By now, it is firmly established that there are those moments in film criticism where I violate what many critics see as one of the cardinal rules of criticism- that is, I put myself in the critique. This approach is not taken lightly, however, over the years I've come to realize that my readers, specifically, have an appreciation for the personal and intimate way that I approach film criticism and, in general, my writing.
It is not always appropriate and, indeed, it is often a lazy way of writing. It's relatively easy to hide a poor critique by writing in a way that is more about entertainment than critical analysis. There are times, however, when critical analysis is simply not enough. I would argue that just as personal writing can be lazy, so too can be a purely analytical, fact-based film critique that fails to take into account how the film truly impacts the viewer.
"Waiting for Armageddon" is a film that practically commands a balance of both the critical and personal perspectives within its film critique.
Directed by the creative trio of Franco Sacchi, Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, "Waiting for Armageddon" looks at the world of America's most conservative, evangelical Christians, said to be 50 million strong in numbers. These 50 million strong evangelical Christians believe that the world's future is foretold in Biblical prophecy from the Rapture to the final battle of Armageddon.
Oh, and most of them believe it's coming soon.
While the filmmakers could have easily taken a more entertaining, wider path towards examining these evangelical Christians, not too far removed from "Jesus Camp," rather than do so they take a surprisingly straightforward approach by focusing their film largely on three families in their homes, at conferences and during a wide-ranging tour of Israel.
"Waiting for Armageddon" will appeal to the discerning Christian and non-Christian through the filmmakers' use of Christian, Zionist, Jewish and other critical perspectives while also expertly utilizing archival materials. Yet, perhaps, what makes "Waiting for Armageddon" such an intriguing and involving film is the way that it intertwines the personal and poignant stories, feelings, fears and thoughts of its very human subjects. Rather than taking sides, in fact, Sacchi, Davis and Heilbroner are more observers amongst these people who are flesh and blood, living and breathing creatures with very real wants and desires intertwined with their faith and religious beliefs.
Having grown up a Jehovah's Witness myself, this world of belief in the Rapture and the battle of Armageddon is a familiar one to this critic, though certainly the majority of evangelical Christians would be unlikely to consider a Jehovah's Witness a true Christian due to theological differences. Yet, in observing the young people in "Waiting for Armageddon," I found myself reminiscing over a childhood filled with plans for Armageddon, preparations for the inevitable and an absolute certainty that we were, indeed, living in the end times.
This world, for all its uniqueness and occasional hints of extremism, felt very familiar and, on a certain level, somewhat comfortable. Perhaps the true brilliance of "Waiting for Armageddon" is that it humanizes people who, at times, can feel very, very different.
To be sure, there are moments in "Waiting for Armageddon" that are frightening, even disturbing as the filmmakers delve inside the hardcore political world of the evangelical right, an uneasy alliance with Israel and for what one Evangelical leader purports may lead to World War III.
Those unfamiliar with the history of Christianity and many of its underpinnings may have difficulty following parts of "Waiting for Armageddon," though will certainly have an appreciation for the personal testimonies and experiences. Wisely avoiding the histrionics of "Jesus Camp," "Waiting for Armageddon" is filmed with a calmer, steadier hand indicating a trust in the power of its story and the subjects within.
Tech credits for "Waiting for Armageddon" are generally solid, though one wishes Gary Lionelli's original score might have added a bit of variation to the goings on rather than its rather straightforward, doc-sounding music. Camera work is fine, if not particularly imaginative.
Well researched and assembled in a way that invites discussion and debate, "Waiting for Armageddon" has been picked up by First Run Features for an arthouse theatrical run in early 2010 followed by DVD distribution. An important look at a population of Americans often stereotyped but seldom understood, "Waiting for Armageddon" is a balanced, fair and honest look at those who believe they already know what the future of America, indeed the world, holds.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic