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Christian History, Winter 1999
between the lives of John Nelson Darby and Steven Spielberg, Abel Gance directed
La fin du monde (1931), France's first feature-length talking picture.
In it, a comet threatening the earth divides humanity between those who spend
their last days indulging in wanton orgies, and those who unite in the name
of peace, following a man first seen playing Christ in a passion play.
Apocalyptic themes didn't really take off, however, until the 1970s.
Society was in a state of turmoil, exploited by films about conspiracy theories
and disasters both natural and supernatural. In both Stephen King's 1978
repackaging of Revelation, The Stand, and in The Omen (1976),
the Antichrist is pop culture's ultimate, serious, bad guy.
That decade also saw the rise of a parallel popular culture, best
exemplified by the Jesus music scene. The Rapture and the Second Coming were
especially common topics. Larry Norman wrote perhaps the definitive early
Christian pop song when he composed "I Wish We'd All Been Ready": "Life was
filled with guns and war / And everyone got trampled on the floor
There's no time to change your mind / The Son has come and you've been left
The song is played several times in A Thief in the Night (1972),
the first in a four-part film series. It set the mold for Christian apocalyptic
fiction: a one-world government, a bar code "mark of the beast," and an
evangelistic appeal to become a Christian now.
The end times became both more and less urgent in the 1980s. The fear
that gripped popular culture now was not one of political and economic
instability but of outright annihilation, usually in nuclear war (The
Day After , Testament ) or afterward (Mad Max trilogy
[1979-1985]). The Terminator (1984) told a modernized nativity story
against the backdrop of an impending nuclear holocaust; the apocalyptic overtones
were made explicit in the title of its sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment
To skeptics, it sometimes seemed that Christians who dwelled on the
end times were unconcerned with the present world and perhaps all too ready
to let it go to hellas shown in Michael Tolkin's The Rapture (1991).
Mimi Rogers plays a Christian widow who goes to the desert with her daughter
to await the Second Coming. When it looks like Jesus might not return, she
shoots her daughter and thus sends her to heaven right away. However, when
the Rapture does take place, the Rogers character condemns herself
to a lonely eternity rather than commiting herself to a God who would allow
At the same time, Christian music was establishing itself and toning
down its more radical aspects, particularly where the end times was concerned.
Popular culture in the 1990s has settled into a sort of ironic nostalgia;
to paraphrase the rock group R.E.M., it may be the end of the world as we
know it, but we feel fine. Disaster movies and conspiracy theories are in
vogue again, but they lack the urgency of their 1970s predecessors. Nuclear
bombs have become our saviors, rescuing us from the comets and asteroids
of Armageddon (note the title) and Deep Impact (in which the
spaceship carrying the bombs is dubbed "the Messiah"). The apocalypse will
become even more ironic in the upcoming film, The End of Days, in
which Arnold Schwarzenegger plays a former cop who has to save the world
when the devil visits New York City.
Peter T. Chattaway is a film critic from British Columbia and an instructor
at Trinity Western University.
Christian Week, a Canadian Christian newspaper that Chattaway regularly
writes for, has many of his
Film sites are among the most abundant on the Web, including those for
A Thief in
has an official site),
Deep Impact (which
also has an official site), and
even End of Days,
which isn't out yet but has many
Advertisement for Thief in the Night courtesy Mark IV films
Copyright © 1999 by the author or Christianity Today International/Christian
History Magazine. For reprint information call 630-260-6200 or e-mail
firstname.lastname@example.org. Winter 1999, Vol.XVIII,
No. 1, Page 44
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