Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Flood of Reaction

I went to see the movie Noah
last night. A consecutive two hours and seventeen minutes have rarely absorbed my attention so thoroughly. There are a few semi-spoilers below, so if you'd prefer to see the movie first, stop here and go read Genesis Chapters 6-9 before heading for the theater.

Is it a good movie, you may ask? The short answer is yes. It's a very good movie. The screenwriter and director have taken wild liberties with the Book of Genesis, which will drive biblical literalists to much "weeping and gnashing of teeth." I'm more tolerant of scriptural interpretations, but even I had a hard time with some scenes. The script gets many details right, but when it veers off track, it kind of goes over a cliff. Let's unpack that.

First of all, the movie has its basic facts straight. Noah is chosen by God to save creation. God is constantly referred to as "the Creator" in the film, which offends some people right from the first frame. I have no issue with this. God is "the Creator," yes? So let's move on.

The Bible tells us that Noah's father lived to a ripe old age, yet the movie quickly dispatches him in tragic, Disney cartoon fashion. Shem, Ham, and Japheth correctly appear as Noah's sons. However, in Genesis, all three sons took their wives aboard the ark. In the movie, only Shem has a mate. Ham is jealous, in a sort of Cain-and-Abel reprise. Inaccurate, but good for dramatic impact.

The screenplay gives Ham a motive for revenge against Noah in a plot line entirely outside of the biblical narrative. This tension leads to much suspense and bloodletting, so I suppose that's how the writer/director justifies it. To be fair, in the Bible account Noah has no spoken lines until after the flood. He is glumly portrayed by Russell Crowe with nary a single smile; if he didn't speak, he would be unbearably tedious. Noah's wife is peripheral in Genesis, which if followed to the letter would leave her largely out of the picture and deprive the viewer of a rich and powerful female lead played by Jennifer Connelly. All those omissions would make for a rather boring film, so the filmmakers have solved that problem with runaway creativity.

Another story line that has some people moaning is the Nephilim. These are the "heroes of old, men of renown." All we know of them is that they were "fallen" creatures, perhaps angels (in Hebrew, naphal means "to fall"), giants who made men appear "as grasshoppers." They appear in the film as gigantic, made-of-stone Transformers, which at times is unintentionally comical. But I heard the director interviewed, and he mentioned wanting to have some fun with the Nephilim. If so, I say "mission accomplished."

My biggest struggle with Noah is with the title character's motivation and intent. There is little mention of sin in the film, which the Bible tells us is the main reason God sent the flood to destroy humanity. In keeping with modern Hollywood ideology, "the environment" is the impetus for the catastrophe. The great evil is what man "has done to the world"--not what man has done to his fellow man. There is a subplot of destructive, greedy, industrialized villains and numerous scenes of ruined landscapes. Noah, a vegetarian, is the environmentalist savior of the animals. In fact, he seems to like them a lot more than he likes people. PETA should be pleased.

Aside from its many flaws, Noah is a visually stunning film that will hold the viewer captive from start to finish. And any film that can prompt curious movie fans to flip open a Bible in this secular day and age is worth a "go-see" rating.