Faith & Film: This Is the End

In the last few years, young adults have flocked to what have been called “gross out” comedies. These movies are known for very crude, raunchy humor, non-stop profanity, and intense partying. Each one tries to outdo the others. “The Hangover” movies are the best-known of these, along with their female counterpart, “Bridesmaids.” I haven’t seen any of these movies until now. “This Is the End” is my first venture into the genre of gross-out movies.

I was drawn to “This Is the End” because of its good reviews, but mostly because I was interested in its subject matter. As the title implies, the movie is about the apocalypse. Were there religious overtones in a gross-out movie? I wanted to find out.

Sure enough, “This Is the End” is full of profanity, crude humor, and partying with various substances. The basic plot involves a group of young, self-absorbed, male actors, who, in a neat twist, play exaggerated versions of themselves, and use their own names. These actors, including Seth Roegen, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Danny McBride, and Craig Robinson, attend a housewarming party at the Los Angeles home of James Franco. Most are having a fine time until insecure Jay convinces Seth to go with him to a nearby convenience store to buy cigarettes. While at the store, something happens that seems like an earthquake. In the midst of the chaos, Jay sees blue lights come down and suck people up to the sky. Is the rapture occurring?

Frightened and confused, Jay and Seth return to Franco’s house to find things the way they left them for a brief time. Then the ground shakes, opens up, fires start, and the guests run outside. Many are swallowed into huge sinkholes; the others flee in terror. The male friends remain in the house, too fearful to venture out into the darkness.

Eventually, Jay finds a Bible in the house, (I was surprised he found one) and begins to read the Book of Revelation. He wonders if, indeed, this is the apocalypse mentioned in Revelation. The men wonder openly about the existence of God. It seems a startling question. They all look stupefied, and admit that they had never before considered the question of God’s existence. Before long, they are asking questions about an afterlife and salvation. As conditions worsen, they begin to ask the question that the people asked Jesus: What must one do to be saved? There’s even sacrificing oneself for the good of others.

It would be very hard to recommend “This Is the End.” It has something to offend everyone. It’s occasionally funny, although the raunchy humor is not my cup of tea. Yet, I do commend it for raising religious questions in a movie targeted to an audience who, like the characters in the movie, may never have pondered the existence of God, salvation, and the afterlife. I wondered how many of the young people in the audience with me on a Sunday evening had confronted these issues before. How many had been to church that morning? I’m constantly amazed at the number of young people who have had little or no exposure to religion at all.

Don’t get me wrong; this movie is not exactly deep. Furthermore, most Catholics would not accept its literalist reading of Revelation, including a sense of rapture from the “Left Behind” series. However, as crude as it is, I wonder if “This Is the End” might prompt some young adult to ask religious questions. This young person might show up at one of our ministries one day, wondering about God or asking what we thought about the movie. Even if you don’t see the movie, a basic familiarity with it might open up a dialogue with the young searcher.

Tom Condon, OP