Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Aronofsky's Noah

I just finally got around to watching Noah, the sloshy epic starring Russel Crowe and directed by Darren Aronofsky.

It's about that Noah of course, the one with the Ark and the Flood and the affinity for Armenia.


They survive the flood. But, given that you exist, you probably knew that already. Read on if you're not afraid of lesser spoilers.

ET Kill Home

It had never occurred to me that Russel Crowe would have to build the whole stupid Ark by himself. Well, with the help of the womenfolk and Russel Brand, who plays his son Shim or Sham or whatever. The other son is Ham, though in fairness Logan Lerman as Ham probably hams it up less than any other character, human or beast.

So, provided by his grandfather Hannibal with a magic bean that instantly sprouts an entire forest, and thus an ample supply of wood, Noah Crowe seeks to build a very large barge.

But he's in a hurry, the rain's coming, the Ark is Really Really Big! What to do?

Why, enlist the help of giant many-armed barnacle-like Extraterrestrial Lumberjacks!

These also come in handy when, later on, Noah needs to repel a full-scale attack by the armies of Ray Winstone, the Representative of the Line of Cain and also the sole actor to be having any fun in this cash-colored deluge.

The ET Giants casually murder hundreds of humans before they realize that Death is Martyrdom, and when killed they will be beamed up to Heaven (thank you Scotty!). At that point they enthusiastically murder thousands of humans until the last ET Giant performs a sort of ritual rock-and-roll suicide and Noah is left to kill a few stragglers himself before the ship launches.

Redemptive Violence and the Rule of Man

This isn't the first time Noah turns a Gladiator trick. Throughout the movie we are repeatedly shown this self-appointed paragon of morality mood-swing his way into a murderous, but in the moment probably more or less justified rage.

Sooner or later it had to catch up to him. After all, he's spent almost as much energy as those ET Lumberjacks on a project that can only be described as genocide.

When he proposes that All Humans Must Die, including his own family (though on their own schedule), he comes close to losing his one remaining bond to Creation other than his sycophantic following of an imaginary, lunatic Creator: the love of his family.

When he proposes to murder his son's newborn twins, and only through his own weakness fails to make good on the promise, he does in fact more or less permanently lose that love.

Except he doesn't really. After hitting the bottle for a while on good old Ararat, everybody except Ham forgives him.

So here we have Noah: World's Greatest Asshole; mass murderer and negligent manslaughterer (womanslaughterer, at least); slow-motion suicidal genocidaire; self-loathing God-playing arbiter of life and death, dispensing a reprieve but only that for the family that sacrificed everything to go along with his crazy scheme. And yet they follow him as if he were G-d H-ms-lf, because in the given scheme of things that's what the Patriarch is.

A Christian Movie?

So this got me thinking. This movie is very casual about the mass murder taking place, as if it were in fact a divine action (we are expected to trust the ET Giants on that point). But it appears to condemn the overall violence and brutality leading up to the genocide itself, and also Noah's infanticidal machinations.

These things, however, all flow from the central establishing fact of the story: these people's (and ET Giants') Creator is a despotic and vengeful god, a god one must submit to even at one's own peril.

That sounds exactly like the god you always hear the Christians telling you they've replaced with a god of love and compassion.

Winstone's character has the clearest understanding of the Creator in this movie: he, a power-hungry Man in Full, giving and taking life, is living as he was created: in the image of the Creator.

Interestingly, while Ray Winstone-son-of-Cain is the villain in his relationship to Noah Crowe, he is without question the guy you'd want to follow if you had to choose between them. Noah has the ET Giants and the Big Bad Boat, but he would - he does - stand by and watch you drown. W-s-o-Cain would at least try to recruit you to his cause.

By any modern standard of ethics, Winstone's actions make more and more sense while Crowe's are more and more craven. Noah can't even plead self-defense as a justification for his evil deeds, since his plan is to die when the job is done. Or, anyway, in his typically self-righteous manner, live as long as he likes after the job is done and then someday get around to dying, yeah sure.

If, in a largely Christian country, you make a mass-market sci-fi movie based on an old Jewish legend, and in it you make it abundantly clear what a sick and bloodthirsty bastard the Creator is, are you not implicitly making an argument in favor of the Christian idea of God?

Of course that might be entirely coincidental. But I did not see anything much redeeming about the God in this movie other than arguably His ability to talk all the other lions into letting just these two be saved from the flood.

Science, Superstition and Aranofsky

It would be very interesting, but also very difficult and possibly not very entertaining to make a Noah's Ark movie in which there is no superstitious hocus-pocus at all.

Considering how crazy the traditional version of the story is, one might argue that Aranofsky's sci-fi touches are just minor adaptations to modern cinema. At least he doesn't try to make sense of Noah's age (six hundred, they tell me).

What fascinates me about Aranofsky's take is that everything falls neatly into one of exactly two categories: has a perfectly rational explanation vs. completely impossible sci-fi fantasy.

It's as if on the one hand he invites us to consider that Noah may be delusional and the Creator may not exist; but on the other hand he shows us Instant Forests and Glowing Angel Creatures (the souls of the ET Giants) and faith healing and Magic Glowing ET Fingers (apparently without irony).

I very much wish Aronofsky had gone all the way with the scepticism and presented the probably inevitable sci-fi elements as at least consistent with physics, so we could have concentrated on the twin problems facing Noah:

Is this really what the Creator wants me to do?

Am I insane?

Though of course in my world there is a third problem: If the Creator really wants me to do this, is he not my enemy?


I found Aronofsky's Noah to be blustery, often ridiculous, and more than a little confused about its moral position (and its accents).

But it did make me think. Was it worth the five bucks I spent renting it? Probably not. Would I watch it again? Only if somebody makes a Ray Winstone highlight reel.

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