Hot Docs 2023 Review: Praying for Armageddon

by Andrew Parker

Praying for Armageddon, a look into the influence Christian nationalism has on American politics and foreign policy, is equally insightful, timely, wallowing, and repetitive. It’s the sort of film that makes its points loudly, clearly, and thoughtfully in a short amount of time before falling into the same trap as the subject it’s trying to criticize. After awhile, all that doomsaying becomes numbing instead of galvanizing.

Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei teams up with investigative reporter Lee Fang to analyze the ways American conservatism has been usurped almost completely by evangelism. As evangelical Christians embrace the idea that biblical armageddon and the return of Christ are coming in the near future, so do the elected officials representing constituents in areas where these beliefs are prevalent. Preachers and right-leaning elected officials alike talk about a time when true believers will need to take up swords, repent, and keep the faith, but what greater impact did this have on geopolitics under the Trump administration?

Turns out, the impact was huge, especially when it comes to the moves Trump made in Israel, including moving the US embassy and establishing a first ever military base in the country. A key part of believing in the coming of armageddon  – if going by the literal interpretation of the Bible – is that it’s predicated upon the further marginalization and eventual eradication of Palestine. It takes a lot of explaining, but Schei does a nice job of laying it all out, and showing how ludicrous and world threatening it all is.

But Praying for Armageddon – which not only follows Fang’s attempts to talk to leaders of the evangelical movement, but also the inner workings of a biker ministry that’s excitedly and passionately preparing for the end of days – keeps fixating on many of the same points. It’s definitely making the right connections, and there’s a lot of nuance to its arguments, but Praying for Armageddon resorts to hitting the same notes repeatedly before the halfway point arrives. Schei asks the viewer to stay in a vigilant, hyper-aware mindset for a long time, but the film stays at the same level, never getting scarier or more insightful. All the best points are made early on, and everything else just keeps hammering on the same nail.

Praying for Armageddon isn’t a great documentary overall, but the subject matter is a topic that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Thursday, May 4, 2023 – 1:45 pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Sunday, May 7, 8:00 pm – TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Praying for Armageddon will be available to stream across Canada via Hot Docs from May 5th to 9th.

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