Tuesday, April 29, 2014

'NOAH' - A Biblical Movie That Even An Atheist Can Watch

Noah high tails it as the flood waters break, many of the "corrupt" in tow who he must shake before he jumps on the Ark.

Okay, first a bit of a disclaimer:  I am generally not a lover of Bible movies, for obvious reasons. I am an atheist and the Bible is mainly based on the surreal  and limited imaginations of its writers and hence  the accounts are myths, fabrications of their own minds. Having said that, the biblical extravaganza "Noah" caught my eye after one segment of Chris Hayes 'ALL In' several weeks ago when clips were played from assorted FOX shows and Glen Beck, with all of them going ballistic about this new Darren Aronofsky film.

From Hannity screaming on how it "betrayed" the poor widdo believers and their good Book, to Glen Beck howling "Blasphemy!", this suddenly became a flick I had to see. Especially after Ross Douthat observed in a recent National Review piece:

"Conservative believers feel beleaguered and beset, afflicted by a sense of culture war defeat:


If the fundies and their media lackeys hated it, and they did, then I wanted to see it!  Janice did too, and we weren't disappointed, as it satisfied our every rationalist expectation.

For those who might be unfamiliar with it, the story of "Noah" comprises books 6-8 of Genesis in the Old Testament. Basically, God becomes pissed at the humans he created as they have become "corrupt" and charges Noah with building an Ark with dimensions 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits, sealing its massive lumber pieces with pitch. He is then to bring the clean animals in by "sevens"  - male and female, and the "unclean" ones in by twos. These are to encompass all creatures of flesh, including snakes, as well as fowls of the air.

The rationalist skeptic has several problems with the Genesis account, including:

- How can the few 'friends -family' of Noah (maybe ten in all) get that enormous vessel made by themselves in a limited time?

- How can all the animals be safely stowed aboard without eating each other?

- How are all these critters kept quiet so they don't run amuck or cause chaos?

- Where is all the food to feed them, and how do you dispose of the tons of crap created each day?

- How can Noah and family  last 40 days if they are not supposed to eat their cargo?

- How can a world wide flood be generated in the first place?

All these problems are rationally solved with some concessions to artistic license and imagination. This is no biggie to we rationalists, since Aronofsky isn't relating the story of how Einstein developed special relativity but a basically mythical narrative told by semi-literate, pre-scientific sheep herders. We also get to see an entirely novel landscape - not Middle Eastern desert - but rather an ashy, ravaged, post -industrial landscape where the living humans have basically destroyed their environment (in much the way we are now, by over using resources)

The corrupt folk destined to drown are mainly the descendants of Cain, the killer of his brother Abel, but also innocents caught up in the predations of Cain's tribe (for example in one scene dozens of innocent females are being raped by Cain's lecherous knuckle dragger descendants). Noah's son Ham wants at least one of these females spared in order to become his wife, but after she's caught in an animal trap, Noah simply races over her dragging Ham with him. No time for saving any innocents here!  So, it's mainly Noah's immediate family.

In order to depict the building of the Ark, Aronofsky invokes the "Watchers" - based on Genesis' mysterious Nephilim. These were originally imprisoned in stone for their rebellion and now - at Noah's behest, become his servants: massive 50 -foot tall rock monsters who easily are able to rip up whole trees, take them apart, apply pitch and build the Ark. Obviously, accepting these denizens and their contribution requires massive suspension of disbelief, but no more than thinking a small family band could put an entire Ark together!

The scenes of the animals (especially the snakes)  arriving,  demonstrate incredible state of the art cgi graphics and are actually believable as the creatures swarm onto the vessel and find their respective carved- out niches.  As they're settled, a strange 'gas' is released from some plants and all the animals fall asleep. Problems of making nuisances of themselves - or getting hungry and eating each other -or defecating endlessly,  solved!

The other problem (of consuming the live cargo)  is solved because Noah and family are all vegetarians, so can consume an abundance of plants without having to kill one pig to barbecue! Meanwhile, all the precious critter cargo rests comfortably in hibernation until dry land is finally found.  (The only wild card in all this, is Tubal Cain, who somehow manages to get aboard the Ark, and gets Ham to kill one of the goats so he can eat it. As the animal bleats out a cry - this is intended to lure Noah to the scene so Tubal can kill him. )

How exactly did such a worldwide flood come about? At one point we are treated to a view from space which arouses pure awe:  the entire surface of the Earth is  covered from north to south, east to west,  by monstrous cyclones of the scale of Super storm Sandy. Could this actually occur? Probably not, but at least it made plausible how a global flood could manifest.

Is any of the movie believable? Of course not!  But Aronofsky's  artistic embellishments show the extent to which a gifted director must go to make a typical Genesis story credible. And further, it is precisely his departures from the Genesis script that make the movie appealing to the religious skeptic or non-believer.

Rolling Stone perhaps put it best on observing that Aronofsky's achievement was in "making 'Noah' relevant for believers and skeptics alike".

The aspect that most appealed to us was that Noah is depicted as a flawed human, but a conscientious one especially in terms of being a steward of the Earth - perhaps the original environmentalist. Of course, this very portrayal is what made conservatives' heads explode.

If you dig imaginative fare, with environmental themes and really epic scenes (perfect for the big screen), you could do much worse than watching 'Noah'.

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