28 May 2012

Years of the Beast

United States – 1981
Director – D. Paul Thomas
Gospel Films, 1988, VHS
Run Time – 1 hour, 38 minutes

The opening credits blink on over shots of Seattle’s University of Washington campus. Students study together on the steps of Suzzallo Library. Neo-gothic parapets and spires jut skyward, harsh and unrefined, in distinct contradiction the clear blue purity and simplicity of the heavens. It is entirely appropriate that Years of the Beast’s opening scene takes place here in order that the philosophical groundwork for the rest of the film be laid out. It is as important to Evangelical Christianity as to any other group to define itself by describing what it is against, even if that definition is utterly incoherent and inconsistent.

Can't, quite, make it out...
Professor Miles is a regular old secular academic, devoted to the pursuit of scientific knowledge. When Miles drops in at Smith Hall to visit Dr. Klineman he learns that his friend has just been fired. It seems that Klineman’s own research is the reason. Well, perhaps research is too generous a term, for Klineman has been drawing connections between current events and Bible prophecy, connections which do not qualify as ‘empirical knowledge’ to the Christ-hating academic community, but Klineman knows that the ‘truth’ is not secular.

Satan sez ballpoint on the palm is good enuf

At that very moment there is an earthquake and, to Miles’ bewilderment, Dr. Klineman vanishes without a trace. Thus begins the Rapture, a time when all the indisputably good Christians are whisked away to heaven while the rest of try to figure out why, if God really did make us in his image, did he give us inquiring minds? Was it because He too lacks all the answers and thought curiosity might be useful, or just that He enjoys watching us fumble and fuck up and get persecuted by Satan? But wait, wouldn’t rejecting God’s self-ness be essentially like rejecting God? All of this Doublethink is way too much for Miles' 'educated' heathen brain to process and in a weepy fit of cognitive dissonance he and his wife flee into rural Western Washington as the Tribulation descends upon a burning Seattle.

2nd Ave & Yesler Way Apocalypse!
Fortunately for Dr. Miles, you can’t take your research to heaven, and while dodging the emissaries of the Dark one he has plenty of time to pore over Klineman’s notes. Conveniently enough, all of the answers are in there, served up without any confounding footnotes, references or direct observations, and after a few heartfelt scenes of emotional pleading, Miles finds himself born again. But Satan is not going to let him go that easily. Persecuted by the Devil’s regional representative, the Skagit County Sheriff, Miles goes underground and joins a clandestine Bible study group to await the Second Coming. And come it does in a blast of shoddy animated light-rays. So, while his dreams of a tenured position at the U have evaporated in the blinding light of faith, Miles can rest assured that astrology draped in Christian trappings is totally not like regular astrology; it’s true.

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