Wednesday, November 18, 2009
THE RAPTURE (1991, USA, Tolkin)
THE RAPTURE (1991, USA)
Rapture (rap' chur) 1. ecstatic joy or delight. 2. a state of extreme sexual ecstasy. 3. the feeling of being transported to another sphere of existence. 4. the experience of being spirited away to Heaven just before the Apocalypse.
This bizarre shaggy dog story is as sexually and spiritually explicit a film as you're likely ever to see. Mimi Rogers (in what may be the performance of her career) portrays a telephone information operator whose off-hours sexual adventures can no longer mask an agonizing spiritual emptiness. When she overhears the secretive lunch-room whisperings of some drably religious co-workers, this desperate, hungry woman begins to be drawn toward a potentially authentic Christian conversion in the context of a cultish end times sect.
Early in the film Sharon tells a casual sex partner that if she has any limits, she hasn't found them yet. Perhaps that's just as true of director / writer Michael Tolkin, who adapted this uncompromising film from his own novel – he never flinches in following this bizarre, compelling premise to its inevitable, utterly unpredictable conclusion. And the route he follows in getting there is as idiosyncratic as the story he's chosen to tell – just when I thought this thing was a cross between a Shannon Tweed direct-to-video sex flick and a Jack Chick evangelistic tract, I began to wonder if it wasn't going to end up in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS territory, with a bit of Ingmar Bergman and Joel Schumacher thrown in for good measure.
In saying that, I don't mean to be dismissive about the film. Its stylistic excesses come from an abundance of ambition and imagination rather than a poverty of taste or craft. Bear in mind that this movie comes from the same mind as the morally searching CHANGING LANES, the similarly audacious "lets take this idea to its absolute limit" novel that begat Robert Altman's masterful and sophisticated film, THE PLAYER, or the go-for-broke satire of THE NEW AGE.
Given that the film opens with explicit sexual material, it will be no surprise that it doesn't feel obliged to end up in any particularly orthodox theological place. But the films apparent heterodoxies are in tension with the authenticity of this woman's spiritual search, however psychologically troubled she might be. And however church-skit embarassing I found some of the evangelistic dialogue – though I'd suggest that these dichotomies are the film maker's primary strategy,k to constantly confront us with unsettling and dissonant elements that both provoke and confound our preconceptions.
However rambling the film's structure, it ultimately seeks the very core of the Christian faith, asking blunt questions about the only question that matters: the love of God – our love for him, and his for us. I found the film's final assertion unsatisfying due to what I took as a self-congratulatory lack of nuance, patting itself on the back for asking Big Questions while implying only Small Answers. Until it occurred to me that the untenable situation the character finds herself in is almost entirely of her own making. So just what is this Michael Tolkin guy saying, anyway?
I can think of only two other explicitly religious films that are quite this strange, and only one that has anything like its earnestness of purpose. GOD TOLD ME TO is equally quirky, but is finally nothing more than a confused Godsploitation flick. Brian Moore charts equally strange spiritual waters with serious intent in COLD HEAVEN, but that film is seriously marred by grotesquely bad acting. It seems THE RAPTURE stands at the pinnacle of its provocative genre – however small and eccentric that genre may be.
Available at Videomatica