Thursday, October 1, 2020

Apocalypse Month: End of Days

End of Days (1999)

Toward the end of the twentieth century, it was becoming difficult for filmmakers to come up with new opponents for Arnold Schwarzenegger. After all, he had already taken on ordinary outlaws, drug dealers, terrorists, the Mob, the Soviet Union, aliens, and even Batman. He needed to face a bigger foe. Why not go up against the Prince of Darkness himself, Satan?

Director Peter Hyams’ 1999 (the year matters) feature, The End of Days, casts Arnold as former police detective, Jericho Cane, who finds himself in the middle of a battle between the powers of Heaven and Hell. Cane is a troubled man, a suicidal alcoholic now working as a security guard whose life spiraled out of control when his wife and child were murdered. Cane blames God for the tragedy.

Cane and his partner, Bobby Chicago (Kevin Pollack), are protecting a banker whose life has been threatened. The banker was recently possessed by a demon and committed mass murder, so  -- understandably -- he is not well-loved. The surprising thing is who comes after the man: a priest by the name of Thomas Aquinas. (As you can see by the names, screenwriter Andrew Marlowe was having too much fun with nomenclature. The really weird thing is no one onscreen makes a connection between the name of the assassin priest and the 13th-century saint and philosopher.)

Cane interviews another priest, Father Kovak (Rod Steiger), to learn about Aquinas (not the saint) and his goals. But first, they talk about Cane’s faith or lack thereof. 

The priest asks, “Do you believe in God?” 

“Maybe once, not anymore,” Cane answers. 

“What happened?” 

“We had a difference of opinion. I thought my wife and daughter should live. He felt otherwise.” 

The priest says, “Maybe it’s time to renew your faith.” 

Cane asks, “Now I have to believe in God to solve a crime?” (Turns out, he does.) It also turns out that both the Church and the forces of darkness are trying to find Christine York (Robin Tunney), a woman born in 1979 under a certain comet who is destined to be the mother of Satan’s child, the Antichrist. The forces of darkness want to procure her for their evil lord, while corrupt knights serving a cardinal in the Vatican are seeking to kill her.

Cane and Chicago arrive at Christine’s apartment as the Devil and Vatican Knights are battling. Satan defeats the Knights, killing them and Cane’s partner, Chicago, as well. Cane takes Christine to Kovak’s church for safekeeping. Father Kovak assures Cane, “According to the Scriptures, he (Satan) can’t see into the House of God.” (Not exactly sure what Scriptures he’s talking about.)

And, of course, the corrupt cardinal and the Vatican Knights and the forces of Satan come after Christine again, this time with a church as the battleground. Satan wins again, killing many knights and kidnapping Christine. Father Kovak comes to Cane’s rescue. And Cane must again rescue Christine, taking her to yet another Roman Catholic Church. There, Cane battles Satan again, but Satan possesses Cane’s body and attempts to rape Christine to fulfill “the prophecy.” But he is foiled by Cane who manages to kill himself by diving onto the sword of a statue of St. Michael (good to see the statuary being put to use). Thus Satan is imprisoned as the new year begins.

So, yeah, everything turns out happily ever after and all, except Arnold dies, but he was suicidal earlier in the film, so he gets what he wants. But there are some glaring plot points we have to address.

The whole film hinges on this “prophecy” Satan must impregnate a woman born under a certain comet before the clock strikes midnight in a year ending in 999. The scholars at the Vatican are quite familiar with this prophecy. Now I’m not an expert, but I’ve read the last half of Daniel, Matthew 24, and the whole of the book of Revelation. I don’t recall anything about Lucifer needing to hook up in this Cinderella fashion, and I have so many questions.

For instance, why are the Biblical scholars and Satan using the Gregorian calendar rather than the Jewish calendar that would have been followed by, say, John of Revelation fame? Our calendar was introduced in 1592 and introduced leap years to keep seasons seasonal. But the fellows at the Vatican talk about the same thing happening back in 999 A.D. before the Gregorian calendar was invented (the western world was using the Julian calendar then).

And then there’s the whole “When does a new millennium begin?” question that was so popular a little over twenty years ago. Does it begin in the year ending in 0 or the year ending in 1 (like in 2001: A Space Odyssey)? There was a great debate on Seinfeld when they were trying to decide when to plan the end of the millennium parties. An alternate theory of why things are happening in that year is raised when it is mentioned that 999 is 666 upside down. (obviously, Satan uses Arabic numerals, not Roman or Hebrew or Chinese or...)*

And finally, there is the question asked by Arnold himself in the film. When he hears that Satan must accomplish his evil deed before midnight the last night of the Millennium, Cane asks, “Eastern time?” Apparently, yes, the answer is Eastern Standard Time. If Satan had taken Christine to, say, Hawaii, he would have had hours more to work, but I guess Satan must be one of those New Yorkers who really believes everything revolves around them.

So how do we rate the churches and clergy in the film? Well, the churches seem to primarily function in the film as castle keeps for military defense -- and they don’t serve that function all that well. The forces of darkness always seem to break in. As for the priests, Father Kovak seems to be a pretty good guy, though portrayed with scenery eating gusto by Steiger. But many of the priests seem to have majored in assassination in seminary, and I just don’t think that should have been their focus. Maybe they should have stuck with counseling or hermeneutics. Anyway, the Roman Catholic churches and priests average out to a generous Two Steeples in our Movie Churches rating system.

And how does the Apocalypse in this film rate? I think just one tombstone out of four because the world never really comes close to ending.

*The number of the Beast is 666 according to Revelation 13:18

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