Sunday, April 13, 2014

Noah - Movie review

I don't get to go out and see movies as often as I like, but I was curious about Noah when I first heard about it. When I got the chance to go out and see a movie with the wifey today, this is the one I chose, and lucky for me, she agreed to it.

I suppose I should start by addressing a few things, seeing as how I often write about religion in general and my atheism in particular. You might be wondering why I'd ever be interested in watching a Bible movie in the first place.

Well, I have nothing against a movie based on The Bible. To me, it's mythology, and I only get annoyed by it when people try to insist that it's something more than that (which in my mind, ironically makes it something less than mythology, as I think that myths are important and literalism cheapens them). There's been some internet chatter on the atheist communities where many of my fellow nonbelievers don't even want to give this one a chance. That doesn't make sense to me though. After all, I saw the latest Thor movie, and I'm not a practitioner of Asatru, so I can see a Biblical movie even though I don't subscribe to any of the Abrahamic faiths. Actually, one of my favorite movies is The Last Temptation of Christ, and I have some pretty cool comic book adaptations of Bible stories. I also like the occasional religious song by the likes of Johnny Cash and Al Green. Oh, and I also recently saw The 10 Commandments for the first time, and I thought it was a hoot.

I'm not interested in seeing every religious movie out there. For instance, Son of God holds no interest to me, mainly because it looks kinda uninspired and a bit too "been there, done that". I'm also not going to go and see obvious religious propaganda like God's Not Dead (which, from what I've read, doesn't seem to know the difference between atheism and maltheism). This one got my interest because I've really liked the works of the director Darren Aronofsky that I've seen. From my understanding, the man's an atheist himself (although he hasn't ever specifically used that word as far as I know - let's just say he's not a "believer" at least). I figured that would give him a bit more leeway to take some risks with the material and therefore say something interesting about it. I was interested enough to pick up the graphic novel, which is based on an early draft of the movie's script. I liked that quite a bit, so seeing the movie was the next step.

So, what did I think? I liked it. A lot. More than I figured I would.

Let's get a few things out of the way if you're trying to decide whether you want to see it. First of all, if you believe that the story is literally true, then please just stop reading and go find something else to do. I'm not going to get into all of it right now, but believing that story as literal truth is akin to believing in The Three Little Pigs. Seriously. It's ridiculous.

Also, if you're the kind of person who can't take off his skeptical glasses even in the context of a movie, where one is required to suspend one's disbelief, then maybe you shouldn't watch it either. It's a myth, and as I often tell my students: "Don't go looking for logic in myths. It will just give you a headache." In other words, don't sit there and nitpick it. Nobody's trying to tell you that this is a true story. Looking for logic in myths is like looking for metaphors in algebra.

If you're like me though and can watch this in the same way that you'd watch something like Pan's Labyrinth or the aforementioned The Last Temptation of Christ, and you'd rather see them say something new about a very old story than be absolute purists, then this just might be fore you.

There is a whole lot of stuff in this film that's not in the original text. Now, some of the stuff that you might think wasn't there (like Noah getting drunk - although the movie is the first time that ever made sense to me) actually is Biblical. And while there were no giant rock creatures in the book of Genesis, they are based on the Nephilim - one of those interesting ideas in The Bible that the writers didn't give a whole lot of information about - so why the hell not make them giant rock monsters? Not any sillier than a talking snake, eh?

One thing that some people have praised and others have criticized is that there's a very obvious pro-environmental message to this. Put me in the "praise" camp, because like I said, I wanted them to make this story relevant to a modern audience. Sure, it borders on preachy that one of the sins of the evil people is that they eat meat though. (There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of vegetation - what the heck is Noah eating if not meat? But there's that thing about logic and how it doesn't apply again.)

Even better is how you've got a God who seems to be more consistent with what you actually find in Genesis, rather than the retconned version of him that's been given to us by Christianity. He's mysterious - almost unknowable. He communicates to Noah, but only through visions. He doesn't answer direct questions, and you don't necessarily feel that He's "good" so much as the mystery of the universe. In this, it's not about having Noah build the ark because he's a good man but because he's the best guy to judge whether humanity should continue or not. He's one of them, but he's not exactly a part of the rest of his species.

It also let's some difficult issues rise to the surface without providing some kind of cop-out. Drowning is brutal, awful, agonizing and horrific. Also, the idea that EVERYBODY was evil and deserving of death is almost as absurd as an ark with all the animals. There's at least one person you see die where you don't exactly feel that person had it coming.

I suppose the only easy-fix was how Noah managed to take care of all of those animals. Basically, he's able to figure out a way to get them all to sleep during the whole experience. That's fine with me though because otherwise the movie would have had to constantly address how he and his family were being zookeepers.

Like I said, I really liked this. I sometimes describe myths as true things that have never happened. I think that this movie brings that idea to life. If you take it as a myth, even if it's a myth based on what you consider to be a "real" story, it still brings an important truth to the surface.

And that's that the human race can be awful, brutal, and violent, but there's just enough good in us to make us worthwhile.

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