I’ve paid only the scantest attention to the Harold Camping news this year, because mostly, I’ve been intrigued that anyone is intrigued at all by some outlier radio host making predictions about the end of days. Seem like the kind of thing we should have learned to downplay by now. Since the 1970s, American culture has had a recurring preoccupation with the idea of an impending rapture, the moment when believers in Jesus Christ are airlifted straight to heaven, and everyone else is left here to suffer for a while as God allows his end times plan to play out. The best-selling nonfiction book of the 1970s was Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth, which argued that Jesus would return in 1988. In the 1990s, the Left Behind series of novels began to blanket bookstores, selling 65 million copies across ten titles. Rapture media has proliferated across many platforms, giving the New Yorker‘s Daniel Radosh plenty of material for a fine book.
(Incidentally, I am eager for a great novelist to give the rapture the Great American Novel treatment. Tom Perotta’s recent The Leftovers uses the rapture as a hook but doesn’t make much sense of it. Rob Stennett’s The End Is Now is much better and smarter about the varied expressions of Christian culture that rapture predictions inspire. But surely Denis Johnson will get around to it someday. He sure oughta.)
In the meantime, we do have a fascinating rapture film, and I’m not talking about church basement freak-fests like A Thief in the Night or Left Behind: The Movie. I’m talking about Michael Tolkin’s surreal, stunning 1991 The Rapture.
For a couple weeks, I’ve been trying to develop a longer post about Tokin’s film and the excellent recent feature on The Rapture at Press Play, but work and life have intervened each and every day. I’m still staring at a big stack of to-do’s, so I’ll just send you on your merry way directly to Press Play, where you can wade into these strange waters for yourself. Alongside a terrific video essay about how The Rapture merges the personal with the theological, Press Play posted Matt Zoller Seitz’s original, contemporaneous review of the film, which contains the weirdest two-sentence combo you’re likely to see in film writing: “Seeing [The Rapture] may make even the staunchest nonbelievers want to go to church,” writes Seitz. And, in the next sentence, “Our guide through this story is Sharon (Mimi Rogers), a telephone information operator who escapes the overpowering dullness of her life through group sex with strangers.”
That gives you some idea of the strangeness of The Rapture. The film might inspire you to read the Bible and place yourself in the fellowship of believers, and it has a couple orgy scenes. Plus, a third act that will make you think you’ve stepped directly into the mind of Harold Camping. Viewer beware.