Sunday, April 27, 2014

Noah: The Untold Story Part 1

Noah, the Paramount Biblical “tentpole” film has grossed close to $200 million by now, if not more. World-wide ticket sales suggest that millioins of people have taken in the movie, which suggests they have at least a passing interest in the story.

With all the fanfare about the movie, from its vocal Atheist writer/director, to the “disclaimer” that Paramount put on marketing materials, I decided to watch the movie on one basis: Does it work as a movie. In other words, I'm not looking for Hollywood to faithfully exposit scripture. I trust them to illustrate God's word less than I do the average pastor in churches (who are, arguably, trained to do that well). I'll leave my reasons for my skepticism for some other post.

So, here goes with my thoughts on Noah. And, for full disclosure, I had to whittle this down a bit. Noah paints a post-Fall world inhabited by the rebellious descendants of Cain, the first murderer in harsh, forbidding tones. The movie recounts that mankind fell out of harmony with The Creator's world and spread destruction, being a cancerous ink blot on what was once beautiful. Noah, we learn, is the last descendant of the line of Seth, Adam's only good child after Cain killed Abel.

The setting is good, narratively. We have a seemingly dying remnant of goodness in the face of a massive population of murderous evil doers. Unfortunately, the movie uses this imagery in a way that it becomes a bit of hyperbole and edges the story into unbelievable fantasy. It's like Aronofsky wanted to paint an impressionist painting and yet have realism at the same time. It doesn't work. When I see the barren, charred, black landscape with tees ripped and burned, I wonder, where would any animals live? What do people eat? Granted, the Cain civilization allegedly eats meat, which is depicted as evil (a concept that is not made up apart from the Bible—God told Adam that he gave every plant for food, not every animal. God does not permit mankind to eat animals till after the Great Flood). But, if there are no plants, the planet is barren, there wouldn't be animals, there wouldn't be food. So, how are people surviving at all? It doesn't make sense. Then, Methuselah lives on a mountain that appears to be lush and green, but he claims he hasn't had any berries in a long time. He really likes berries. It begs the question, what does this old man eat? Apparently, he just drinks tea.

Then, the cursed angels from the Book of Enoch (an extra-Biblical text) show up and make the film look a bit like a Lord Of the Rings knock-off. It doesn't help the realism factor.

Methuselah gives Noah a seed from the original Garden Of Eden, which, when planted, seems to re-create the garden, complete with 4 rivers, as described in Genesis 2. Then, the animals all start showing up. From where? We're not told. It's just as much a surprise to the characters in the film.

The movie gets the general aspects of the story right: God has looked down and seen the wickedness of mankind and determined that He would have to destroy them with a world-wide flood, wiping the slate clean, as it were. Noah was chosen by The Creator to build an ark from the trees that were raised in the new Garden of Eden that sprouted, to “save the innocent.” In broad brush-strokes, this is what the Bible tells. I've seen this portrayed in children's story books the same way. It's simplistic, but generally accurate.

The movie also addresses the total depravity of mankind when Noah seeks wives for his two unmarried sons, Ham and Japheth. He witnesses the rancorous behavior of the people of Cain's city and is given a glimpse of the fact that all of them are just as wicked, himself included. Naturally, what separates Noah from the likes of Tubal-Cain is that God has seen that he's obedient to God's design—depicted in this movie as harmony with Creation—and that obedience allows God to talk to him and save him. Nonetheless, Noah becomes convinced, on his own, that mankind is the plague that God wishes to wipe clean, so no one should procreate.

This leads to the most controversial part of the movie, the crazed lunatic Noah. Many bristled at the idea of Noah being portrayed as murderous and a religious fanatic. For me, it seemed to be a warning against developing convictions about what God wants, absent a message from God. After all, Noah was told by Methuselah that God will speak to him in a way that he can understand. Thus, the visions that Noah has, indicating that he should build the Ark for the animals and his family. Noah never gets a vision about killing his family. He arrives at that on his own. And he's in personal turmoil. His turmoil continues until he realizes that wasn't The Creator's intent, and embraces the new beginning that is before him and his family.

In the end, the movie gets a passing, but average grade. The visuals are compelling, but a bit overdone and sometimes corny. The story, while staying broadly faithful to the story from the Bible, veers into melodramatic themes that drag the movie down.

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