Sunday, March 30, 2014

Noah: A Movie Review

Noah is a dark, dank, dreary, dismal, drizzly downer of a film.  Granted, one doesn't expect a tale of global judgment and genocide to be a laugh-riot (where is Mel Brooks when we need him?).  Many of my fellow Christians are wigged out because Darren Aronofsky's film changes the Biblical story (gasp!), incorporates evolution (double gasp!), has fallen angels ("Watchers"--from the apocryphal Book of Enoch) as good guys (triple gasp!) and carries a heavy environmentalist message (quadruple gasp!).  None of that really bothers me.  Every Biblical film adds and subtracts and exercises creative license.  Aronofsky's liberties with the flood myth are taken in the venerable spirit of Jewish Midrash and dive into deep theological waters.  He isn't trying to retell the story of Noah so much as use the story as a basis for theological and philosophical exploration.

I thought that the bleak post-apocalyptic, Road Warrior-ish setting was intriguing.  I wondered, is this story taking place in the future after our present civilization has fallen?  And would that mean the survivors of the flood are post-post-apocalyptic?  Does it take place on another planet, similar to earth?  And why is everyone in the film is so Anglo-Saxon?  Clearly, Aronofsky was not going for any semblance of historical versimilitude.

The central theological dialectic that the film wrestles with is that of unflinching faith in God's power (characterized by Noah) vs. humanistic faith in mankind's own power (characterized by wicked king Tubal-Cain).  Tubal-Cain is ruthless and cynical and without hope and yet still cries out to God.  Noah obeys a ruthless God and becomes himself ruthless and cynical and without hope.  The despair is palpable, engulfing everyone like the waters of the flood.

Are humans inherently evil, but also capable of good?  Or are humans inherently good, but also capable of evil?  Is being faithful to God a matter of unquestioningly obeying divine directives (as best one can interpret them), or does faith allow the freedom to make moral choices based on one's own conscience.  Can a choice of love and mercy be disobedience to God?  Can a choice of cold-blooded mercilessness be obedience to God?  These are the questions at the heart of the film and they make interesting fodder for theological rumination. 

But what I found most tragic and unsettling about Noah is its depiction of God.  The God of this film is a cold, distant, dispassionate, inscrutable and merciless being beyond the sky who only communicates through ambiguous signs and natural events.  This is not a God of hope or compassion or relationship.  This God is inaccessible and silent.  At points in the story both Tubal-Cain and Noah cry out in anguish to God, "Why won't you speak to me?"  One is reminded of a verse from Stephen Crane's The Black Riders

If I should cast off this tattered coat,
And go free into the night sky;
If I should find nothing there
But a vast,
Echoless, ignorant--
What then?

The God that moviegoers will encounter in Noah is nothing like the concerned God of redemption that the Hebrew prophets spoke of or the passionate God of lovingkindness that the Psalmists sung about or the compassionate God of love that Jesus embodied.  The God in this film is nothing like the God that I know inwardly and have intimate relationship with.  This film does not know that God, and that is its greatest tragedy.


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