Monday, October 8, 2012

Various Apocaylpses Part 2: THE RAPTURE

Sharon has a stultifiying job at a call centre, serving the lazy and the idle by linking them to the phone numbers they seek. She's one of many among the dingy partitions. If this were god's job, and according to popular imagination it might as well be, no one would want it. She compensates with nights in Babylon, taking her drugs in the nose and sexual sparing anywhere else, coupling and recoupling. During one such sensual whirl she is mesmerised by the sight of an extremely elaborate tattoo on a woman's back of a pearl in a very odd looking setting. She asks about it and is only further intrigued by its owner's vague answer.

Further investigation leads her to the culty side of the fundamentalist Christian street and soon she finds some of these at the call centre, lunching together in the canteen and speaking in whispers. Outside of work she is increasingly haunted about her own dissolute lifestyle and begins to pursue the path, going from a backfiring slight toetesting to all out epiphany. She drags her most recent regular partner (a pre-X Files David Duchovny) from his own decadence into a dustless Christian marriage. They have a daughter. David suits up and eventually becomes a manager. Things, very bad things happen.

Sharon receives what she is convinced is an epiphany she takes her daughter to the desert, camps out by a mountain and waits for what she insists is the imminent apocalypse. Another non-spoily bad thing happens which brings the local sheriff into the picture. Then the apocalypse happens.

That bit isn't a spoiler as it's in the title. The notion relates to an interpretation of an old testament verse that suggests to the eager reader that at the point of the cataclysm, the faithful of the world will be transported to heaven. Here's the interesting thing about this film's presentation of this: it's literal. Act three is all Book of Revelation with additional dialogue. While the first two acts play like a candid Christian redemption tale the last one rolls out everything from the last book of the Bible as though it's really happening. But is it?

This film is a kind of necker cube. Look at it now and it's receding. Look again and it's advancing. What looks at first like a mega budget school pageant can very easily take on the icy tinge of psychosis. Sharon (Mim Rogers in her career's role of roles) descends through shock into a realm that she sees as biblical and ultimately blissful that you get a real sense that when she does the bad deed (and it is bad) she is aware of it's monstrousness as a human but convinced of its rectitude as a potential candidate for the rapture.

So which is it? Me, I'm an atheist, I'm incapable of accepting the events as literal truth without the same suspension of disbelief as I use with horror or science fiction. When I screened this at Shadows, one of the small but appreciative audience was an Anglican seminarian who praised the film for its "honesty". What she meant by that referred to my introduction which mentioned that writer/director Michael Tolkin, a Jewish-raised atheist who wanted to see what extreme religious belief looked like when played out for real. And it is honest. There are no moments of snidery here and the risk that the audience will only take what it sees one or the other way is clear and enormous. Whether this as a sobering parable of faith or psychiatry you will here find power and thought. It's not just honest, it's brave.

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