**½/**** Image A- Sound B+ (DD)/A (DTS) Commentary A
starring Mimi Rogers, David Duchovny, Patrick Bauchau, Will Patton
written and directed by Michael Tolkin
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. Based on a single viewing in the winter of 1993, I used to call Michael Tolkin's The Rapture a masterpiece. At the time, a friend of mine who felt the same way about the film wondered aloud how I could've connected with it, since he'd had a religious upbringing and I'd never even been to church. The question genuinely caught me off guard--nobody'd challenged my love of The Last of the Mohicans just because I didn't grow up on a reservation. Nevertheless, it's honestly taken me eleven years to formulate an adequate response: When I first saw The Rapture, which is more or less about the wait for Judgment Day to arrive, I was on the verge of graduating from high school; my future was presaged in university applications but no less unknowable or nerve-racking, and the movie leeched off that anxiety in a way that invoked empathy. Alas, many a "bell jar" of my youth--Taxi Driver, The Tenant, Boyz N the Hood--seems a little alien to me now that I've progressed beyond teen angst, and I can no longer subscribe to The Rapture outside its affecting portrait of bachelor ennui. Perhaps it's a true Heisenberg movie, changing with me.
Greenness on the part of the viewer essentially works in the film's favour, as its shortcomings bear the stamp of a first-time helmer and are either looked on sympathetically or go unnoticed by the untrained eye. (Jonathan Rosenbaum accurately described it as "a so-so student film.") Tolkin, who made an inauspicious screenwriting debut with the sk8er-boi espionage thriller Gleaming the Cube, became saleable following the success of 1992's The Player (the screenplay for which Tolkin adapted from his own novel), and one finds himself wishing that Tolkin had saved The Rapture until he could see the fruits of his slightly contentious collaboration with hatchet man Robert Altman on The Player. Scripts are written to instill faith in the reader that the project is viable, thus they can be a little overwritten to pre-empt unintentional ambiguities. (Or worse, specific requests for lots of florid exposition.) It's implicit that this stuff will jettison itself like a pair of rocket boosters sometime between pre-production and distribution, but Tolkin doesn't yet trust the subtext in The Rapture. A third of the way through the piece, for example, Sharon (Mimi Rogers, in an emotionally tactile performance), a born-again, convinces Randy (David Duchovny), an atheist, that they should be a couple. Dissolve to: a patronizing optical informing us that it's six years later, at which point we see that a freshly-scrubbed Sharon and Randy are the proud parents of a young girl, Mary (the abysmal Kimberly Cullum--I genuinely believe that Tolkin cast a Fulci-level child actor to temper the scandalousness of her eventual execution with schadenfreude). The problem with the scene where Randy relents to Sharon is that the dialogue is reductive--you're left both not comprehending and indifferent to Randy's motive for acquiescing because Tolkin himself can't elucidate it beyond the needs of the plot.
However precocious he may be, Tolkin is not a natural born filmmaker--the most aesthetically successful parts of The Rapture are located in its deeply resonant first half and anchored by hommage. The picture opens with a creep through the cubicles of a 4-1-1 station that establishes the messenger status of our heroine, Sharon, as swiftly and portentously as the God's-eye-view shot of telephone operators at the beginning of Grand Hotel; a pair of Bible-thumpers informally impersonate the English sisters from Don't Look Now; and the lighting of an airport lounge in the earlygoing is an explicit tribute to Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul. Sharon is a swinger by night, prowling for mutually adventurous couples with would-be boyfriend Vic (Patrick Bauchau); although Rosenbaum blasts Tolkin for going "the standard puritanical route of aiming to be as tawdry as possible before the heroine starts to see the light," if it appears the film is judging Sharon's promiscuity, it's only because she turns to prayer (i.e., institutionalized monogamy) rather than to Tom Hanks or Billy Crystal (i.e., idealized monogamy) for a line out of the quicksand. Sharon represents the modern spinster, a demographic of thirtysomething women marooned by feminism and ghettoized by their libido. Having observed the purposefulness of colleagues who've seen the prophetic "pearl" in their sleep, Sharon lies to them about the content of her own dreams--a pithy and heartbreaking indication, by virtue of its cafeteria setting, that she's made purely lateral moves since high school.
The second half of The Rapture takes place in the desert, where the widowed Sharon, obeying a vision of her dead husband, waits with Mary for Armageddon. As Sharon's malaise begins to reassert itself, the picture adopts a starkness that's at once galvanizing, chintzy, and morally ambivalent--I've got this sinking feeling that Sharon finally refuses to thank God for the life He gave her (thus guaranteeing herself exile to limbo) not out of pride, but so that Tolkin can watch her do one last revolution on the spit. (Sharon's relationship with God mirrors an actress's relationship with her director and a character's relationship with her creator.) In their festival sensation Purgatory House, Cindy Baer and Celeste Davis manage to expose the virulent obsequiousness in the appeal for salvation without tempting any such accusations of misogyny, maybe because they're women, but more likely because they didn't bite off more than they could theologically chew. While Tolkin racked up the merit badges from critics for not letting a miniscule budget or good taste stop him from depicting the end of the world, is he really that much better than an ersatz Larry Cohen?
New Line presents The Rapture on DVD in a gorgeous, albeit occasionally scuff-marked, 1.85:1, 16x9-enhanced transfer. Though a topless glimpse of Rogers that materialized in fullscreen versions of the film is lost to the widescreen mattes, it's hard to cause a stink without looking like a pervert or a hypocrite for advocating OAR except when boobage is at stake. A 5.1 remix is offered in Dolby Digital and DTS flavours, the latter working up a tremendous sweat during the climax--Gabriel's trumpet is almost deafening. Tolkin, Rogers, Duchovny, and Bauchau reunite for a feature-length commentary originally recorded for LaserDisc in which they leave few production stories untold, from Duchovny's unorthodox audtion to Rogers's methodical preparation for her role. (Among other things, Tolkin prohibited her from saying "please" and "thank you" in her personal life in the weeks leading up to the shoot.) Favourite images are cited and improvisations identified, and the financial failure of the film is somewhat accurately blamed on one of the worst months in box-office history (October of 1991). A solo yakker from Tolkin (as promised within the DVD's packaging) might've yielded more introspection and less nostalgia, but so be it. Red-band trailers for The Rapture, Delta of Venus, and Wide Sargasso Sea round out the platter. Originally published: November 17, 2004.