The Rapture (1991) writ. and dir. Michael Tolkin cine. Bojan Bazelli music Thomas Newman star. Mimi Rogers (Sharon), David Duchovny (Randy), Patrick Bauchan (Vic), Will Patton (Foster), Kimberly Cullen, Terri Hanover, Dick Anthony Williams, James Le Gros, Carole Davis
If you had a recurring dream of something simple but unique -- something that has geometric symmetry yet appears organic, identifiable as a pearl, say -- and then discovered that other people were having the same dream, would you join with them in a religious association, perhaps a cult? Would you be susceptible to a fundamentalist end-game of apocalypse, death, and salvation?
During the day Sharon (Mimi Rogers) is Operator 134 in a Los Angeles telephone exchange but during the night a sexual adventurer who, with her partner Vic (Patrick Bauchan), cruises the tourist hotels at the airport looking for couples interested in switcharamas and voyeurism. Sometimes they take their trophies to Vic's furniture store where they sensualize one another in this private theatre of designer materialism. Sharon acquires Randy, an industrial painter, by this method.
Like Vic, Randy (David Duchovny) is another contemporary cynic who sees life as an existential fait accompli, a meaningless passage through chaos into nothingness, and all there can be is the pursuit of pleasure and the sacrament of the Self. While he accepts this selfish philosophy as the status quo reality, he admits to feeling bad about once shooting someone for money. So he too is a Godaholic in the making.
The movement from one excess to another is beautifully conveyed is a series of scenes that initially appear disconnected. In the exchange cafeteria, Sharon overhears some workers whispering about "the boy". She is later visited by two religious peddlers in suits who deliver the usual patois about Jesus and Salvation and in response to her question about "the boy", reply, "Some people say he's a prophet." Then, as part of her sex patrol, she watches Vic undress a woman called Angie whose back is tattooed in a convoluted mural of mythic imagery:
Sharon: Angie, you got that in one night?
Angie: Don't you know what's going on?
Angie: The dream... the Pearl.
Sharon confronts the co-workers in the cafeteria about "the Pearl".
Worker: You can't fake it. It's a message from God.
Sharon: How come it isn't on the News?
Sharon is becoming increasingly distressed about the emptiness in her world. She argues with Randy about the meaning of life, and then, in the first of several "expulsions" that characterize her attempts to eliminate an unsatisfactory past in order to find a spiritual future, she kicks Randy out of her bed and her apartment... although, as it develops, not out of her life.
Cut To: Sharon stopping to pick up a young hitch-hiker. Both are wearing shades, the standard mask of the sexually hip. The encounter is to be the last of Sharon's anonymous sexual escapades. In a brilliantly conceived monologue, the Hitch-hiker expresses the desire and loathing behind sexual hunger:
Hitch-hiker: They don't usually stop for me... they think I'm dangerous. Probably right. I'm not as dangerous as some guys I know... but I'd never give me a lift, no way, that's for sure. If I was a chick no double fuckin' way would I give me a lift. I've looked in the mirror, I've seen myself... my thumb out and I was a chick and I saw me? No sir. On the other hand, if I was the one who was hitching and I was a chick, I'd stop for me in a second... in fact, I'd fuck me too... in fact, if I was hitching and I was a chick, and I got stopped by a chick, I'd fuck me that way too... yeah, I wouldn't mind getting into a bi-girl scene with myself.... Actually, you're the first girl who's ever picked me up.
They go to a motel and in a move that seals her fate, Sharon finds a gun in the Hitch-hiker's backpack, uses it to "expel" him from her presence. When he leaves, she puts the pistol in the bedside drawer, finds the ubiquitous Gideon Bible, falls asleep reading... and experiences "the Rapture", dreams of the Pearl, the blue disc of the chosen.
"So far we're still in the realm of signs and wonders. But the Rapture is coming...."
It now turns out that the exchange is a nest of dreamers, all disciples of The Pearl and the prophecies of the negro child known as "The Boy". Soon Sharon and Randy are part of the "church". Advance 6 years: Sharon and Randy are married, have a daughter called Mary... and Randy is a pastor in the Church. They attend prayer circles, listen to the prophecies of The Boy, and their domestic life thrives within the discipline of this fundamentalist harness.
One day it all falls apart. Randy fires a Church worker who takes it badly, comes back with a shotgun, shoots a number of workers before killing Randy. Sharon takes the death of her husband calmly, reinforced by her belief in the imminent apocalypse and the Second Coming. The Boy tells her to go to the desert with her daughter and await the event that will reunite them with Randy.
By now the story is reaching its melancholy nadir of despair and desperation. They go to the desert, wait in a campground... but of course nothing happens. They stand watching the sky as Mary becomes more troubled and desperate about her father. In a final crippling irony Sharon is forced to shoot her little girl in order to make the unification possible -- but can't shoot herself as suicides are denied entry into the kingdom of heaven.
The scene is pivotal, the action completing the dramatic moment so emotionally that perhaps you miss the symbolism in the situation -- just as her child yearns to be reunited with her father in heaven, Sharon yearns to be united with God.
If the film ended here, it would be a powerful study of the religious instinct in conflict with the secular world, the articulation of irrational symbolisms by elite social units whose mysticism attracts undisciplined, addictive personalities. Sharon isn't pandemic, but she is representative of the Godaholic personality, human beings denied real love, desperate to commit, overwhelmed by loneliness and cosmic guilt. Convincing, depressing, unfortunately all too probable. American fundamentalism is a free-market religion. It uses Judeo-Christian mythology like an algebra, constantly reinventing its fictions of heaven and hell... and who is to say that fiction doesn't lead to the Truth?
Tolkin can't resist the temptation to dramatize the "apocalypse", montage his way out of an impasse of defeat into a pop culture coda featuring a motorcycle cop, the horsemen of the apocalypse, the grim reaper, the horns of Jericho and Jesus Christ. It's not very convincing. It's a post-psychedelic hallucination, another New Age lie.
An outstanding performance by Mimi Rogers, the telephone operator who connects people to people but who can't connect herself -- a defining role. The dialogue and characterizations are all very good, as is the film editing. The color blue is used atmospherically, a filter of the imagination. The film has an auteur feel although the style is all Hollywood, just like the sociology.
What conclusions can you draw from this bleak parable? That American women have escaped the bondage of pregnancy into the solitude of birth-control? That spiritual emptiness is the price of postponed motherhood in favor of promiscuity? This Catholic view can only be partially inferred, as Sharon's swinging life-style is transitional. Sex appears to be the only communal drug although in practice this is seldom the case. Is sexual fantasy the mirror of religious fantasy?
You be the judge.
© LR 28/6/99
*of related interest: The New Age
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