Monday, April 7, 2014

Movie Review: Noah

Released: March 2014
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Since this ended up being a controversial film I will give my conclusion upfront: As a Christian, I'm not personally offended by the movie. However, for other reasons unrelated to my faith, I did not enjoy the film and cannot give it a wholly positive review.

I will start by addressing the controversies from the perspective of someone who is both Christian and an Aronofsky fan (and a fan of film in general).

If you're a Christian then it's worth asking the question, "Can an Atheist make a movie based on a story from the Bible." The short answer is yes. Of course he can. He did. Unless Christians are proposing that they cannot make art or film based on or including any elements that aren't pulled straight from the Bible then you must allow for people of other faiths or non-faiths to enter the conversation about Christian faith. I personally find the urge to separate art into sacred and secular categories very troubling---but even if you disagree (and I understand the concern about misrepresentation) it would be impossible to achieve that separation.

There was a lot of discussion over Mr. Aronofsky being quoted to saying it was the "most unbiblical movie ever made" which a little research will tell you was taken out of context and only meant to mean that Bible stories rarely hit the big screen in such a big way. In fact, it was incredibly thoughtful and spiritual for someone who claims be be an unbeliever.

There were certainly some mystical/magical elements that would make Christians uncomfortable but for an unbeliever magical and miraculous are hard to differentiate so that should not be surprising. The articles claiming we've all been fooled and that this was a ghostic or kaballah based film I think are a reach, but seeing as it's a short story I could see Aronofsky visiting all of the creation/noah accounts that exist among a variety of religious traditions. Still, at best it would be subtly eluding to, not outright proclaiming any of those views.

I also saw a lot of commentary about biblical accuracy issues and I agree with that. It's not biblically accurate. As someone who read the biblical account prior to going to the theatre as a refresher...a lot of liberty was taken. And not just the speculative stuff (how the sons met their wives, what it was like being in the ark, etc) but the story was actually changed from what is found in the Bible. In some areas it was subtle and understandable, in others it was unnecessary and even baffling (seriously rock creatures?), and in a few areas it was drastic. The most drastic change, I felt, was the actual character of Noah. Don't get me wrong, Aronofsky's Noah was a very interesting character. He gave him a lot of layers and I think that was probably something that had to be done. However, just to be clear---the murderous, harsh Noah portrayed in this film is actually the opposite of the biblical Noah. The biblical Noah was the last "good man" on earth. There is no indication that he was violent. He was trying desperately to save people, not fighting them off. He was mocked for building the arc, which everyone knew about and thought was foolish, not trying to keep it a secret. In fact, it took him 120 years to build the arc, and when the flood came he had all of his full grown sons and their wives with him. He was certainly following what he felt God asked him to do, but he was not taking the destruction of humanity into his own hands. 

I am not angry at Aronofsky's Noah. He's exploring an idea about sin and humanity that I think is worth talking about. According to the Bible, sin is something in the heart of every man---including Noah. By saving humanity through Noah, a good man, God is also allowing sin and evil to persist. It will be back. Evil will grow, men will murder, there will be bad things in the world again. So why let man live at all? Why not just wipe man and evil out altogether? It's a great question! The answer that Christianity gives is a story of God's love and plan for the redemption of humanity. Aronofsky's answer, or non answer, has something to do with God's love for his creation as well though it's perhaps incomplete.

I really don't believe Aronofsky is trying to undermine Christianity or be blasphemous with this film. I think it's thoughtful and interesting. I enjoyed seeing an Atheist's take on the Noah story and the character of God. While he doesn't get it completely right, I am not afraid of his mistakes and have enjoyed the meaningful conversations they have raised. 

So as far as positive aspects, there were many great questions raised by the film including questions about God's nature and sin itself. Christians having to face the perception of a more wrathful OT God, God's grief over destroying his creation, and our sinful nature is a good thing I think. Also, Bible stories are rarely told on this scale. Visually there were some pretty incredible scenes. My personal favorite  was the creation/fall narrative scene which was visually stunning. And the acting is pretty good. I am a fan of Logan Lerman, Anthony Hopkins, and Emma Watson so I always enjoy their performances.

Yet, despite the positives I have to say that I did not think this was a great film overall. All controversy and inaccuracies aside, the film that was presented was itself fell short. It was mostly the story and a few of the artistic choices that killed it. The story presented was very disjointed, at times even inexplicably bizarre, and at other times just plain boring. When I saw it, I knew immediately that I didn't like it. As I've let it settle I've grown to like aspects of it more than I did at the time, but I was pretty disappointed with the film as a whole and I can't see it being a film I want to see again.

Basically, I like Aronofsky as a director and I was disappointed because I expected more. I did think it had some great elements, I'm okay with the concept of taking artistic liberties and I feel he was very thoughtful and most of the Christian backlash is unwarranted. However, despite all of that I still feel it was not a very good film. I can't seem to shake that feeling.

But to end on a positive, I stumbled upon a poem written by Aronofsky as a child about Noah that I thought was really excellent so I will conclude my review by sharing it.

Evil was in the world
The laughing crowd
Left the foolish man at his ark
Filled with animals
When the rain began to fall
It was hopeless
The man could not take the evil crowd with him
But he was allowed to bring his good family.

The rain continued through the night
And the cries of screaming men filled the air
The ark was afloat
Until the dove returned with the leaf
Evil still existed.

When the rainbows reached throughout the sky
The humble man and his family knew what it meant
The animals ran and flew freely with their newborn
The fog rose and the sun shone
Peace was in the air
And it soon appeared in all of man’s heart

He knew evil would not be kept away
For evil and war could not be destroyed
But neither was it possible to destroy peace
Evil is hard to end and peace is hard to begin
But the rainbow and the dove will always live
Within every man’s heart

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