Noah (USA, 2014)

noah-posterDirected by: Darren Aronofsky. Already on paper, this is a pretty hilarious and strangely cool movie in its basics: It’s a big modern Hollywood retelling of the Noah’s Arc story, full of modern CGI apocalypse sequences, disturbing Abraham-ish infanticidal overtones, and—why not?—a bunch of talking CGI rock monsters. And while we’re here, let’s just spend a minute on those talking CGI rock monsters, because a lot of what I think is significant about this movie rests on their CGI rock shoulders. I’m consuming this as a secular person who has, like most people, a pretty basic understanding of Christianity and the core Bible stories. Basically, I never believed that any of that shit was real, and my dis-belief stemmed not (only) from years of indoctrination by liberal-atheist Hollywood and TV, but from just being a person with a reasonably intact cognitive capacity who was trying to reckon with all of the conflicting things grown-ups teach you as a child. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother going out of her way to make sure that I knew, in the midst of my high consumption of cartoons and Indiana Jones movies, that what I was seeing was not real, that there was a line between fantasy and reality. So when I enjoyed a bit too much watching Indiana Jones in a back-and-forth punching match, she would caution me that in real life, when somebody punches you…it hurts! Not something you want to be doing in real life. Not like the movies. When Daffy Duck shoots himself with a shotgun and his beak spins around and he makes a funny face, when Sylvester puts his finger in the socket and gets electrocuted and makes a funny face, when Wiley Coyote falls off the cliff—it’s not real life, it’s cartoons. In real life, you die. And as long as I understood that it’s cartoons, it wasn’t harmful. I was a pretty sharp kid, I could wrap my head around that: cartoons, real life, different, got it. But my introduction to the basics of the Bible were somewhat more puzzling because here were things that were presented as more or less factual (mine was a pretty noncommittally Christian household), but which I, even as a toddler, could understand were completely impossible. Here were cartoon things—unreality—being presented as reality. And I guess what I love about this movie is how it presents the Biblical story and keeps intact that child’s sense of skeptical criticism that comes with basic logic: He put two of every animal on the boat? How did he do that? How did the animals stay put? How do you get little beetles to stay in one place? What about birds? Wouldn’t they just fly away? What about lions and tigers and stuff, wouldn’t they eat all the birds and smaller animals? I thought they didn’t cross the ocean until Christopher Columbus? How did they get all the animals over here like moose and beavers and stuff? And (this applies to Adam and Eve too), if they’re the only ones on the arc, how do they repopulate the earth after the flood? Does Noah’s wife have babies with her own sons? Gross! Does that mean that we’re all descended from inbred incest babies? That’s messed up! What a weird story! And that’s supposed to be real? It’s a movie that respects the viewer’s intelligence enough to use movie magic to account for these inconsistencies—the magical sleep incense to put the animals into hibernation, the subplot of Ham’s lack of wife—but whose stretches in movie-logic show themselves to strain a bit too much to hold up under basic reasoning. I read this entire movie as a really satisfying juggling act—a movie about a Bible story, sure to snare a huge chunk of the Christian dollar (and by the looks of it, it totally did), that also serves as a giant, sprawling critique of the Old Testament, a two-hour demonstration of how fucking ridiculous the whole thing is, and an implicit indictment of any rational adult who still goes along with the whole thing. And frankly, I don’t know if I’m that surprised that most Christians didn’t seem to read it as such, that most of them seem to have consumed it as a straightforward Bible story. (What people seem to have more issue with is the overall whiteness of the movie, which is definitely historically inaccurate, as all Bible movies are, but again, it’s a stupid Hollywood fantasy anyway, so why not put Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly in there? Although I can’t deny that Idris Elba or Chiwetal would have been fucking amazing in that role too. ) But to my knowledge, the talking CGI rock monsters don’t seem to have drawn too much attention, even though, to my eyes, they were the most conspicuous thing about the damn movie. I fucking love it—these grotesque, clunking action figures, menacingly helpful with their deep voices, like the Transformers talking to Shia Laboeuf: “We will help you, Noah, son of Lamech.” That’s fucking priceless. And of course there were talking CGI rock monsters to help build the ark—how else would one person build a giant boat? Be realistic here! He’s going to need rock monsters. I just love it; those rock monsters are Aronofsky’s way of exposing how absurd the whole thing is, taking huge Hollywood liberties with the text and playing up the modern Hollywood CGI angle, all to aid in making this patently ridiculous story more believable. That’s right—the rock monsters are meant to make the story less ridiculous. It’s so good. And I can’t claim to know Aronofsky’s personality, but he strikes me as a secular Hollywood liberal, and even if he isn’t, this movie is a delightfully subversive critique of Christianity disguised as a good old Biblical story. And anyway, all of that aside, I dig the acting in this movie. Russell Crowe does a good job at the whole schizo-unlikable-murdering-fundamentalist thing, partly because of his unique ability to convey patriarchal respectability and assholeish unlikeability with the same face. Jennifer Connelly is great here, but it’s another role that shows what a shameful state Hollywood is in that a talent as great as Connelly (without some major reversal in Hollywood’s usual practices) is basically at the end of her run of interesting, non-token roles. She’s basically “the wife” in this role, and that’s the only role she’ll get from now on, even though she’s probably, on pure talent, the best actor in the damn movie. Emma Watson is coming up in the world, way more than I thought she would based on some of those breathless, melodramatic performances in Harry Potter. And Ray Winstone does a good job here, even though I couldn’t shake the feeling that his part should have been played by Brian Cox, but maybe it’s just me. But anyway, go see it, it’s definitely weird, it’s incoherent, it’s fantastical, it’s nonsense, and it doesn’t really have a moral centre, a sympathetic core. But hey, in modern Hollywood, that’s no obstacle.

3 responses to “Noah (USA, 2014)

  1. Pingback: Man of Steel (USA/UK, 2013) | Offhand Reviews·

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  3. Pingback: Mother! (USA, 2017) | Offhand Reviews·

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