I was going to talk about Apocalypse later in the year, but when I saw that Heathen Critique was running a series on it right now, I decided to post something while the topic was still relevant. I deliberately haven’t read Ivan’s posts yet because I wanted to form my own opinions, so I apologize in advance for any overlap between Heathen Critique’s responses and mine.
Apocalypse is a 1998 movie about two journalists, Helen Hannah (Leigh Lewis) and
Buck Williams Bronson Pearl (Richard Nester), who are trying to survive the Rapture and rise of the Antichrist. A wise commenter from the Slacktiverse once referred to it as “the Left Behind equivalent of ‘Barry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Bone.'” That description sounds about right.* Although it was made before the Left Behind movie, Apocalypse clearly wanted really badly to be Left Behind (though why anyone would want that is beyond me). Unfortunately, it didn’t have quite the acting talent or the special effects budget to achieve its lofty dreams.
To compensate for its low budget, roughly half of the movie is filmed as faux-news reports. Therefore, instead of showing the fights and bombings from the perspectives of the people experiencing them, they show reporters standing in front of vague and/or chaotic backgrounds, announcing, “A bomb just went off here!” This technique could be cool in an indie film sort of way, but the movie fails to build up the human element that makes this technique impactful. The result is confusing at best and tedious at worst.
Apocalypse opens with Helen and her grandmother watching a WNN news report. Bronson stops by on his way to do a live report from the battlefields of Megiddo. Everyone is freaking out because the world is on the brink of an all-out nuclear war–apparently the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has escalated to the point that … well … everyone is just gonna bomb each other. Oh my goodness! you might be saying. That’s terrible! How did that happen?!
Well, that is just a great question which nobody answers. As the movie progresses, reporters around the world go on and on about how any moment now, shiznit could go down. But what I want to know is why shiznit is going down and, furthermore, based on the technology and fashions that we’re seeing, why is this shiznit going down in the next couple of years rather than several decades/centuries in the future?
Remember that old “End of ze World” flash animation? Even that offers a better explanation for the apocalypse than anything that happens in Apocalypse.
Some futuristic dystopian stories don’t bother to explain how the world got from here to there, and that’s perfectly fine given what those stories are trying to accomplish. The Hunger Games, Uglies, and Divergent all spring to mind. These exist primarily to entertain and only secondarily to caution. But Apocalypse isn’t supposed to be fictional fun. This movie is supposed to be a warning about events that could happen any minute now. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to know why we should expect these things to happen any minute now. But well just nope. Never you mind about that.
We occasionally cut away from the news reports for some attempts at character building. Helen and Bronson, it turns out, are a decently cute couple. I should add that I really like that the male and female leads are already a couple when the movie begins. Then they remain a couple as they try to cope with the disasters throughout the movie. It’s something unusual and refreshing to see.
My mind is still spinning from wondering what the hell is going on with this whole nuclear annihilation thing, though, when Helen makes the first of several references to the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a 4000 year old war. Um. Whut? I know next to nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–legitimately, I still mix up Palestine and Pakistan sometimes–but even I know that Israel was established in the 1930s.
I like to think my ignorance is a little bit justified, at least. I mean, my degree is in English lit. I can write analytical papers on medieval romances and talk about why cartoons are an excellent medium for representing traumatic events according to Cathy Caruth’s description of trauma theory. That’s about what I do. I don’t pretend to know a thing about politics. But you’d think that if you assemble a group of people who obsessively follow the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–and if you assemble this group for the sole purpose of, say, filming a movie about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict–they would know a few more things about it than I do. Things like … how long it’s been going on or … who’s been fighting in it.
To sooth my frazzled sense of continuity/logic, I’ll imagine that this movie really takes place in a society similar to ours that exists 4000 years in the future. That actually makes more sense than any other explanation I can think of.
So some other things happen, the war continues to make no sense, and suddenly– Rapture!
Let’s give kudos where kudos are due. The Rapture caught me completely off guard. Furthermore, the faux-news reports work really well in this scene. An onsite reporter stands in the middle of the street, talking about the war again, and suddenly we’re looking at his feet, as if whomever’s filming the movie just dropped the camera. You can hear the reporter in the background shouting, “Charlie! Charlie! My cameraman just disappeared!”
The reporter is freaked out, but to his credit he keeps reporting (which is more than we can say for Left Behind’s Buck Williams). He picks up the fallen camera and spins it shakily around, narrating the scene around him, where other people have (obviously) vanished. More reports start pouring in. People are confused, scared, and trying to make sense of the situation. For the first time in Apocalypse, there’s some emotional impact. I really feel for some of these people.**
Meanwhile, Helen goes home to check on her grandmother, who has been Raptured. Luckily, Grandma’s left a note in her shirt pocket conveniently explaining that she’s been Raptured. I’m intrigued. Is this a thing people do? Are there Christians walking around all the time with notes in their pockets that say, “If I spontaneously disappear, it’s because I’ve been Raptured?” If so, I want to start carrying a note that says, “If I spontaneously disappear, I was definitely NOT Raptured. It might have been aliens or something. You should look into that.”
So God Raptures everyone. Then the Antichrist, Franco Macalusso, arrives on the scene. Frankie M. takes credit for the Rapture, announcing that he’s the Divine Creator of the universe and he’s removed the people who stood in the way of the new “era of peace and prosperity.” Everyone thinks this is just great and he is awesome and they can’t wait to worship him!
No, no, no. Wow, no!
Back up a minute. Imagine for a second the real-world equivalent of that scenario: Millions of people, including all of the children, vanish into thin air, causing crashes, deaths, and riots. Then Barack Obama stands up and says, “Hey, I did this. I’m actually God, and I made everyone disappear because they were standing in the way of the New Age.”
Realistically–and I use that term very loosely–I can see this scenario going one of three ways:
1) Obama’s cabinet quickly realizes that the stress of the situation is driving him crazy. They convince him to resign and take a mental health break while the Vice President handles things.
2) Everyone is so freaked out by what’s happened that they believe Obama when he says he’s the God who caused the vanishings. But they’re not going to be applauding. They’re going to be pissed. “What the hell do you mean my one year old child was standing in the way of the New Age!” “Screw the New Age! I want my husband back!” If there’s ever a bad time to pretend to be God, it’s right after the Rapture. As Fred Clark has pointed out many times, nobody’s going to be happy to hear that God took their loved ones away. In fact, this would be the perfect time for the Antichrist to stand up and say, “I’m Antichrist. I’m opposed to the God who took your children. Join me, and we’ll get them back.” By the time the words “join me” left his mouth, all the ex-parents on the planet would have 666 tattooed on their foreheads. Easiest take-over ever.
3) Everyone is so freaked out by what’s happened that they believe Obama when he says he’s the God who caused the vanishings. They’re not happy by any means, but they’re terrified that if they stand in his way they’ll disappear too. They resign themselves to the fact that “God” is a callous monster and serve him out of fear until Jesus returns and punishes them forever. Thus proving that they were right about the callous monster part.
But anyway none of those things happen so we’ll just assume Macalusso has some sort of supernatural charisma that makes everyone love him (like Nicolae Carpathia has on and off whenever Left Behind‘s authors think it might be convenient to the story).
Things escalate quickly. Frankie M. decided that, although the Bible is an important book, Jesus is evil and divisive (whut?). Within a week, Christians are being persecuted a la Jews circa 1942 Germany. (No, you read that right. This entire thing happens in less than a week.) The screenwriters must have felt like they should come up with a fake religious slur for people to call the persecuted Christians. This actually makes sense, but since it’s a family movie they couldn’t use any real bad words. So they came up with the slur “haters.” From then on all I could hear was that line from Mary J. Blige’s “Family Affair” (Skip to 2:03).
There’s a lot more madness where that came from, but I think my attention span has about hit its limit. However, there’s one final detail I want to discuss. I’d like to take this moment to point out that Apocalypse is a movie made in affiliation with Jack Van Impe Ministries. The script was supervised by Jack Van Impe and the cast features Jack Van Impe. Did we mention Jack Van Impe is in this movie? Also, more importantly, Jack Van Impe.
Mr Van Impe’s role in this movie has me scratching my head a little bit. First, Helen watches a pre-Rapture tape where he predicts the Rapture. She converts to Christianity when she realizes that *gasp* everything Mr. Van Impe predicted has come true! Secondly, the big finale (spoilers!!) shows Jack Van Impe’s video being broadcasted all over the world. Those who listen to him learn the truth about God and the Antichrist, and, with a final parting shot of Jack Van Impe’s smiling face, they live happily ever after. The End.
I can’t say Mr. Van Impe is the only preacher to insert himself into a Rapture story that he helped write. The protagonists of Left Behind–Rayford Steel, the ultra manly man, and Buck Williams, teh best writer evers!!!–are extremely blatant author inserts. But Left Behind‘s authors LaHaye and Jenkins stop short of actually making themselves named characters. Mr. Van Impe clearly decided, hell, why stop there?! Why not just save the day in your own story?
I went into Apocalypse figuring it was meant to serve as an escapist fantasy for Christians. Who doesn’t want to imagine themselves as the gutsy underdog, fighting against the bad guy, and triumphing against all odds? But, having finished Apocalypse, I’ve come to the conclusion that it was actually created as an escapist fantasy for Jack Van Impe. He manages to get schwooped away before anything bad happens and still pummels the villain.
Aw, Jack Van Impe. You didn’t have to insert yourself into a crappy movie just to live out your dream of not-actually-dying-for-Christ. That’s what fan fiction is for!
Well, I think I’ve wasted enough irretrievable hours of my life talking about Apocalypse, so I’m done forever. Unless I decide to review the three sequels later. Oh, yes, Apocalypse is the first of a quartet. I really wasn’t going to make myself suffer through any more, but then I found out that in the fourth movie they put God on trial for being a dick to humanity. Hm. So I may finish the series after all. We’ll see if I’m up for it after I’ve taken some time to recoup.
In the meantime, I’ll leave you with links to some much more talented reviewers than myself:
I’ve already mentioned Heathen Critique, of course.
There are also the fantastic video reviews by Diamanda Hagan, Empress of Haganistan. I just rediscovered her today, and she’s disturbingly wonderful. Or wonderfully disturbing. I’m not sure which, but either way–awesome.
I went back and read/watched these other reviews after I wrote this post, so I can assure you that, while there’s a small bit of overlap, there’s also enough awfulness that everyone can put their own spin on it.
If you feel like experiencing the full scale of the inanity yourself, the entire movie is available for free on youtube.
In the spirit of Apocalypse, I’ll leave you with one final message:
Anyway, til next time, ya’ll!
*I can’t remember who said this! If anyone remembers, let me know, and I will attribute the quote to them!
**Ivan and Empress Hagan revealed that these emotional scenes were actually stock footage of real people crying over real tragedies. Eurgh. I feel strangely unclean for watching.