As we round off the second millennium on the Christian calendar, it is only natural that many people's thoughts turn to speculation about the end of the world. While the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Physicians for Social Responsibility have a "Doomsday Clock" to mark the countdown to extinction, millions of Christian fundamentalists ascribe to another scenario — the Second Coming and the "rapture."

This vision of the future was popularized by Hal Lindsey's book The Last Great Planet Earth, which has sold over 15 million copies. In Lindsey's interpretation of The Revelation to John, the millennium is a literal period of time at which Jesus Christ will return before the Great Tribulation and "rapture" or "catch up" to heaven all true believers. Evil will be defeated definitively, and the righteous will be saved. To those who see life on earth as a terrible battle against sin and abominable wickedness, such End-Times thinking has immense appeal. It always feels good to know that you are on the winning team.

Writer and director Michael Tolkin explores the implications and consequences of such beliefs in The Rapture. Using prophetic texts from a variety of sources, and adding a few of his own, Tolkin has fashioned an engrossing tale about sin, salvation, and the End Times. The values and visions unraveled on the screen spark thought about the search for God and the nature of religious fanaticism. In addition, the film offers a startling finale, which can lead to a lengthy discussion about the apocalypse.

Sharon (Mimi Rogers) works as a telephone information operator in Los Angeles. It's a boring and unfulfilling job. She and Vic (Patrick Bauchau), her friend and lover, have turned to sex to provide an escape from the emptiness of their lives. They cruise local lounges to find other couples for kinky evenings of group sex.

On one of these outings, Sharon meets Randy (David Duchovny), a man with a propensity for serious thought who is also sensitive to her needs. But not even his profession of love can blot out her overwhelming sense of despair. Although Sharon turns away two born-again Christians who try to convert her, she senses the need to find God. "Spiritual need is just as real as hunger, just as real as the need for love," she tells Randy.

Sharon comes face-to-face with the meaninglessness of her life in a motel room. But instead of committing suicide, she finds God through prayer, reading the Bible, and some strange dreams about a mysterious pearl.

Six years later, she has married Randy and they have a daughter Mary (Kimberly Cullum). They are members of a small Christian community led by a young black man whom they consider to be a prophet. He speaks of signs and portents of the end of the world. Sharon and her family eagerly look forward to the rescue of the rapture.

Then Sharon's buoyant faith is jolted when Randy is murdered by a deranged employee. Overcome by grief and anxiety, she has a vision of God calling her out into the desert to await the great ingathering in the sky. Sharon and Mary, with the blessing of their religious community, take off for a campsite outside Los Angeles. A caring policeman (Will Patton) is quite astonished by their explanation of what they are doing in the desert. Sharon tests God's promises and, in the surprising finale, she must answer whether she loves God or not.

Thanks to the intense and well-modulated performance by Mimi Rogers, we are able to accept the different stages in Sharon's spiritual journey and to compare and contrast them with our own experiences. Whether or not you agree with the accuracy of Tolkin's presentation of Christian ideas and beliefs, The Rapture is a thought-provoking film which will engender conversation about everything from A (addiction) to Z (zealotry).