Journal of Religion and Film
Reader Discussion

1. Studying Religion and Film

  • Maria C. Maisto

  • Bonnie Long

2. Interpreting The Rapture: From Horrific to Heroic

3. Lyden/Marsh Discussion (Religion, Film and Postmodernity)

John Lyden: Continuing the Conversation: A Response to Clive Marsh

4. Reassessing the Matrix


5. Wake up! Gnosticism and Buddhism in The Matrix

Bill Lyon

6. Star Wars

Andy Derksen

2. Interpreting The Rapture: From Horrific to Heroic

Bill Blizek (1 February 1998)

[1] In his essay on The Rapture, Carl Greiner concludes that whether you interpret the ending as real (a tale of prophecy) or as imaginary (a tale of madness), this is a story of horror. If the rapture is real, then the horror comes from Sharon’s inability to believe in God and her resulting exclusion from God's kingdom. If the rapture is imaginary, then the horror comes from the madness and despair into which Sharon is drawn, as evidenced by the killing of her own daughter.

[2] Although both interpretations of the film lead to horror, the film is especially challenging if The Rapture is a tale of prophecy, if the movie presents a demanding vision of Christianity. This demanding vision of Christianity is quite contrary to the comfortable version found in suburban churches on Sunday mornings and also contrary to that version of Christianity which equates being one of God’s children with being wealthy, a view found in various evangelical, television ministries. But if The Rapture is an alternative version, a tale of prophecy, it asserts that God might call upon us to sacrifice children and sentence us to eternal damnation if we cannot accept in the end that God would ask us to do something so horrible.

[3] What I would like to propose here is an alternative interpretation of the movie, one which moves us from the two types of horrific film to one that is heroic. That is, instead of finding the ending of the movie to be one of horror, it is possible, I believe, to see Sharon, the main character of the movie, as heroic in its conclusion, although she is heroic for facing both the madness and the possible damnation identified by Greiner.

[4] Sharon is living a life of boredom, punctuated by sexual orgies and the numbing effect of alcohol, until she becomes acquainted with claims of a future "rapture." Becoming a person who awaits the rapture, she changes her life style. She marries, has a daughter, lives in a comfortable home, and participates in her rapture-expectant church. All of these good things seem to be the product of her believing in God and the future rapture. Everything in her life seems to be going well, until her husband is killed by a disgruntled former employee whom her husband has fired. From that moment on, the rapture takes on greater significance and urgency for Sharon and she pursues its immediate appearance.

15] Amidst serious grieving for her loss, Sharon leaves her home and friends behind. She departs with her young daughter, Mary, for the desert, where she expects an imminent rapture to occur. After weeks of waiting and" giving God one more chance," daughter Mary begs to go to heaven and be with her father and baby Jesus. Moved by this expressed desire and with a belief that God will understand, Sharon shoots her daughter in the back of the head and buries her body under a pile of stones what could be seen as madness.

[6] Now Sharon drives away from the desert and is stopped by the local sheriff. She confesses to killing her daughter and is taken to the local jail. While in jail, the rapture occurs; God’s judgment and the end of the world arrives. Sharon is transported to the "river that washes away all of your sins." To cross over to heaven, all she must do is surrender to God—to love God no matter what. Mary appears to Sharon and tries to convince her to love God and cross over. The sheriff seems to surrender and crosses over himself, leaving Sharon alone on the near side of the river.

[7] Sharon stands alone and refuses to love a God that has asked her to kill her child. She rejects such a God. At the very end of the move, Mary asks her mother: "Do you know how long you will have to be over there? "Sharon replies: "Forever."

[8] It is because we must love a God no matter what— even if God asks us to kill our children— that Greiner interprets the prophetic tale as horrific. The message of the movie, for Greiner, is just that one must love such a God in order to find salvation, in order to be taken into heaven. And it is just this task that Greiner claims makes this religious perspective so challenging. This tougher kind of Christianity is not the easy path so popular among many Americans who identify themselves as Christians but who live a life of luxury and ease, a life without sacrifice. This prophetic perspective calls for a radical acceptance of God and of God’s authority, an acceptance that is not compatible with a comfortable religion or with personal autonomy and freedom.

[9] At the end of the movie, however, I believe that we can interpret Sharon’s situation, her defiance of God, as an heroic act. Sharon has finally decided to make her own decision, to live her own life, to accept the consequences of her choices. In rejecting a God that requires one to kill one’s child, Sharon overcomes the very madness in which she found herself when she did kill Mary. In overcoming madness, Sharon may be seen as heroic.

[10] The other possibility is that the rapture is real and the movie is about prophecy, rather than madness. In this case, Sharon rejects a real God and is condemned "forever" to damnation. But, Sharon’s rejection of a real God is even more heroic because the consequence of her rejection is so severe. Sharon would rather live "forever" without God, than surrender to a God who asks us, for whatever reasons, to kill our own children as a testament to our faith. On this view, Sharon finds salvation, but her salvation is not the salvation God offers, but rather the salvation of living with one’s own integrity.

R. D. Hohenfeldt (23 March 1998)

Dr. Greiner,

[1] Your essay on the film, The Rapture, was truly as thought-provoking as the film, which I only recently came across in a video store. My reaction to the film was different from yours. You saw horror and a portrayal of God as vengeful judge, while I saw it as a picture of the grace of God.

[2] In fact, I was surprised at the orthodoxy presented in the film. I know nothing about the director or his point of view, but it seems to me he has presented a clear case for acceptance of Christianity.

[3] The director shows that Sharon's life is far more fulfilled after she "accepts Christ." Although evil takes away her husband, that is not God's fault. When God sends a message to her that the Rapture is about to occur, she interprets that message to mean she should "Wait in the desert." After she goes to the desert and waits two weeks, she loses heart/faith and kills her daughter so the girl can go to be with God. She cannot bring herself to commit suicide because she fears hell.

[4] When Sharon gets arrested and goes to jail, the next day the Rapture occurs. Meanwhile, she has persuaded herself that her problems are the fault of God, the Judge of all, whom she believes needs a judge himself. BUT, God didn't clearly tell her to go to the desert; she merely interpreted the "message" in the pictures to be a call to go to the desert. God didn't tell her to kill her little girl; she took her fate and her little girl's fate into her own hands. Had she merely waited one more day, she and her daughter would have "risen in the air to meet the Lord" together.

[5] To enter heaven and avoid outer darkness, all Sharon had to do was say she loved God. She can not do so because she unjustly blames him for her problems. She believes God doesn't deserve her love. But it wasn't God who took her husband. It wasn't God who ordered her to the desert. It wasn't God who told her to kill her daughter. An evil man killed her husband. She went to the desert and killed her daughter on her own. The Rapture occurred anyway. She could have stayed home and served God or she could have waited one more night in the desert and it would have occurred just as God had told in the Revelation and in the Pearl dreams.

[6] The film seems to me to show clearly that God is a God of consistency, grace and love, and if we just trust and wait on him, we can see his will being worked out. It is a highly orthodox view of Christianity.


The Rapture

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