Noah – film review

Warning this review contains spoilers of the sort that go beyond a basic knowledge of the bible story.

Russell Crowe as NoahSo let me start with a preface: I think this is the most Biblical film I have seen in a very long time, perhaps ever. It is a two hour long meditation on the nature of God and the nature of humanity.

All good myths require imagination and the power to suspend disbelief, and the Noah story is no different to that. In its original Biblical form its a retelling of some kind of universal near eastern story of a time when a great flood came. You find different versions of the same story in other texts too.

But the Hebrews used this story to not just deal with some half forgotten history, but to add to the conversation around two questions – who is God? And is humanity worth saving from itself?

That is what this new version of the old story does too.

Using plenty of imagination, as befits the telling of a myth director Darren Aronofsky conjures up an antediluvian world of almost surreal proportions. He gives the drama a dreamlike quality, in the same way that a memory highlights certain colours and textures, and fades other detail into obscurity.

He deals cleverly and subtly with the notion of how God speaks to Noah, using a combination of dream and psychotropic experiences to reveal the creator’s plans. This will surely disappoint those who prefer the Sunday school idea of such communication. However, despite its grotesque proportions, it is all the more real for that.

Another piece of re imagining comes in the casting of the Nephilim as rock bound creatures, difficult for those of us who prefer to imagine them as models of muscle bound masculinity. However, the really wonderful thing about his re imagining of these ‘Watchers’ (a term taken directly from the extra/non/orthodox canonical) text of Enoch is the way he uses them to tell their own story of love and redemption.

The great problem for those of us who read the story through an understanding of a God who is love, is the prevalence of the myth of redemptive violence. I thought that this would be a problem in the film too, that we would still have to deal with a vengeful God who wants to visit death and destruction on evil humans.

But actually the story overcomes this, and this is the great ‘arc’ of this myth, it’s Noah’s great realisation that his mission is not to see humans wiped out for their sin, and thereby to recreate the garden in its virginal purity. Instead his mission is fulfilled when he realises that the love he has in his heart is what God wants.

Aronofsky uses some license to get there, the device of the babies is his key interjection into the story, should Noah kill the children to fulfill his mission from God? When he finds he cant do so, he feels that he has failed, he becomes deeply depressed, he fears the the love he has in his heart for his grandchildren makes him weak, and of no use to God.

His epiphany comes as he realises eventually that love is his mission, his broken, loving and weak heart is what God wants. It is then that the new covenant comes into place.

Another clever addition to the story is the incorporation of Tubal Cain into the tale, he is recast not as Naameh’s brother as in the original text, but as the king, or ‘chief of the baddies’.

What he wants is to seize equality with God by force, he wants to take it – this is the fall story still in place. That man can be equal with God by eating the fruit. Tubal Cain is the antithesis to the eventual ideal type Noah.

Tubal Cain wants to recreate paradise too, but another sort of paradise, he wants to see the power of humanity dominant over nature – and this is the other great arc, the environmental theme of stewardship over dominance. Aronofsky seems to play on this heavily, and he’s right to do so, it’s a contemporary addition to the story, but one which has all the more relevance for that.

The way this works out is in Noah’s killing of Tubal Cain, another part of his supposed ‘duty’.

One final addition to the story is that of Methuselah, played as a wise ancient Shaman who has a fascination with finding berries before he dies. For all his powers, he cannot find the berry he wants, until his last moment, when God in a gift of small amounts but epic proportions reveals a berry to him, just before he meets his death.

So yes, this is a meditation on the nature of God, revealing eventually a God who is loving, who doesn’t command death and destruction, but who is misunderstood and disobeyed (obey comes from the Latin and has a close association with the word listen) by all but a few. It’s a God who grants small kindnesses, who sees into the hearts of humanity, and loves them.

And it’s a meditation on the nature of humanity, for from earth (humus) they came. It recognises humans as capable of great wickedness and of great love.

Acting wise I was impressed by everyone, except perhaps Emma Watson, who I found unconvincing. I didn’t desperately like the fight scenes, but I don’t like them usually anyway – they were however a necessary dramatic device.

It was both massively divergent from the original text, and simultaneously totally faithful to the spirit of it, and that is what makes it very very Biblical. Those who want more Biblical literalism will hate it no doubt. I thought it was excellent.

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nbn festival – a glimmer

I’ve been pondering the concept of this ‘no big names’ festival, which I mentioned before here and here.

Today I was struck with a bit of inspiration by the hairy bass genius that is Steve Lawson. Actually I knew Steve when I was a kid, he was hairy then too. But hirsuteness aside, he wrote today about his plan to tour a series of ‘house concerts’, in other words he turns up and plays a gig in somebody’s house. They have invited friends or advertised it, they’ve worked out a way to pay the musicians, etc.

I thought, ‘dang, if that aint a touch of genius’. It’s much more sustainable and do-able than a larger scale gig. It offers a completely different kind of musical experience, one for which Steve perhaps is well equipped, better than the likes of U2 for instance! But having good music played in an intimate setting is brilliant.

Then I met a guy who has a cinema in his house, he’s done a spare bedroom out with a big screen and surround sound etc, and I recognised the same kind of potential that the home gigs model has.

What if we did a festival where the gigs, talks, exhibitions, whatever were in people’s homes, gardens, public spaces, etc? Yes you would need people to be willing to host the different events, and there would be a fair amount of logistical management involved, but it could be done surely! It offers a smaller scale, more relational experience, with no room for big names, or big costs, or big egos. A couple of larger scale events which could be held in public parks or similar could be open to the general public… so much potential for goodness! Can I get a witness?!

As well as the above mentioned good things, this is a totally scalable and replicable project, you could spread it across a large area, or keep it contained in a small one. And you could even host one in your own town. Easy peasy. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Flying back tomorrow… and spooky Bourne!

we set off back to the Uk on tuesday, and arrive early wednesday morning, just in time for a quick turn around and get ready for the Grapevine festival in lincoln at the weekend.

we’ve had a great time here and in Cambodia, and maybe I’ll get round to bloging more about some of the people and things we’ve seen and learned from… maybe!

one last thing – we went to see the Bourne Ultimatum last night, which was about what you might expect it to be, except… spookily… one character is a journalist called Simon Ross, early thirties, hint of a northern British accent, think we all know who that is based on!  Paddy Considine, you better not be attempting to steal my identity!

One day, if we get the chance, ask me about the time I spent being a semi spook, of course after I’ve told you, I’ll probably have to kill you!