DVD REVIEW: NOAH
YOU have to be a little bit careful sometimes reviewing anything vaguely religious. On the one hand, you risk upsetting those of the devout fraternity who feel insulted at any affront to the notion of the non-existence of God – but equally those in the scientific community who are equally slighted by any suggestion that He exists.
In reality, a spectrum of views exist of course – there are those scientists who remain open to the existence of God; and those of a firmly religious outlook whose scientific interests inform them not whether God created the universe, but intriguingly how.
How then do you tread the fine line in bringing the story of one of the great pre-Flood patriarchs - if you believe in such - to the screen, without being at once over-ponderous in the story telling, and secondly being faithful to the ‘original’ as it were?
Flood myths have long persisted in human histories - it’s notable that Noah and the Flood also appear in Qur’anic and Hindu literature.
But the word myth seems to be the key operative here; and equally the enjoyment of the film must lie with the audience’s ability to suspend either their belief or disbelief (as the case may be) in interpreting the movie.
For some – and I realise I’m possibly alienating many in suggesting this - the Old Testament and the stories within such are about as close to reality as JRR Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, which in itself, for those who have managed to plough through such, doffs more than a Creationist cap to the authors of the OT, and the power of Norse myths et al. There’s another old tale called The Epic of Gilgamesh which some say is the mother of all old tales.
Some regard the notion of a Creator, a Creation, let along the Seven Day/Creationist theory as being utter twaddle. For many others, the story is literally the greatest one ever told.
Some are more conciliatory and view the whole Story as being at best an allegory for the creation of mankind in times when science was ‘less well’ armed to explain an alternative empiricist view.
(Some non-empiricists interestingly, have argued that this balance has never changed – in other words, that the mystery of religion will always be one step ahead of science – a little like an Aristotelian greyhound chasing a Holy hare on the track of life. Neither combatant ever ends up catching each other, or ever indeed crosses any sort of finishing line. Perhaps even more worryingly, nor can either quite recall the metaphoric traps from which they were first released).
Scientists would let you know, to this day, that the universe has sprung from trinities of quarks in perfect balance, which form protons, neutrons, from which all the matter in the universe - and ultimately us, descend. A clinical, demonstrable and ultimately empiric answer.
The fact that no-one knows what happened within a trillion trillionths of a second after the Big Bang – even the best particle physicist would acknowledge this - arguably leaves open a question mark.
And it is this question mark – or more to the point a void in our knowledge – which some would say has created a vacuum which religion fills – or conversely it is that vacuum from which all knowledge (and ironically empiricism) is descended.
Whichever view you take – the power of myth and the age old story has proved to be manna from heaven for filmmakers for years, if you pardon the pun. The Robe, The Greatest Story Ever Told, even Beowulf, that oldest of poems and apologues, in recent years.
Enter then Noah into that breach of science in the form of Russell Crowe and co. But this time, in the hands of director Darren Aronovsky, it’s not always the Noah story we think we might know.
As a young boy, Noah (Dakota Goyo) witnesses his father, Lamech being killed by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone).
Many years later, an adult Noah (Russell Crowe) is living with his wife Naameh (a very powerful Jennifer Connelly) and their sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), but after seeing a flower grow instantly from the ground and haunted by vivid dreams of a great flood, Noah takes them to visit his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins).
On the way, they come upon a group of people recently killed, and adopt the lone survivor, a girl named Ila (Emma Watson).
Noah and his family are chased by Tubal-Cain's men, but seek refuge with the fallen angels known as the 'Watchers', confined on Earth as stone golems (those pesky Nephilim again) for helping humans banished from the Garden of Eden.
Methuselah gives Noah a seed derived from Eden and tells Noah that he was chosen for a reason.
Returning to his tent that night, Noah plants the seed into the ground. The Watchers arrive the next morning and angrily discuss how they shouldn't help Noah until they see water spouting up from spot that Noah planted the seed.
And lo, an entire forest grows quickly and the Watchers state that they will help Noah do the Creator's bidding. These trees are cut by the Watchers to build Noah's Ark with the help of Noah's family.
And so it comes to pass that the Ark, which is more of a floating container ship than that which We might have expected, survives the Flood and Noah and family live in harmony.
But, oh that it were the case.
The real power in this adaptation lies in three inspired themes; Noah’s devotion to ‘The Creator’ (God is never actually mentioned - perhaps intentionally or for political reasons); Noah’s retelling of the tale which was passed down to him of the Seven Day creation; and his understanding that mankind is destined to be wiped out.
Noah’s vision, certainly in this version, is not a benevolent one of mankind; he believes that the Creator is not his saviour, but that he (Noah) has been chosen as overseer of the end of humanity – ‘God’ having already wiped out much of the humans on the planet in the deluge, not liking what He has seen.
In a solemn scene, Noah explains how his sons – Ham, Shem and finally Japheth will be the last humans on earth (albeit on the Ark).
The Creator, it appears to Noah, intends to create a New Eden in which mankind will not exist, - only the animals will populate the New Eden (once things dry out a bit).
This doesn’t go down too well with Shem, whose lover Ila (Emma Watson), is expecting a baby, against all expectations and biological barriers. Ham is also none too pleased as his girl was abandoned beneath the trampling feet of Ray Winstone’s army.
Noah, irate at the news, knowing that it affronts the Creator’s non-human reboot plan, threatens to kill the baby if it is a girl. And, lo and behold, girl twins are born.
What then unravels is a conflict of emotions with Noah – does he serve his God, or his family ? – and to throw a spanner in the works, Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) – who is the flawed poster boy for mankind - is revealed to have stowed away on the Ark and to have forged a deal with a now vengeful Logan Lerman.
Our boy Ray wants to step into the New Eden as the ultimate New Man, forged, in his belief, in the image of God.
Without spoiling the ending, even if you accept this particular creation story, the key behind it all remains the mysterious power of The Creator, and his ability to destroy mankind at a whim, and his relationship with his ‘servant’, Noah.
The Watchers, as fallen angels, are a little too Ent-like for my liking, and seemingly at one point were willing to serve those of the line of Cain. But this line used their divinely imparted powers for evil, The Watchers tell us – and it was thus mankind which broke the earth.
The film initially tells us that after Adam and Eve, and all the late unpleasantness of the snake and the apple with a touch of temptation thrown in, Cain killed Abel, and it was only through the line of Seth (Noah’s ancestors) that the goodness in mankind could flourish. Sunday School stuff.
But the film is at its most powerful, like most other films, when it tells its own backstory – giving the audience a glimpse of the Garden of Eden in CGI splendour.
But also so at that point at which both Noah (and the audience) twig that perhaps mankind itself was indeed intended to be wiped out by God/The Creator – and that the whole New Eden was meant to be mankind less.
The suggested irony is it takes a previously barren woman, and latterly Tubal-Cain, through his pride and intention at least, to act as the saviours of mankind.
Noah is faced with a simple choice; to save his family and to effectively re-seed humanity, or to destroy such in obedience to his Creator, a seemingly insane act. Which further opens up the question, does religious fervour have its root in madness, and the nature of fanatical loners?
Perhaps that one is too deep to fathom, but Noah the film, in this clever adaptation, certainly raises more questions than it answers.
In the occasional long shot, we see the primeval Earth in which the events take place – it remarkably looks like a sort of proto Pangea, or Gondwanaland as some know it. All joined up with few oceans.
Tolkien in his legends and myths might have called it Middle Earth, reminding us of the power of old tales, of which the OT must be the ultimate influence.
Noah is certainly worth a look. In the meantime, to those who pray to the god of commercial success, thank the maker for CGI.