I have to admit, I have a fascination with a certain movie genre. I have for years, actually. It started years ago when I came across The Rapture at my local Blockbusters, and rented it as soon as I read the summary. As soon as I found out that Kirk Cameron was staring in the film version of Left Behind, I wanted to see it, and I did. Maybe it’s because I had a crush on him as a tenager during his Growing Pains years. (And, to tell the truth, he’s still good looking enough that if he wanted to talk to me about “The Way of the Master” I’d probably listen for a few minutes before I ran away.) I can’t remember whether I saw it in a theater or rented it, but it’s most likely that I did the latter since I probably wanted to find a way to see it while putting a little money in the makers’ pockets as possible.
They’re called “End Times Movies” and according to this essay, I came by my fascination with it honestly.
There are two kinds of people reading this article: those for whom the title A Thief in the Night produces at least a small tremor of guilty fear, and those for whom it does not. If you grew up around a certain strain of American fundamentalist Christianity over the past several decades, the 1972 film, along with other “rapture movies” has a terrifying cultural resonance that probably still haunts you to this day.
Another writer describes the personal resonance quite vividly.
One September day when I was in the third grade I got off the school bus and walked up the red dust powdered lane to my house only to find no one there. The smudgy white front door of the old frame house stood open. My footsteps on the unpainted gray porch creaked in the fall stillness. With increasing panic, I went through every room, and then ran around the outside crying and sobbing in the grip of the most horrific loneliness and terror. I believed with all my heart that The Rapture had come and that all my family had been taken up to heaven leaving me alone on earth to face God’s terrible wrath. As it turned out they were at the neighbor’s house scarcely 300 yards down the road, and returned in a few minutes. But it took me hours to calm down. I dreamed about it for years afterward.
My own experience wasn’t quite so dramatic, but I did grow up in a somewhat fundamentalist black southern baptist faith in which heaven was a real geographical location, as was hell, and Jesus could appear “in the middle of the air” any minute, so you better know where you’re going. It’s it gonna be a halo and a harp, or a red hot pitchfork? What the bible said, it meant. Literally. I grew up listening to our church choir sing “God Said It. I Believe It. That Settles It” and hearing songs like “I’ll See You In the Rapture” over the radio on Sunday mornings. At that point I’d figured out enough to guess that I might be the one who came home to find everyone “raptured up” but me. Back then, if I heard a noise in night my first fear was that it was the clopping of the four hoursemen or the sound of a distant trumpet. My second guess was aliens.
Fortunately, I got over it. But, as the author mentioned above notes, there are still some remnants of that past.
Even those who escape fundamentalism agree its marks are permanent. We may no longer believe in being raptured up, but the grim fundamentalist architecture of the soul stands in the background of our days. … I get mail from hundreds of folks like me, the different ones who fled and became lawyers and teachers and therapists and car mechanics, dope dealers and stockbrokers and waitresses. And every one of them has felt that thing we understand between us, that skulls-piled-clear-to-heaven-redemption-through-absolute-self- worthlessness-and-you-ain’t-shit-in-the-eyes-of-God-so-go-bleed-to-death-in some dark corner” stab in the heart at those very moments when we should have been most proud of ourselves. Self-hate. That thing that makes us sabotage our own inner happiness when we are most free and operating as self-realizing individuals. This kind of Christianity is a black thing. It is a blood religion, that willingly gives up sons to America’s campaigns in the Holy Land, hoping they will bring on the much-anticipated war between good and evil in the Middle East that will hasten the End Times. Bring Jesus back to Earth.
Yeah. When you realize that, it gives you a bit of an axe to grind. I’d rather not have that remnant the writer above speaks of, but it’s kind of like a psychological tattoo, applied so young that it’s bone deep and indellible. I’m still wondering what to do with that, but it’s also left me with a kind of fascination. So even with all the bad acting, awful special effects, and the complete lack characterization and story in some places I still find myself curious and wanting to see some of these movies.
When was growing up, they would have been like horror movies to me. They still are like horror movies today, not because I believe anything they portray but because quite a lot of other people do. I’ve posted about the Gallup poll referenced by Sam Harris, which says that 22% of Americans belive Jesus will certainly return in their lifetimes, and another 22% believe he probably will. You can argue just what those numbers mean, as Trey does in an earlier comment, but it seems like a significant number of people believe it; at least enough that groups like the Apostolic Congress has Bush’s ear on middle east policy matters. And whether our evangelical in the oval office actually believes this stuff or not, the people who do believe it apparently wield enough influence that he and his aides have to pay special attention to them.
The movies don’t scare me any more. The people whose beliefs they portray do. Maybe that’s why these movies fascinate me. They’re a peek into the minds of people for whom these films are practically prophesy; people who seem to have a significant voice in matters of policy these days.
Thanks to the article linked at the beginning of this post, I’ve got a few more of them to watch. I’ve only seen Left Behind, the Mimi Rogers version of The Rapture, and the 1941 version with the same title. I’ve been thinking of trying to get my hands on parts two and three of the Left Behind trilogy. But the article mentions movies I’ve never heard of before, let alone seen. So now I kinda wanna get a peek at A Thief in the Night and a few of the others.
And if I do, I’ll watch them with the lights off. Naturally.