Doggedly nonjudgmental docu “Waiting for Armageddon” delves into the faith of some 50 million Americans (including more than one president), exposing the central role of Israel in end-of-days scenarios, their impact on the volatile situation in the Middle East, and the confluence of national policy with biblical prophecy. From interviews with families awaiting the imminent arrival of the Rapture to evangelical tours of Israel, where Texans reverently sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” over the Sea of Galilee, the pic explores beliefs as pervasive as they are largely unexamined. “Waiting,” which bowed Jan. 8 at Gotham’s Cinema Village, could spark strong urban response.
Filmmakers Kate Davis, Franco Sacchi and David Heilbroner structure their docu around the four stages of the apocalypse, each headed by numbered scriptural placards: 1) the Rapture, when, in a microsecond, all true believers, living and dead, will be transported into the clouds with Jesus; 2) the Tribulation, during which untold horrendous catastrophes, ecological and man-made, will rain down upon those haplessly “left behind”; 3) Armageddon, when Christ will return with a sword to judge the sinners and the blood will gush as “high as a horse’s bridle,” to quote one comely software engineer, and 4) the Millennium, encompassing the 1,000-year reign of heaven on earth reserved for Christ and his followers (along with 144,000 converted Jews).
Within this general framework, the filmmakers capture adherents calmly discussing “future history” at church, around the dinner table, at “Pre-Trib” conventions, at Christian telethons raising millions for Israel, and, especially, on junkets to the Holy Land.
The unlikely alliance between Christian evangelicals and right-wing Israelis is predicated on their shared conviction that Jerusalem must remain entirely in Jewish hands. The pic’s representative of the Israeli wing of this coalition is a sneer-afflicted rabbi (dismissing Jesus as a second-rate skirt-chaser), in charge of rebuilding the temple supposedly predestined to supplant the Muslim Dome of the Rock. In the words of a savvy political researcher, one of the pic’s few dissenting voices, the evangelicals “want the Muslims to be evicted by the Jews, the Jews to rebuild the temple of Solon and then Christ to return and trump everybody.”
Waiting” sometimes plays like Bill Maher’s “Religulous,” minus Maher’s snarky mediating p.o.v. In their zeal to not misrepresent evangelicals, the filmmakers tend to record every discussion in mind-numbing C-SPAN-like detail and, more problematically, sometimes unintentionally wind up enabling an evangelical agenda; a shot of men praying in a mosque inadvertently reads as an example of “Islamofascist” behavior.
Still, the docu’s open-endedness offers something for everyone. For believers, it provides a sympathetic portrait of sane, educated families coping with what they perceive as the suffering of the world. For Jews, it sounds a wake-up call to the dangers of supporting a faction that counts as necessary an Israeli future of wholesale destruction and a choice between conversion or death. Lastly, for unrepentantly cynical secularists, it serves up delicious ironies (one “saved” Christian’s barely disguised glee at the prospect of a front-row seat for the upcoming carnage).