Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Noah (2014)

I am looking forward to seeing it. From The Catholic World Report:
The big release in movie theaters...is Darren Aronofsky's epic film, Noah, starring Russell Crowe. In a short piece, "The Thing About Noah and the Ark", on the New York Times' site, Aronofsky wrote:

When I asked Russell Crowe to star in “Noah,” I promised him one thing: I would never shoot him standing on the bow of a houseboat with two giraffes sticking up behind him. That’s the image most people have of Noah and the ark and I didn’t want to give audiences what they were expecting. I wanted to break the clichéd preconceptions we have from children’s toys, adverts, 1950s biblical epics and even much of the religious art of the last two millennia: the old man in a robe and sandals with a long white beard preaching in some Judean desert. I wanted Noah’s story to feel fresh, immediate and real. So when my team and I started to imagine how to bring the prediluvian era to life, we threw away all the tropes and returned to the Bible. …

We realized that if we listened to the original text we would find a blueprint for a Noah story that was unique and unexpected. For instance, returning to the ark: When you look in Genesis, you find exact measurements for a big rectangular box, a giant coffin. It makes perfect sense. The ark didn’t need a curved hull of planed wood with a pointed bow and stern. The world was entirely covered with water and there was no need to steer and nowhere to go. So we created the rectangular-shaped ark for the film, biblically accurate down to the last cubit.

I've not seen the movie yet, but I think Aronofsky makes many good—even excellent—points. And it's notable that he appears to take the biblical account quite seriously, yet with an understanding that the early chapters of Genesis were not penned by scientists or modern historians. This, of course, is a sticking point for both some Christians and certain secular-minded folks; both, at times, try to force such literature into boxes it was not intended to fill: the box of "history" as understood by moderns and the box of "fairy tales" as derided by moderns. And, as soon as you say so, some folks will defensively retort: "You're denying the historicity of Genesis!" No, I'm saying, as I think Aronofsky is also stating, that those first chapters of Genesis are narratives produced and eventually written down by folks who had very different perspectives on, well, nearly everything than those of us living in the 21st-century West. That doesn't mean they aren't true; it does mean that they require some hard thinking and a refusal to find false comfort in knee-jerk reactions. (Read more.)
Steve Greydanus offers his reflections, here:
For many pious moviegoers, I suspect some of the film’s more provocative flourishes will be a bridge too far. Less pious viewers, meanwhile, may be put off by the biblical subject matter. Have Aronofsky (raised with a Jewish education) and co-writer Ari Handel made a film that’s too religious for secular viewers and too secular for religious ones? Who is the audience?

Well, I am, to begin with. For a lifelong Bible geek and lover of movie-making and storytelling like me, Noah is a rare gift: a blend of epic spectacle, startling character drama and creative reworking of Scripture and other ancient Jewish and rabbinic writings. It’s a movie with much to look at, much to think about and much to feel; a movie to argue about, and argue with.

It’s certainly not the picture-book story that most of us grow up with, all cheerful ark-building, adorable animals and a gravely pious, white-bearded protagonist. Noah, played by a flinty, authoritative Russell Crowe, is the hero, but that doesn’t make him saintly. Or, if he is saintly, it’s worth recalling that some of the saints could be off-putting, harsh, even ruthless. We want our heroes to be paragons of virtue and enlightenment. Yet when you get down to it, the difference between Moses or David and corrupt Hophni and Phineas is one of degree, not kind. We are all made of the same fallen stuff.

For millennia, Judeo-Christian imagination has been haunted by the idea of the primordial world before the Flood: a world so close to paradise, with Eden itself around some forbidden corner, guarded by cherubim with a flaming sword. Men lived many hundreds of years, Genesis tells us, and chapter 6 suggests that giants walked the earth — offspring, on one interpretation, of human women and fallen angelic beings.

Some of these motifs inspired elements in J.R.R. Tolkien’s tales of the earlier ages of Middle-Earth, an imaginative portrait of the primeval world. Tolkien’s best-known works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, resound with echoes of this lost world. Aronofsky’s Noah includes imaginative flourishes akin to Tolkien: grim portents, grotesque Entish creatures called Watchers, battles in a Mordor-like blasted waste and a dark family struggle not unlike that of Denethor and his sons.

Yet the story’s biblical framework is taken seriously, even literally. There are glimpses of Eden, Adam and Eve in glory, the serpent, the forbidden fruit and the crime of Cain. Though paradise is lost, the Earth has not yet forgotten it, as Tolkien’s rocks and woods remembered the elves after they had gone. In a key sequence, an echo of Eden bursts forth in a rapturous effect recalling Genesis 2:9–10.

Among the highlights is a recounting of the week of creation, not in a prologue, but strategically positioned at a key moment when characters have reason to look back. This soaring sequence, in which the six days are artfully dovetailed with imagery of the origins of the cosmos and life on earth that would be at home in a nature documentary, is, for me, the film’s theological pinnacle. (Read more.)
 More commentary from Steve, HERE and HERE. He thinks people are overreacting about this movie, and he is probably right.

Rebecca Cusey comments, HERE.

Some theological reflections from The Catholic World Report, HERE.  To quote:
Noah is the work of a filmmaker deeply familiar with the story of the great flood, not only in its canonical form in Genesis, but also in other ancient Jewish texts, from the books of Enoch and Jubilees to rabbinic commentaries and midrashic retellings. In some ways it reflects the influence of our secular age; in offer ways it a bracing challenge to it. It is a divisive film and a divided film, one that seems almost to be arguing with itself, and about which those arguing on all sides may at turns have a point.

“Let me tell you a story,” Russell Crowe’s Noah says to his family in a moment of great crisis and emotion. “The first story my father told me, and the first story I told each of you.” What he recounts are the events of Genesis 1, the creation of the world, and Aronofsky relates them both verbally and visually in a way that bespeaks a confidence in the power of this story to speak to us today: a story still worth telling and retelling.

I don’t know whether Aronofsky (raised with what he describes as a “very, very basic Jewish education”) learned that or other Bible stories as Noah did, from his own father. But watching the film’s visionary recounting of the six days of creation, juxtaposed with time-lapse images of the origins of the cosmos, from the Big Bang to the arrival of man, I remembered that Aronofsky’s father had been a science teacher at a yeshiva school. Here are ancient and modern cosmologies standing side by side, not contrary but complementary.

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