THE RAPTURE (1991)
PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: Philosophy of religion, problem of evil
CHARACTERS: Sharon (Mimi Rogers), Vic (Sharon’s first lover), Randy (David Duchovny, Sharon’s husband), Mary (Sharon and Randy’s daughter), Sheriff Foster
OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR MICHAEL TOLKIN: The New Age (1994) Changing Lanes (2002; screenwriter)
SYNOPSIS: Sharon, depressed from her tedious and impersonal job as a telephone operator, cruises nightclubs with her boyfriend Vic looking for couples for group sex. She overhears fellow workers talking about the end times – dreams about the pearl, the coming of a prophet boy, the return of Christ and the rapture. Feeling that she needs a new direction, she gives up her old life and persuades one of her lovers, Randy, to adopt fundamentalist Christianity. The two get married, have a daughter, still awaiting the second coming. A disgruntled former employee kills Randy, but Sharon appears unaffected as she looks forward to the second coming. She goes with her daughter to the desert to wait for the rapture. When it doesn’t happen in a timely fashion, Sharon kills her daughter to usher her into heaven. Sharon quickly feels that God manipulated her into performing this deed. The rapture finally occurs, but Sharon can no longer love God and thus intentionally forfeits her opportunity to go to heaven.
1. Two evangelists stop by Sharon’s house, one of whom states, “You have to believe [in Christ]. If you don’t, you go to hell.” Sharon responds, “Well that doesn’t seem fair.” What specifically is unfair about that plan of salvation?
2. Speaking to her religious co-workers, Sharon states, “There are five billion people on the planet. There’s I don’t know how many religions. Why does some god of some little country of the Mediterranean have to be the god of everyone? Isn’t that a little arrogant? I mean really! The Buddhists get along OK without Jesus Christ. The Hindus get along OK without Jesus Christ. The Muslims seem to be getting along OK without Jesus Christ.” One worker responds, “But none of them are saved.” Is that a good response to Sharon’s question?
3. Insisting that there is no God, Randy says to Sharon, “The world’s a disaster. We have no power to make it better. 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.” Later he states, “Its just a drug. You’re in pain. Instead of doing heroin, you’re doing God.” Randy is suggesting that psychological desperation discredits faith. Is Randy right?
4. Sharon explains to Vic her new relation with Jesus. Not knowing that Sharon was talking about Jesus, Vic laughs and says, “you fell for some rich homosexual.” On the one hand, it makes some sense for Sharon to describe her relationship with God in language that connects with her and Vic’s experience. On the other hand, don’t the anthropomorphic descriptions discredit the experiences themselves?
5. Sharon discusses the second coming with her boss. He says to her, “When they first meet him [i.e., God], everyone thinks that judgment day is just around the corner. I remember that feeling very well. It’s a powerful feeling. But that sense that it’s going to happen tomorrow passes. Tomorrow comes and he doesn’t. And then you understand that those feelings, as powerful as they are and the dreams as real as they are, are just shadows of the real thing, and no one can say how far away that real thing really is.” The boss’s point is that believers should just be patient. A song by 10 CC, though, pushes this point a little further: “The greatest story ever told was so wrong... 2,000 years and he ain’t shown yet.” As the centuries roll by, it seems that there is a point at which people should give up on a literal notion of the second coming. Is there such a point? What about with non-Christian religions which also proclaim the second coming of their particular savior?
6. Sharon states to Sheriff Foster that the purpose of life is to love God no matter what, but she can no longer love him. “He let me kill my little girl, and he still expects me to love him. I’m afraid of hell, so I have to wait out my life, waiting for God. Now, he’ll forgive me and he’ll let me join my daughter and husband in heaven, but first I have to say I love him. You can send me to the gas chamber and if I let God into my heart before I die, then I can go to heaven because God is merciful.” John Locke wrote a book called The Reasonableness of Christianity in which he argued that the essential elements of the Christian faith have an inherent logic. Assuming that Sharon has accurately depicted the Christian formula of salvation, is there any logic to it?
7. Most religions make a major assumption: we should all want to spend eternity with God, regardless of what God’s nature is. This movie challenges that assumption: if God is just an all-powerful and malicious bully, perhaps we should just turn down the offer of heaven. As Sharon expresses it, “If life is a gift and there really is a heaven, then why should I thank him for the gift of so much suffering, so much pain on the earth that he created.” Believers would of course deny that God is evil; nevertheless, believers would grant that God’s notion of justice may differ radically from ours and from our perspective God may indeed appear malicious. How malicious would God have to appear before you would opt out of his heavenly offer?
8. At the close of the movie, Sheriff Foster gets into heaven simply because he loves God for giving him the gift of life. Tolkin, the screenwriter and director, undoubtedly understood that this is not part of Protestant fundamentalist doctrine. However, at the end of the movie he seems to be developing the message of the film so that would be relevant in any religion: if you love God in spite of his malice then you can get into heaven; if you don’t love God because of his malice then you can’t get into heaven. Loving God is the litmus test, and not simply believing in God (or believing in some doctrines about God, which is how the fundamentalist salvation plan is usually construed). Loving God vs. believing in God: which if either is the better plan?