sheriff” (one of my favorite lines), and seems understanding, but still downright skeptical about the whole thing. Which is understandable, but it’s interesting to me that, in a film which divides its characters into believers and non-believers (however little it may matter to you that anybody is presented as an atheist), Patton’s skeptical character is whisked right up to Heaven. Though now I can’t remember what he says just before that happens.

  • Kimberly Lindbergs spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 12:20 pm

    I agree with Greg about sense of dread in the film. It had a lot of very eerie moments.

    And Bill pretty much nailed it when he said: “terror is a big part of Sharon’s motivation — she kills her daughter based partly on that, and desperation, which itself is fed by fear.”

    It’s also probably important to note that The Rapture can be seen as interpreting the Bible in ways that have a lot in common with other horror films such as the Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, the Omen, etc. You can’t really have The Rapture without some sense of The Devil hanging around.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 12:25 pm

    I frankly do not see this as a horror film unless we want to concede that God is a supernatural demon filled with malevolence. To me, that’s not farfetched but it negates the seriousness of purpose of this film in taking on the largest, organized belief system in the world. What is there then to think about in terms of faith? Horrific, yes, but that’s not the same as horror.

    As for the detective, he does seem very nonjudgmental, a righteous person. He has no trouble loving God for the gift of life and going to heaven. I thought it was interesting that Mary didn’t ask Sharon if she loved God for the gift of life. That would have been an easy out for Sharon.

  • bill spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 12:30 pm

    Marilyn, with all due respect, I think your reaction to the idea that THE RAPTURE could be seen as a horror film comes from a pigeon-holing of the genre. Horror doesn’t need to have a malevolent demon at its core to be horror — it only has to have horror, and a sense of the vast unknown, and usually (though not always) an element of the supernatural. I don’t think viewing THE RAPTURE negates its seriousness. THE EXORCIST is all about faith too — it’s more positive about it, certainly — and it’s also unquestionably a horror film.

  • Pat spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 12:35 pm

    What’s also curious to me is that – in all my time with the charismatic group and around Christians who totally belived in the Rapture and the literal interpretation of Revelation – I never once heard that the criteria for entering Heaven was to tell God you loved Him, fwhether or the gift of life or otherwise. It was that you acknowedged your sinfulness, repented and accepted the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. Tolkin puts it significantly differently and I wondered why.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 12:35 pm

    I don’t watch a lot of horror, but let me ask you if you consider 2001 a horror movie?

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 12:36 pm

    So, Pat, could the Rapture actually be the work of the Devil?

  • Pat spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 12:42 pm

    Marilyn, I”m not sure which of my comments your question refers to (I assume my agreement with Kimberly), but I don’t believe Tolkin is suggesting that the Rapture is the work of Satan. I guess I’m not defning horror in the same way that you do – I’m considering the horrific to consitute horror – which may just be sloppy thinking on my part, but it’s that kind of day….

  • bill spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 12:44 pm

    No, Marilyn, I don’t consider 2001 a horror film. I acknowledge that I spoke too broadly, but while 2001 deals with the unknown, it ultimately presents it in a way that can read as positive. Whatever horror is in that film — and I can only assume you’re referring to the HAL sequence — the horror isn’t really foregrounded. I think it is in THE RAPTURE, at least by the end. Fear drives Sharon to kill her daughter, and then the world ends, with Death personified rolling through the country.

    Again, I don’t blame anyone for not seeing THE RAPTURE as a horror film, but I can absolutely see the argument for it.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 1:08 pm

    My brain is kind of horrifically sloppy today myself.

    I don’t know if I think fear induces Sharon to kill Mary. It seems like Mary’s insistence combined with her own belief that does so. She doesn’t kill herself because she wants to get into heaven. It is only later that she denied God. And then the Rapture starts.

    I would really like a good description of why this is horror. Perhaps Kimberly can help out. I wasn’t being snarky; I just did not see it AT ALL.

  • Kimberly Lindbergs spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 1:54 pm

    I think everyone has offered really good examples of why someone could see The Rapture as a horror film. I’m kind of baffled that you don’t find the film somewhat scary or terrifying, Marilyn. But if you haven’t seen the Beyond, The Exorcist or The Omen, maybe you just don’t have them as points of reference? As Bill said, The Exorcist is all about faith and presents the Catholic religion as complex and rich in ideas. Father Karras is arguably one of the greatest religious heroes on film, but The Exorcist just happens to be a horror movie.

    The treatment and eventual murder of the child in The Rapture is horrific in my opinion. Generally speaking I find the whole “end of days” concept to be incredibly bleak and nihilistic. Overall The Rapture presents religion and acts of faith as cold, joyless and finally just plain horrific which I find extremely disturbing. You either see it that way or you don’t I suppose. I can somewhat understand why some people might not see it that way and I can only assume it’s because they have no reference for it. Without seeing films like The Exorcist, the Beyond and The Omen I guess it might be hard for someone to acknowledge the similarities.

    I did want to mention one thing, I think Mimi Rogers is great in this film! I’ve always thought she was a good actress who should get more work than she does. Mimi had just divorced Tom Cruise before making The Rapture and I believe she has openly blamed aspects of Tom’s faith for splitting them up. I’ve always wondered if Mimi’s great performance and participation in this film could have been fueled by her marriage problems in some very small way.

  • Kevin J. Olson spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 2:05 pm

    First let me apologize for totally dropping the ball on this one. I’ve been really busy and didn’t see the new banner to help promote this TOERIFC edition. Secondly let me apologize for the following rant. All I can do is remember how I felt about this film seeing it 10 years ago as a senior in high school. Feel free to delete this if it’s too off topic and incoherent.

    Sorry, Marilyn. I’m coming late to the party and since I forgot about this one I don’t have the film on me, but I watched it about 10 years ago as a senior in high school, and it’s stuck with me ever since. Why? Because I used to be HEAVILY into church and God and all kinds of theological practices.

    This film scared the crap out of me. It made something invisible — a specter that I prayed to — very real. As a Christian I was never much interested in the end times, my interest always stemmed from the social justice issues found within the Bible (shhh don’t tell Glenn Beck!), and the metaphor that Revelation stood for the overthrowing of Roman rulers at the time, NOT the literal end times.

    I remember the film frustrating me because it made something I thought was metaphor into a literal fact: God’s existence is real and he is going to smite us all unless you’re on his “side”. Well, the whole idea of “sides” was so arbitrary to me (are you telling me if Heaven exists Gandhi won’t be there!?), and that’s what was fascinating about Tolkin’s film. Like you mentioned, Marilyn, he doesn’t take the time to look at the nuances here…this is an either/or religious dichotomy and you’re either with God or against God. That ending I remember being so frustrating and heartbreaking because she did everything that was asked of her, and once she did she realized that she had been had by a group of hucksters selling an agenda. I wanted to reach out to her and tell her about the GOOD aspects of Christianity. But that’s not what the filmmakers are interested in explicating, and for that reason (responding to an earlier comment) I think the film is a horror film in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby.

    I agree with Bill that a lot of horror film get pigeonholed so that when something more cerebral like The Rapture comes along it’s easy to dismiss it as non-horror. But from what I remember about the movie is that the filmmakers were really interested in showing Mimi Rogers’ descent into the cult/hive mentality who would do anything for God (I like your familial connection, too) despite the fact that he will only manifest himself during the End of Days…where he either rewards you or punishes you…as opposed to those who think God manifests himself in the everyday occurrences of the world (like the Transcendentalists, for example) and that the Kingdom of God is truly meant to be seen as “we have to do the good on Earth for the people who need help, and Heaven will take care of itself”.

    That’s what I remember about the film…I would love to revisit it now and see how I feel 10 years wiser as more or less someone who still considers themselves a person who is intrigued by the divine nature of things (though I don’t really pray anymore). I loved your essay here, Marilyn, and again I apologize for not being able to be more conversational about the film. I hope ramblings about I remember the film 10 years ago don’t seem too off topic. This is a great piece and a great choice for TOERIFC.

    I would love to get Rick Olson’s take on this film…

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 2:09 pm

    Kimberly – As a film, The Rapture is bleak, but it offers the possibility of redemption and paradise, which we see the cop realize. To me, it emphasizes the positive possibilities of faith while questioning whether God is all-fired good as believers in Jesus Christ make Him out to be. I have seen The Exorcist, which wallows is the badness of a demon and does not question the goodness of God. There is no real engagement with dogma, only a fight between good and evil, which is classic horror. As we know, religion has done great good and harm throughout the ages, so perhaps by definition, religion can be a horror story. But the prophesy of the Apocalypse is part of the largest religion in the world, and to me, offers a vision of the might of God being used to cleanse sin from the universe. It’s hard for me to forget the dogma and just take it as a horror story, though it certainly is that. I engaged with the film on a philosophical level.

    We found that Mimi introduced Tom to Scientology, so if she did blame Tom’s faith, she’s got only herself to blame.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 2:18 pm

    Kevin – No mea culpas necessary. Your 10-year-old take seems right on the money to me. I’ve always been very interested in religious films, particularly Christian ones. As an outsider looking in, I’ve always been exempt from the emotional feelings stirred up by Christian holidays and practices, which surrounded me in my Catholic city. Perhaps that’s why I can’t feel the horror of the film as much as the philosophical questions it poses, which are the same kind of questions I asked that led me out of belief in God altogether. Of course, the Holocaust was the ultimate end to belief for me, since there’s no way a God as monotheistic religions have come to know Him would ever allow that to happen. If He wasn’t powerful enough to defeat Satan and save his chosen people, then He’s not much of a god. It seemed much easier to believe that He doesn’t exist at all.

  • Kevin J. Olson spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 2:33 pm

    Of course, the Holocaust was the ultimate end to belief for me, since there’s no way a God as monotheistic religions have come to know Him would ever allow that to happen. If He wasn’t powerful enough to defeat Satan and save his chosen people, then He’s not much of a god. It seemed much easier to believe that He doesn’t exist at all.

    Yup. It’s why I struggle everyday with what I was raised with and what I believe now, and how do I get those two things extremes to meet in the middle somewhere. Thomas Merton was always discussing how religions are more universal and shared than many in Christianity are raised to believe: the idea that Eastern religions and Monotheistic religions (specifically Catholicism for him) are more similar than a lot of religious people want to believe. The philosophies of life preached by Jesus and the Buddha and other Eastern philosophers like Chuang-Tzu is the only way I’ve personally been able to get past the horrors of what you’re speaking to above, and try to focus on the good things that these religions do offer for the world we live in (meaning taking action and believing things that are pertinent to the tangible, to the here-and-now).

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 2:49 pm

    Just go the ethical humanist route, and you’re set. It doesn’t take an invisible, all-seeing, all-knowing being to let us know we shouldn’t kill and steal. Religion seems too often to be a curtain behind which the wicked hide.

  • Kimberly Lindbergs spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 3:02 pm

    I think the simplistic view you have of The Exorcist probably explains why you don’t find any similarities between it and The Rapture, Marilyn. As someone who grew up among Catholics, I find The Exorcist to be a much more complex and nuanced film than you obviously do. Exorcism itself is part of Catholic dogma so your implication that there is “no real engagement with dogma” in The Exorcist baffles me.

    I’m afraid I’m going to have to sign off here since I’ve got to step away from the computer for the rest of the day and I’ve probably said all I could say about the movie, but it’s a fascinating film and I’ll try to come back tonight and see what direction the conversation has taken.

  • J.D. spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 3:03 pm


    JACOB’S LADDER stars Tim Robbins as a Viet Vet who was badly injured during the war and is experience terrible, nightmarish flashbacks once back in the US. He’s also tormented by the death of his son (Macaulay Culkin in an early role). The film raises all sorts of questions about perception – is Robbins’ character really experiencing all of these things? What exactly happened to him over in ‘Nam? etc. What’s interesting about this film is that its open to multiple interpretations, one of which involves “the wanderings of an unknowing soul through purgatory,” to quote its Wikipedia entry. At any rate, it’s an interesting film and definitely worth a look.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 3:36 pm

    Thank you, Kimberly, for your illuminating comments. Clearly I’m unaware of what Christianity is all about, as I am about Judaism, having grown up largely secularly. I’m sure that those steeped in religion find horror in many things that I do not.

    Thanks, J.D.

  • Kimberly Lindbergs spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 7:05 pm

    Really, Marilyn? Wow.

    I have no idea where all your anger and hostility is coming from. I attempted to answer your direct question and explain why I thought The Rapture resembled a horror film and you simply didn’t agree with what I said or didn’t like my reply. I thought I was calmly trying to answer your rather abrasive questions and comments but obviously we should just agree to disagree about the damn films. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 7:19 pm

    Abrasive question? What was that? That I asked if you really thought it was a horror film? That wasn’t a snark and I said so. Besides I don’t snark, not ever, and I resent you not giving me the benefit of the doubt. It’s disrespectful of me and how I conduct myself.

  • Kimberly Lindbergs spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 8:30 pm

    No, Marilyn! My rather broad comment was referring to your previous response to me that I read totally wrong. I thought you were being snarky with me when you said “Thank you, Kimberly, for your illuminating comments. Clearly I’m unaware of what Christianity is all about, as I am about Judaism, having grown up largely secularly.” I didn’t think you were snarky before that. at all.

    Please excuse the massive confusion on my part! I had a rough day dealing with VERY snarky jerks in the real world as well as online so I stupidly assumed the worst.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 8:59 pm

    Thanks for your apology, which I happily accept. There’s a lot of weirdness on the internet but I have always tried to shield this blog from it by conducting things in a civilized spirit of inquiry and enjoyment. And I will continue to do so.

  • Kimberly Lindbergs spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:04 pm

    On a side note…

    I did want to say that I noticed your comment on Facebook about me earlier and the Film Club where you mentioned that I had “assumed the worst” but that wasn’t the case at all at that point. I actually thought the conversation was going pretty well about The Rapture so that really confused me. But after reading The Facebook discussion I stupidly DID start to assume the worst and figured you must be pissed at me for something. Obviously I didn’t make that clear and I should have commented on Facebook before commenting here. Apologies again, Marilyn!

    Maybe we should just hit the delete button and start again from comment #48? Or maybe I just need to stay the hell out of Film Club. I need more time to formulate my answers and responses. This “off the cuff” stuff obviously gets me in trouble. I’m not good at multitasking and today I’m trying to do 101 things and failing at most of them.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:10 pm

    Well, since TOERIFC seems to be sunsetting, it’s kind of a moot point. Nobody has enough time to comment coherently, so you’re in good company. Let’s just call this a wrap.

  • Ryan Kelly spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:36 pm

    Great piece Marilyn, you do the film’s many complexities justice. I wonder who, on the whole, this film would be more disturbing to – people with deep rooted theological beliefs, or people like you and me, who are non-believers. Either way it paints the portrait of an unforgiving world largely devoid of meaning (and one where that meaning can be violently ripped away from you – both with respect to her relationship with religion, and with her husband, and in fact the film seems to draw comparisons between the two).

    I’m gonna have to fall on the side of those defending Rogers – I really do think her performance is remarkable. I really love the way her character doesn’t gradually change, and instead her performance completely shifts the moment she discovers religion. She sinks deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole but her character pretty much completely changes after the movie catches up with her as a wife and mother.

    That final image is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen in a movie. It so beautifully and hauntingly evokes the concept of sheer, endless nothingness. I’ll never forget it.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 9:41 pm

    I do think the entire Rapture sequence was disturbing, especially the Four Horsemen. On the whole, though, the film did not shake me up; it just intrigues me no end. What great questions it asks. Yes, Mimi Rogers was called on to do a lot with this part and she acquitted herself admirably.

  • Rod spoke:
    22nd/03/2010 to 10:45 pm

    Having not seen this film, but having a deep interest in the Horror genre, I’d just note that this kind of film can easily fall into the generic category – in fact it’s listed in Phil Hardy’s canonical “Encyclopedia of the Horror Film” and praised there for its “pointed contrast to the Bible-thumping of The Omen or The Seventh Sign“. It’s a serious mistake to attempt to intellectually belittle the genre by arguing anything that asks questions beyond merely Manichaeistic assumptions is therefore not Horror. The Horror genre has roots in folk-mythology and religious parable, and therefore a movie trying to evoke the traditional imagery of the Apocalypse would be taking the genre back to some of its philosophical and psychological roots, so to speak. And yes, 2001 has many elements of a Horror movie – rampaging monster, journey towards terrifying enigma, spaceship-as-old-dark-house, fight for survival; except painted in a technocratic sheen and realised as a finally more transcendent vision.

  • Yann Heckmann spoke:
    23rd/03/2010 to 5:13 am

    Not wanting to fan the flames of a dispute that seems to have been resolved amicably, I nevertheless can’t help but agree with one of Marilyn’s statements, namely that “The Exorcist” does not really engage seriously with dogma and merely treats it as a device to get the horror plot rolling. It’s a grand guignol / gothic novel treatment of Catholicism, and I love the film for going down that route with relish, but I cannot take it seriously as a treatment of religion, since there is no wider context to it whatsoever. Compare it with a film like “Requiem” ( and you see what I mean.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    23rd/03/2010 to 9:04 am

    I certainly can’t disagree with Rod, particularly given his cogent review of Wicker Man, a film that is not terribly unlike The Rapture. The split for me lies in how well-established Christianity is; the film’s engagement with its dogma, therefore, has an overt social application than that of the more screaming variety of horror.

    And Yann, I saw the superlative Requiem, which certainly does engage the spiritual aspects of possession in a reflective and human way, just the opposite of The Exorcist.

  • Doug Bonner spoke:
    4th/04/2010 to 4:48 pm

    I’m very impressed, Marilyn. This movie was so difficult for me when I saw it, asking so many prreviously-unasked questions (at least to someone who grew up in a secular environment), that I didn’t dare approach this film. You have shined a lot of light on the dark underpinnings of this film. I thank you for that.


  • Marilyn spoke:
    5th/04/2010 to 8:40 am

    My pleasure, Doug. This film is meaty and worth pondering in unraveling the human impulse to worship and faith.

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