First of all, let me start off by saying this film is like no other. At 102 minutes in length, it stands as one of the most uncompromising epics of the soul. In other words, here is a film that begins with the conept of mate swapping and closes with the end of the world.
Michael Tolkin, the director, wrote this film when he became aware that 50 million Americans identify themselves as fundamentalists of some kind. His script that evolved from this study would quickly become one of the most controversial films of the year.
To quickly paraphrase, the movie follows a character named Sharon as she grows restless with her day job (telephone operator) and her current lifestyle; which consists of her lover, Vic and her prowling the earthly streets of L.A. looking for other promiscuous souls to share a bed with.
And then in the morning, Sharon returns to work lifeless and takes each call with an unenthusiastic, “This is operator 134, what city please? Is that a business or residence? Please hold for the number.” Tolkin uses Sharon’s daytime job as a metaphor for modern man, who may communicate more easily than ever before, though more impersonally. At this moment, her life is an empty void. There’s no place for her to go.
In the immortal words of Christian Slater from “Pump Up the Volume”, “(Her) life is on hold. I mean (she) desperately needs something new. (She’s) just waiting for some new voice to come out of somewhere, and say, ‘Hey! What is wrong with this picture? Take a look around.'”
Sharon finds her change in religion–quickly converting to being a fundamental Baptist, marrying and having a child. In her eyes, the static life she now leads is happy and perfect. And then something occurs. Her life becomes a void again–only now on God’s terms.
For a roll of this complexity, a director must find an actress that is up to the challenge–and Michael Tolkin did just that in his casting of Mimi Rogers. That’s right, Mimi Rogers–former wife of Tom Cruise and co-star of Ridley Scott’s 1988 thriller, “Someone to Watch Over Me.” She buries herself into this role so completely that we forget she is acting. I can not tell you how long it has been since I’ve seen a film in which the character, and not the star, was accomplishing the actions layed out in the script. Mimi Rogers develops the character into a flesh and blood human being; making the journey from sinner to Christian to loser of faith in a strong, fearless and completely confident performance. It’s no wonder that people must talk about this film once it is over.
Now most movies that deal with religion as their primary focus are usually made by people who are themselves religious, but this film is seen from a more literal and skeptical point of view. Michael Tolkin may be Jewish but he confessed during the making of this film, “If this is what the end of creation is going to be like, then we should state unblinkedly at its full and terrifying implications.”
Some critics argue that “The Rapture” is too preachy, but I disagree. In this day and age, any film that mentions God or religion is accused of being “too preachy” so there is not a lot of validity to that critique. Besides, this a film that ends with the main character standing alone in the dark with neither the devil, nor the saints in the her corner.
Any work of art that leaves you with an open ended discussion about God should and cannot be considered propaganda for the religious right, or a win for the naysayers out there. It’s a story, pure and simple–and you take away from it what you will.
Also, pay attention to the expressionistic high contrast and low key lighting. Since this film is a tragedy and a thriller all at once, the use of the different lighting systems are used to convey that something important, historic and heartbreaking is happening right before our eyes.
Another thing to watch for is Bojan Bazelli’s stunning camera work. At the start of the film, Sharon is in complete control of her wild life–so the picture is held steady while she moves within the frame. It’s as if God is watching her life without judgement because she does not acknowledge him yet. When she marries and converts to the Baptist religion, now it is both her and the camera that is held steady. The result of this technique is standing back and watching Sharon and God mold into a similar state of mind; achieving an inner harmony. However, when Sharon’s life becomes without meaning anymore, it is the camera that moves about while she sits steady within the frame.
We become so involved with Sharon’s character that the story is no longer just happening to her, but to us.
At the end of the film, Michael Tolkin closes the film in silence. There is no “exit the theater” music to accompany you as you depart. The director has trusted his ideas and themes right up to the last frame–forcing us to reconcile with all that has come before.
Each and every one of us has our own relationship with the nature of God, whether you believe or not. What you take away from this work is largely what you bring to it, and there lies its power. Tolkin knows it. Mimi Rogers knows it. Sharon knows it–and I know it.
This is “The Rapture.”