Noah 101: The Hollywood Way

NoahThe Christian controversy surrounding Darren Aronofsky’s epic fantasy film, Noah, is unsurprising, though it raises some interesting questions for me.

Russell Crowe stars as Noah, and co-stars Harry Potter’s Emily Watson as his adopted daughter. The movie takes the bones of the 40-verse section of the Old Testament and turns it into an even more fantastical tale than the original. The addition of the fallen angels, called The Watchers, who have been turned into stone creatures and co-opted as navvies to help build the ark, isn’t the least of it. There’s also the king who wants to throw out all the two-by-two animals and save himself and his followers instead. Not to mention his horny son Ham, stamping off in search of a woman amid the barbarian hordes.

And if all this sounds mildly ridiculous, that’s because it is. I have no problem with using Bible stories as the basis for fantasy films. No, my problems with the film go far deeper.

In spite of some excellent moments, particularly where we see Crowe’s true nature as a fundamentalist nutcase emerge, the script itself is pretty dire.

First there’s a laughable opening scene which skips through the creation story complete with a rather trippy glowing Satan snake followed by a very loud apple-crunching sound. Next comes the pseudo-Christening of young Noah, whose dad inexplicably wraps a glowing snakeskin around his arm (never explained, but we have to assume it’s the Evil One’s shed skin; though why it would now be used as as magical jewellery is anybody’s guess). After Noah fights off his first barbarian horde, he escapes, only to be dragged off by one of the rock monsters. Next, he informs his rock group captors that he’s the grandson of a person he’s seeking and who’s whereabouts they know. The grandfather is, of course, Methusela. Yes, you heard me, Methusela, played by a literally long-suffering Anthony Hopkins, whose only wish in life is to eat some berries – I’m serious!

Noah somehow persuades his family that everyone in the world has to die, except for the animals and the birds, and themselves. Oh, and by the way, once they find land, he and his family have to die as well because they, too, have sinned and are found wanting in the sight of the unnamed one.

The portrayal of Noah as a vegetarian eco-warrior is fair enough. Except his whole ethos is closer to paganism than Christianity. And, coincidentally, God doesn’t get a mention – “the creator” is substituted instead. Again, fair enough. But, while he won’t kill an animal, he’s quite happy to bump off his loving family and the beautiful new granddaughters produced by the previously sterile – “barren,” if you want to be Old Testament about it – (from a severe wound in childhood) Emily Watson. It’s fundamentalism with bells and whistles, if you ask me.

On the other hand, the film has some redeeming features. Did I say “redeeming?” – sorry, I didn’t mean to come across Biblical there. Far be it from me to praise CGI for its own sake, but the descent of the hordes of birds and beasts on the ark make for some impressive viewing. As does the eruption of the flood and a few other set pieces. Except…well, because I didn’t think much of the film as a whole I was impressed in a wholly unemotional way.

To return to my opening statement, though, I want to address the controversy.

Phil Cooke is a Christian media producer and consultant. He advised the studio on the film, and advised in relation to the controversy: “Christians have to stop looking at Hollywood as the enemy, and start reaching out. Missionaries have discovered that you don’t change minds by criticism, boycotts or threats. You change minds by developing a relationship and a sense of trust.”

Change our minds about what? I wonder.

To his statement I also want to add: so why don’t Christians ignore the Old Testament altogether? I admit to having limited knowledge on the subject, even though I come from a Christian background. I’ve always wondered why, given the sermon on the mount pretty much wiped out the much more oppressive Ten Commandments, the two texts are taught side by side in Church. Doesn’t the latter negate the former? And the word Christianity itself more or less means “the religion of Jesus Christ” which surely suggests disregarding anything that has gone before. Maybe I’m the only person who thinks that, but to my mind it seems logical.

The second big question is about hypocrisy. Though Aranovsky is on record as not being a believer, he claims that Noah is true to the spirit of the original. Which suggests the original depicted a man with major double standards who 1) didn’t believe in freewill yet consciously chose his own horrific actions; 2) professed to love his family yet planned to bump them all off because “the creator” told him to; and 3) wouldn’t so much as pluck a flower from the soil yet happily maims and murders his fellow man without so much as blinking.

Is anyone else as confused as I am?

Setting aside the movie’s obvious flaws, I had to wonder if the studio executives agreed to its making in a conscious attempt to court controversy. Pity they hadn’t gone the whole hog and had the opening titles read, as so much Hollywood product seems to nowadays: “Inspired by a true story.”

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