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Movie Review

Waiting for Armageddon

Baptism by fire - and then some: Evangelical faction awaits ‘Armageddon’

Because biblical prophecy locates the End of Days in Israel, the filmmakers focus on Christians who focus on the Holy Land. Pictured: A shot from the film of Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on the Temple Mount. Because biblical prophecy locates the End of Days in Israel, the filmmakers focus on Christians who focus on the Holy Land. Pictured: A shot from the film of Al-Aqsa Mosque, built on the Temple Mount.
By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / January 29, 2010

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It’s as if we’ve been dropped into a substratum of Bizarro World: Who are these people who see every negative Mideast political development as a positive, who can barely contain their joy when the world’s powder keg creeps closer to detonation, and who glower at the thought of peace?

They’re the millions of Christian evangelical millennialists who expect the Rapture any day now, and the documentary “Waiting for Armageddon’’ wants us to meet them and know them for the cultural force they certainly intend to be. Written and directed by the triumvirate of Kate Davis, David Heilbroner, and Franco Sacchi, the film opens at the Coolidge today and preaches to the (un)converted with a quiet, worried sanity that could have used more force. See it anyway, just to remind yourself how many people are actively wishing for the End of Days.

According to millennial theology, when the events supposedly foretold in Revelation, Daniel, et al. come to pass, believers will be swept up by God, leaving everyone else to fight it out, just like in the “Left Behind’’ novels and video games. One millennialist interviewed here plans to watch the carnage from the clouds: “There is an ultimate final battle. It’ll be fun to watch.’’

“Waiting for Armageddon’’ is a testament to the power of delusional certitude, but it knows too much to dismiss end-timers out of hand. Because biblical prophecy locates the showdown in Israel, a.k.a. “God’s timepiece,’’ the filmmakers circle around the Christians who circle around the Holy Land, leading tours of the country they assume God will deliver unto them. They need Jews to replace the Islamic Dome of the Rock with a rebuilt Temple, and Muslims to provoke Armageddon in response, and if those groups want to find Jesus in the bargain, well, they’ll get to go to the Christians’ heaven, too.

The filmmakers interview a Temple Mount rabbi and a devout Muslim who dryly indicate they’d rather not and who each reaffirm, in case you weren’t sure, that their faith is the only correct one. At such times, “Waiting for Armageddon’’ offers a portrait of the affability of blind fanaticism.

Segments focusing on US fundamentalist churches, pastors, and their flocks underscore the sense they feel that we’re already at war and only the secular humanists don’t know it; in its diplomatic way, the film’s a rationalist’s call to arms. Yet “Waiting for Armageddon’’ also has a quixotic awe for the unshakable certainty of millennialism - the calm that absolute, dogmatic faith can bring. It’s only a tragedy when you think of a generation of children being taught they won’t graduate high school or have kids of their own. It’s only scary when you consider the millennialists’ ability to sway US foreign policy with votes and political pressure.

The movie could have used a little fire and brimstone itself. It’s a little too cautious and when it goes to the clips of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, it feels like the old lefty punching bags are being wheeled out. “Waiting for Armageddon’’ is at its saddest and most lucid when it sticks to the just plain folks who have built their hopes and lives around scriptural literalism and who are literally praying for the world to go to hell. Right now.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@ globe.com. For more on movies, go to www.boston.com/movienation.

WAITING FOR ARMAGEDDON Written and directed by: Kate Davis, David Heilbroner, and Franco Sacchi

At: Coolidge Corner

Running time: 74 minutes

Unrated

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