In 1979, a baby girl is born under just the right cosmic conditions to make her Satan's intended bride-to-be on the eve of the new millennium, at which time she will conceive the Antichrist. Flashforward 20 years. New York City. Unaware of the dark, carefully orchestrated plans for her destiny, Christine York—tortured by weird dreams and visions—is shocked when murder and mayhem begin filling her life during the final week of 1999. Apostates of the devil prepare to deliver her into Lucifer's hands (to consummate this unholy union, Satan commandeers the body of a businessman played by Gabriel Byrne). Meanwhile, religious zealots attempt to kill Christine and, thus, postpone the "end of days." Stumbling into the mix are beaten-down ex-cop Jericho Cane and his partner, Chicago, who strive to keep Christine away from anyone out to harm her—including Beelzebub. A trail of violence and cryptic religious clues leads these two loose cannons to seek counsel from a decent (if confused) priest, Father Kovak. As the pieces of this apocalyptic puzzle fall into place, all signs point to a showdown of eternal proportions.
Positive Elements: Father Kovak is a compassionate man of faith who refuses to resort to evil to battle evil. Chicago is told to shoot his friend and, out of loyalty to Cane, refuses at his own peril. Cane eventually realizes that he can't defeat Satan without turning things over to God (gazing at a rendering of Jesus on the cross, he nods in recognition, lets the gun fall from his hand and prays, "Please, God, help me. Give me strength"). In the end, Satan is driven back into the underworld.
Spiritual Content: End of Days is a theological mess. Scripture such as Revelation 20:7 is taken out of context and twisted to make a case for a millennial apocalypse. Father Kovak suggests that the real number of the beast isn't 666 at all, but was seen upside down in John's revelation; the real number is 999 as in 1999 (ugh). The occasionally off-key priest also claims that, "According to Scripture, [Satan] can't see inside the house of God," and it is not God who saves us as much as it is our own faith in Him. Works theology gets a subtle plug when Chicago asks Cane, "Considering how you've lived your life, what makes you think you'd be going upstairs anyhow?" Two men are tortured, then displayed in mock crucifixion. A woman experiencing stigmata is bound and supervised by priests. When the "chosen" baby girl is born, doctors perform an occult baptism by slicing open a live rattlesnake and placing its blood on the infant's lips. Other satanic imagery involves a pentagram of blood (drawn on the floor of a homicidal priest's hovel) and a voyeuristic black mass with hundreds of chanting satanists surrounded by candles.
The portrayal of the devil blends speculative fantasy with lines of dialogue that sound like The Screwtape Letters. Satan first appears as a translucent, flying mass in search of a human body to inhabit. Wounds to that "host body" are healed miraculously. He reveals people's secret sins and resurrects mortally wounded humans for selfish purposes. In the finale, he takes the form of a hideous beast as he bursts through the floorboards of a church sanctuary and unfurls massive wings. Yet elements of the character reflect truths about the adversary. For example, he tries to seduce Cane into joining his team by badmouthing God, blaming the Lord for taking the man's family from him (Cane's wife and daughter were murdered several years earlier) and saying things such as, "If something good happens, He gets the credit; if something bad happens, it's His will." But the devil is given too much power by the filmmakers. He promises Cane, "I can give it all back to you—everything He took away," and is in the business of resurrecting people. Believers will be disturbed by Satan mocking the crucified Christ directly ("You died for nothing; you just bought them time"). Father Kovak states, "Satan's greatest trick was convincing man he didn't exist." In the press notes for End of Days, actor Gabriel Byrne describes his approach to playing Lucifer as follows: "I did not want to exaggerate any stereotypes. I wanted to go with the idea that this presence is always among us and in man's shape."
In the film, the Vatican is split on how to proceed with the knowledge of the unholy consummation about to take place in New York. While the Pope sees this dark hour as a time for faith in God's omnipotence, the "Vatican Knights" set out to kill Christine before she can conceive the Antichrist. At one point, they're ready to stab her to death, but are interrupted while administering "last rites." On the positive side, Father Kovak dismisses the Knights' violent mission as the work of irresponsible zealots, not true Christians ("They think they're doing God's work, but they're not . . . You can't prevent evil by doing evil"). Kovak also challenges Cane's professed lack of belief in God by asking, "If you don't believe in God, how can you believe in His adversary?" Good question. Fortunately, Cane does turn to God for help when he realizes a spiritual battle requires spiritual artillery ("Please, God, help me. Give me strength").
Sexual Content: An explicit scene shows Satan, as a man, engaged in sex with a woman while her teenage daughter lies beside her, awaiting her turn (breasts exposed). Breast nudity is also seen when Christine removes her shirt. The f-word is used as a harsh term for intercourse several times. Chicago jokes about having an inflatable girlfriend. Christine is placed on an altar for sexual purposes twice, though neither results in sex.
Violent Content: Aside from its spiritual issues, the biggest problem with End of Days is its frequent, graphic violence. A priest-turned-sniper fires at police and a chopper before Cane can disable him (at the hospital, Satan crucifies him on the ceiling as his blood drains onto the bed below). We see a man's tongue in a jar, and a bloody pair of gardening shears that suggest he performed the surgery on himself. In one of her visions, Christine touches a freakish prophet on a subway train, causing the man to shatter into pieces. As a spectral force, the devil tosses men around like rag dolls before taking over their bodies. Cane, despairing over the loss of his family, puts a pistol to his head and is ready to pull the trigger. A fight between Cane and a supernaturally empowered woman ends with him smashing her head through a glass tabletop. A skateboarding teen is hit by a bus. A man is thrown down a flight of stairs. Christine follows a trail of blood into her bathroom and finds a dead man floating in the tub. With one crushing blow, Satan turns a man's face into a bloody pulp. Elsewhere, he pushes Cane out a high-rise window, twists a man's head off, puts his fist through a railway conductor's torso, embeds a cross into a priest's skull and ignites Chicago on fire—twice. A mob attacks Cane, beats him bloody and hoists him up the side of a building on a makeshift cross. Cane unleashes heavy artillery on a gathering of satanists during their black mass, shooting several at close range. A subway crash leaves the devil's borrowed body dismembered and beyond repair. Satan does a swan dive out of a window and crashes mightily into a parked car many stories below. Prophetic warnings are carved into a man's chest. In a final act of valor, Cane throws himself on a sword, impaling Satan's last chance of impregnating Christine. Audiences also get a heavy dose of explosions, conflagrations, imploding windows, flying pews, etc.
Crude or Profane Language: Most offensive are the numerous f-words and blasphemous uses of Jesus' name. Other profanities creep in as well.
Drug and Alcohol Content: Cane is an alcoholic. He swigs from a bottle of vodka and also has various medications strewn across his kitchen sink. Satan has a drink as he chats menacingly with Cane. Without bothering to examine her, Christine's doctor recommends drugs for her recurring nightmares. After a harrowing experience, Christine pops a few pills, explaining to Cane, "They relax me. You want one?," to which he replies fliply, "No thanks, I drink."
Summary: End of Days tries to combine apocalyptic intrigue with flurries of the high-octane, guns-a-blazin' action Schwarzenegger fans pay to see. The result is a bloody, effects-heavy hodgepodge that makes less sense the more you think about it. The one worthwhile moment in the film involved Hollywood's perennial terminator coming to the end of himself, dropping his weapon and asking God for help. Quite a statement. But it's not worth enduring the rest of this violent, profane, spiritually dubious film just to hear Arnold pray.