This Is the End, a Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg comedy and yet another recent film depicting the apocalypse, is both a ridiculous and hilarious portrayal of the end that cameos demon-like beasts, natural disasters, the extremes of human depravity, and interestingly enough, a dispensational depiction of the rapture. This sparked my curiosity. Were they just out to poke fun at Christianity, or did they actually have something to say? Moreover, why the cultural fascination with apocalyptic themes?
I’ve been drawn to eschatology because I grew up in a tradition that viewed the rapture as imminent and preached lots of doomsday sermons from the pulpit. Yet in a society that upholds science as the new god—in which human progress should eventually answer all of society’s ills and human autonomy should lead to a worldview of supreme optimism and freedom—why instead does the media depict the world as moving toward such a gloomy conclusion? The possibility of an apocalypse means that there is judgment, and in a society that increasingly refuses to acknowledge God’s existence, this seems to be weighing heavily on the subconscious of our culture. This Is the End picks up on that fear and dread and shows that while autonomy should lead to optimism, it often doesn’t. Interestingly enough, it proposes judgment as the way to escape self-centeredness, and it ultimately suggests that there is an external moral code that a spiritually languishing society must restore in order for judgment to be circumvented.
In the first part of the film, Seth Rogen convinces Jay Baruchel to attend James Franco’s housewarming party, kicking off a stereotypical Hollywood scene featuring a gathering of beautiful, talented people, and sex and drugs. They are living the ultimate ideal of complete autonomy, and they are proud to be the epitome of hedonism, arrogance, and success. When an earthquake hits and the rapture takes place, almost everyone is unaware, and the party goes on. Only Jay Baruchel, who witnesses the blue beams of light sucking people into the sky, suspects that something serious is at hand. It’s not until more tremors rock Franco’s fortress of a house and everyone scatters in chaos that the party stops. Outside in his front yard, they are astonished to see the Hollywood hills in flames of fire, and then the earth opens up and swallows a bunch of partygoers. That finally shakes them out of themselves to realize that something beyond them is taking place.
At first, only Jay Baruchel understands that it’s the Judgment and becomes the “prophetic voice” that convicts most of the others. As Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, and James Franco hunker down in Franco’s house together, they must face the reality of judgment and initially find it to be inconceivable. Seth Rogen’s character sums up everyone’s thoughts best: “Say there was such a thing as blue lights sucking people up in the sky. That means that we were not awesome enough to go to heaven.” As the movie progresses and all the actors individually begin to realize that the apocalypse could be real, what was initially presented as a silly religious idea is suddenly considered as a possible truth. Later, as he comes to understand that the apocalypse is unfolding before his very eyes, he says, “It’s like the real apocalypse… like the book of Revelation… like there’s a God. Right? I haven’t lived my life like there’s a God this whole time. Who the heck saw that coming—like there’s actually a God?” It’s only in the face of judgment that they finally question their own attitudes and actions. They’re finally cornered and start to honestly question whether they deserve judgment, and if so, who’s the judge?
Within the confines of a crassly comedic presentation, the film takes the argument to its fullest extent. At first most are unbelieving, but when they realize that the apocalypse is real, they logically conclude that God must exist, and that if He exists, He is a Judge. When stripped of their false sense of autonomy, they must return to an external moral law, and so naturally they try to recall the Ten Commandments and what the biblical Scriptures say. In the end, those who are truly repentant for living selfish lives can be redeemed. It’s only when they sacrifice their own lives for someone else that the blue beam of light sucks them into the sky and saves them. The film’s final word on what could save the world from judgment is in opposition to the autonomous lives they were living and contrary to what society upholds as worthy and glamorous: dying to self.