“Noah”

30 Mar

“I am not alone.”

Noah-2014-Poster-HD

Darren Aronofsky’s depiction of the story of Noah from Genesis hit the theaters Friday and, my, has it stirred up a ruckus. Well, any time the Bible is depicted onscreen there tends to be a ruckus. Even Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments caused some drama in its day, though Christians have pretty much embraced it now. (More on that in a bit.)

Part of the grumpiness from some sectors with Noah is that this particular story in the Bible is quite brief. Unless making a 20 minute short, a filmmaker is going to have to pad out the story. Which for some people is a problem even if the padding is tame and reverent. Whatever. Even Michelangelo padded things out or depicted images and story points that are not specifically detailed in the Bible. I don’t see anything wrong with doing so, it’s an artist’s interpretation of something from the Bible, which is a worthy artistic goal. Besides, long stretches of the Bible are up for interpretation anyway and if the Bible can’t handle discussion, interpretation or challenges, it would not be worth much. The Bible, of course, can indeed withstand it which leads to this latest of biblical epics.

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For the record, for this discussion, it seems relevant for me to say that I am myself a believer in God and Jesus, have read the Bible through a number of times, I’m a John 3:16 guy, and if you don’t believe any of that, please come sit right by me and let’s have a great time. I’ll also say that while Noah certainly has some problems, I found the movie to be very engaging and at times riveting. I also found it to be shockingly reverent toward God (referred to most of the time as ‘The Creator’ in the movie) and was deeply moved by much of the movie.

I have been reading a lot of commentaries from people who are of course complaining about the movie. Frankly, I can’t imagine what they were expecting and can only believe they went into the movie loaded for bear. I want to keep this relatively short (yeah, yeah, not possible) so I won’t break the movie down scene by scene, which I would enjoy doing, but for these people who complain, I’d like to point out three of many lines that struck me and their relevance in the film.

“I am not alone.”

Noah (Russell Crowe) announces this confidently to the men who turn up to bring down his efforts. He is depicted here a strong man of faith with a strong belief in God, his creator. While like any human he has his doubts, Noah believes in the vision given to him by God and believes that God will ultimately protect him and his family. This depiction of a very real, strong God is rampant through the movie. Some have complained that God doesn’t speak in a human voice down from the clouds to Noah. May I sing a Hallelujah and shout out a “praise God” for that, which would have been gruesome. People have visions in the Bible all the time, it is a very specific way God is depicted communicating with people. In Noah, God is shown giving specific, meaningful visions to people, both in dreams and in waking life, people who are willing to open themselves up to God and listen to him.

I found it fascinating and pretty spot on that the main villain, played by Ray Winstone, cries out to God for speech, to be talked to, and is frustrated that God will not speak to him on his terms not God’s. His reaction and subsequent monologue was one of my favorite things in the movie and relates to the next line I found so surprising.

“Man is filled with wickedness.”

If you are going to make a story about Noah and the ark, you ultimately have to justify wiping out all but about 6 of the world’s population or the movie won’t work. Aronofsky has a chilling scene shortly before the flood that depicts how the general population is acting. After you watch this scene, it’s hard not to think anything but ‘Bring on those flood waters!” Winstone’s speech, which occurs around this time, I found very interesting theologically and illuminated one of man’s biggest sins, which is when we try to be God or equate ourselves with God. From a 130 million dollar movie from a big studio, to have such things even be raised much less stated firmly was pretty amazing to me. I’m not going to make the case the movie is 100% accurate theologically – and what is accurate theologically is itself is a rabbit hole the smartest people in the world have been traveling down for centuries – but for a person to expect this particular movie to fit anyone’s theology accurately is naive or insane. I myself was shocked that Aronosfky made a compelling case that, yes, God had very good reason to pull a restart and wipe out the planet.

I must also add I was led to believe by many who did not like the movie that Aronofsky showed humanity needing to be wiped out because of how we treated the planet not each other. I’ve heard the movie called a wacko environmentalist movie. Not true. Yes, Noah and his family are vegetarians and many who get wiped out eat meat. This is actually from the Bible… pre flood, it seems clear God called man not to eat meat. And if you end up with only two of every species alive (faithfully depicted) it might be a good idea not to eat meat for a while! Certainly the manner in which humanity is treating the animals and the way in which they eat them is pretty gruesome. This I can understand getting under someone’s skin a little. But the environment has nothing much to do with humanity’s sin and the reason for the destruction. The above mentioned scene, with certain details straight out of the biblical account, is devastating. This scene, and the movie itself, is cause for all of us to look at ourselves in a more honest light. I can’t imagine anyone willing to give the movie a chance and watching it openly not looking inward at least a little bit after having seen it. That’s a great accomplishment for a work of art.

“Forgive me, my creator.”

While the movie deals with and wrestles with justice, it also depicts mercy over and over. It depicts clearly the idea that we can be blessed by God and be shined down upon Him if we simply ask for forgiveness and acknowledge Him. The movie seemed pretty strong to me on this point which again surprised the hell out of me.

The being that speaks that line is called ‘A Watcher’ and is a clear reference to the Nephilim, which are referenced twice in the Bible, the first time as Noah’s story begins. Their depiction in the movie was to me a little silly physically. But I liked the emotional side of them. I found it daring for Aronofsky to include them, I liked how they were used in the story. For the people who have complained the Nephilim were not depicted accurately? I’m sorry, you’ve lost your mind and are simply looking for something about which to complain. There is no description of them in the Bible which means their depiction is open to interpretation. Unless you have seen one, and I want a photo, you can’t say this is inaccurate.

There are a lot of other moving and challenging aspects to the movie. It certainly spins off the rails a bit in the 3rd Act once the Ark is afloat. (SPOILER ALERT). Noah goes a little crazy and decides God wants all humans to die, even himself and his family. He begins to take steps in that direction and becomes not unlike Alec Guiness’ amazingly complex Colonel Nicholson in the brilliant Bridge on the River Kwai. While this section went on too long and is raising tons of hackles with people, who is to say what happened to Noah on the ark? Anyone who just watched and heard, quite graphically, the human race being wiped out certainly might go a little crazy. While this is definitely the most problematic section of the movie, it still raises and deals with some compelling and complex issues and shows a man tormented by his belief. It speaks to Aronofsky’s talent as well as his heart that the movie ultimately embraces mercy and love.

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Aronofsky certainly wears his heart very much on his sleeve. There is an earnestness to this movie that here and there is a bit ham fisted. It’s very easy to diss a movie that is earnest. It’s also tough not to have these moments in Biblical Epics. Have you seen The Ten Commandments lately? Anyone who likes that movie and disses Noah is not being intellectually honest. Noah is much more serious and challenging than any biblical epic I’ve seen, particularly DeMille’s, which is unwatchable today unless you are 8 years old.

Is it ok to dislike the movie and challenge it? Certainly! It has flaws, particularly narratively in the third act. I winced a couple of times. What is irking me, though, are people who are calling it laughable or unwatchable. Like the movie or not, Noah is a serious attempt to depict a gruesome time on the planet. It’s a complex story by a visionary director who puts his heart and soul into his films unlike most any filmmaker alive today. Aronofsfy doesn’t always work for me… I found The Fountain impossible to get through, for instance. But he is incredibly watchable (Black Swan!) and even in The Fountain… perhaps there most of all… he is striving to put something challenging, complex and very emotional onscreen. You can’t say that about 85% of the content the studios release. The trailers before Noah were for Transformers Pt 12 and Hercules Version 10. If you sit through those two trailers and then spit on Aronofsky’s efforts rather than at least engage him in an intelligent way and admit he is serious minded and sincere, you’ve jumped the shark and have no real place in a conversation about story and film and art. Did he make art? That, too, is up for interpretation. But he certainly tried a lot harder than most and he has yet again put a very personal and moving vision on screen, one I can’t wait to see again.

21 Responses to ““Noah””

  1. Mark March 31, 2014 at 12:50 am #

    I saw it tonight and though I am very far from you Tom religiously–as you know, about as far as one can get–I agree with you on the film for the most part. I really know nothing about the Bible and have very few recollections of the Noah story. I think I heard it last when I as 6 years old. But I found the questions asked and the issues raised to be compelling, and I think if the film had been made by the folks who made “God’s Not Dead,” it would NOT have been as interesting, to say the least. While the Noah struggling to kill or not kill his family went on too long, like you said, that question was especially interesting to me. He was trying to justify how he could have killed ALL those other people, and not his own. Not every one of those people could have been completely sinful and his family completely free of sin, so he interpreted his Creator’s wishes as they would ALL have to die. This was a pretty valid question, really. And from someone who was as determined a person as he was–a zealot, really–of course he would have considered taking a fundamentalist view of the situation.

    Something I remember from my pre-school days from this story was that Noah told everybody, ‘Hey, you need to come with me. There’s a storm coming.’ And everybody laughed him off, until it started raining. This story has none of that, which I thought was far more interesting. Noah, who never got a clear message from God, decided that everyone else should die and there was no warning them. There was a ‘shit, we gotta get this boat built fast before they figure out what’s going on!’ attitude here.

    But probably the most interesting aspect of the whole film for me–as someone who probably doesn’t believe in God, (I leave the possibility open because, hey, what do I really know, but I don’t live my life with the idea that there’s a God, (and lo and behold, I actually do try to do right by those around me)), was how easy it is to come up with different interpretations for God’s intentions. Ray Winstone’s character (who was terrific), said a number of things that could be reasonably interpreted as viable, and so did Noah, even the “wrong” things he thought. I find this aspect most interesting because probably my biggest problem with religion is when someone has a strict interpretation of something and then tries to impose that belief on those around them. Hey, believe what you want, but don’t try to take others rights away from them because of YOUR religious beliefs. We should all have enough humility to know there’s no way any of us simple humans could ever really have it all figured out. The universe is clearly far too complicated for that. Shit, our own mind is too complicated for that. So, have some faith that your beliefs are on the right track, but please don’t add that certainty that fucks everything up, like it did in “Noah.”

    • onfoodandfilm.com March 31, 2014 at 6:33 am #

      Good words, Mark! It seems clear from the movie that Aronofsky was trying to be respectful to the original story, which lacks detail in the Bible. If you think about what it must have been like to go through this experience, certain questions rise up. Aronofsky’s take on what it must have been like, felt like, etc was thoughtful and smart and, as always, very personal.

  2. Mike Chapman March 31, 2014 at 6:24 am #

    Thanks for the thoughtful, balanced review! Having read some of the same reviews you did from mutual friends/acquaintances, I went in expecting it to be so much worse than it was. I agreed with your take all the way along, especially given that Aronofsky is a self-confessed Jewish atheist, so I thought he stayed much closer to the original story than he might have (I DID agree w/Barbara N re “Galaxy Quest called–they want their rock people back!” lol!)

    • onfoodandfilm.com March 31, 2014 at 6:28 am #

      I kept trying to think of what the watchers reminded me of! That’s right! LOL. Yeah, I’d have liked a different design there. Who knows what they looked like! Glad you didn’t hate it totally :)

  3. Joan Kitchie March 31, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    Interesting and thought provoking comments. I haven’t seen the movie, but will. Yes, doing a film about anything in the bible a risk and I am sure he knew that going in to it. Good for Aronofsky for trying.

  4. Janet March 31, 2014 at 7:33 am #

    We will have a good talk about this movie, I can tell! (And doesn’t that alone make it worthwhile?)…. Thank you for taking the time to write so thoughtfully — something that seems rare where “Noah” is concerned…. (The Watchers felt like Transformers to me, btw, more than the Galaxy Quest creatures….)

    • onfoodandfilm.com March 31, 2014 at 7:40 am #

      hey thanks! I very much look forward to talking to you about it. Good excuse for dinner !

    • onfoodandfilm.com March 31, 2014 at 7:44 am #

      On the Galaxy Quest/Transformer thing… Every age adapts the Bible in some way for a younger generation. Obvious example: it is printed in various languages, not just one. So if you want to speak to a younger generation and there is no record of what a fallen angel looks like, maybe Transformers is the way to go!

  5. MotherLydia March 31, 2014 at 8:03 am #

    One of the things that jumps out at me from the Bible story of Noah versus the movie — all three of Noah’s sons had wives on the Ark. 8 people survived the flood. Not just 6. Genesis 6:18 “you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. ” This is repeated in Genesis 7:7 “And Noah and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives entered the ark to escape the waters of the flood. ” And again, 7:13 “On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark.”

    • onfoodandfilm.com March 31, 2014 at 8:27 am #

      Very much true. Aronofsky certainly wasn’t telling the story with total fidelity to the Bible passages. What I enjoyed about his take, however, was forcing himself to deal with the question of ‘How do you populate the world if almost everyone dies?” In a movie, plot points have to be created to keep the narrative going. I call them ticking clocks. So narratively he created a ticking clock… if the ark sails off with no women for wives, no more humanity. Thanks so much for reading!

  6. ashlynpondsimon March 31, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    I loved reading this! I also love your heart for people and that this is always a safe place for anyone and everyone to share thoughts without being attacked! XOXO Ash

  7. Kitty Bucholtz March 31, 2014 at 11:56 am #

    I’ve been looking forward to seeing “Noah,” and now even more so after reading your post. My husband said this weekend that there were a lot of bad reviews, which generally makes us pause when deciding if we’re going to go. But after reading your post, I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy it as much or more than I expected. Thanks! :)

    • onfoodandfilm.com March 31, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

      Kitty let me know what you think when you see it! It certainly has some problems but it is great to see an artist really reaching for something grand, even if it doesn’t always get there. I look forward to your thoughts.

      • Kitty Bucholtz March 31, 2014 at 12:31 pm #

        I’ll let you know! It’s one of the terrifying-exciting things about going with your artistic vision. :-D I know some people hate the ideas I present in my superhero books (that God gave Cain and his descendants super powers and the responsibility to go protect mankind so that Cain understands how valuable human life is to God), but to choose not to put your ideas out there to avoid bad reviews…well, that doesn’t feed your soul, either, does it? :) Hats off to Darren for having something interesting to say and being willing to let the world see it! :)

        • onfoodandfilm.com March 31, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

          Great comments, Kitty. I agree, artistically we should be all or nothing. Darren A certainly lives and breathes that sentiment which challenges me to do the same.

  8. Mary Barras April 1, 2014 at 4:06 pm #

    Thanks, Tom. I wondered how I’d like this movie. I may see it now. I love & miss you to pieces!

    • onfoodandfilm.com April 1, 2014 at 5:36 pm #

      hey! If you see it, let me know what you think! I miss you too, Would love to see you.

  9. Harris Henderson April 2, 2014 at 4:39 am #

    Ok, wading in to the fray here. I went and saw this one last night and want to add this to the discussion (and I’m a John 3:16 guy too). I tend to agree that the 3rd Act was a little unwieldly. But I also thought that it highlights one of the most interesting questions about Noah and the story – was he chosen because he was good (like all the children’s bibles in the world suggest) or was He ultimately counted among the innocent because he responded to the Creator’s choosing of him? Mark Driscoll and Aranofsky appear to agree on this point (http://theresurgence.com/2014/03/24/noah-was-not-a-righteous-man). Noah looks at his family and says (or at least this is how I remember it from last night), “The Creator didn’t speak to me because I am innocent. He spoke to me because He knew I would get the job done.” Whoa. So maybe Noah is ultimately counted among the righteous/innocent as a result of his obedience to God’s call? That’s some intense theological thinking/questioning on Aronofsky’s part, and my hat goes off to him.

    So say what you will about some of the creative license that Aranofsky takes with the story, but let’s give credit where credit is due – the man rolls up his sleeves and doesn’t flinch when he finds himself to his hips in the hardest questions about God and the human heart.

    • onfoodandfilm.com April 2, 2014 at 8:15 am #

      Great comments, Harris, thank you! (and good to hear from you!) That’s a great question indeed and I’ve wondered it myself. It’s very important to keep in mind Noah wasn’t innocent, which it seems some people want to believe. He was a good man, certainly, but not innocent and his realization, which you cite, was convicting to me. It is one of the things that made me look inward. Thanks for reading and the great comment.

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