Monday, March 31, 2014

Splash of the Titans

(Note: I owe the title of this blog post to an audience review posted on Rotten Tomatoes.  Though I am shameless enough to steal it, I'm not quite shameless enough to pretend I came up with it on my own.)

Major spoiler alert: I have not seen Noah.  I have no plans to see Noah.  I am not receiving compensation of any kind for not seeing Noah, except the compensation of not seeing Noah.  That's a pretty significant reward for me, since movie theaters these days are, without exception, TMTs (Total Migraine Triggers).  It's the noise, the flashing lights, the noise, the too hot/too cold temperatures, the noise, the over-sized screens full of 3-D garishness, the NOISE (did I mention the noise?).  For me to see a movie, it has to be a movie so universally recommended and praised that it might be worth a migraine.  Few of them are.

But plenty of people have seen Noah, and have been willing to write about it.  (I wish to thank my sister Heather for sending links to some reviews I hadn't seen, by the way.) Some of them really liked it, and found lots of Christian themes to reflect on.  For instance, Steven Greydanus writes:
Noah feels deeply the Creator’s grief and wrath over sin and violence — far more deeply than he feels his mercy or love of mankind. The Creator speaks to Noah, not in a voice from heaven, but in visions and portents, and at times Noah’s understanding of the Creator’s will may be deeply, even shockingly, flawed.

Noah presents biblical characters facing challenges, dilemmas and uncertainties as knotty as those we face today. Compared to figures in most ancient dramas, they are both more recognizably human, yet also more persuasively other. I appreciate a costume drama being willing to let the characters’ milieu push back on audience expectations with cultural sensibilities different from ours.
And Rebecca Cusey says:
Anyone hoping to see merely an accurate portrayal of the few verses in Genesis is thinking too small. The movie is much bigger, much richer, and much more exciting than that.

It’s the kind of movie that Christians, indeed everyone, should want Hollywood to make.

Darren Aronofsky has breathed fresh life into a treasured story and made it a story everyone can enjoy and everyone can ponder.

Not so fast, says Barbara Nicolosi:
Where was I? Oh yes, Noah is a terrible, terrible movie. As a story, it doesn’t attain to the level of the worst of the cheesy Biblical movies made in the fifties. Aronofsky broke the first and sacred rule of storytelling: you have to make the audience care. We never cared about Noah even after he was kind to a wounded, half dog – half snake. (No, that wasn’t a mistake.) We never cared for any of the characters. I kept hearing people say this movie is deep. It isn’t. It is psychologically pedestrian. The only emotion the movie elicited in me was laughs of scorn. The script is problematic in every way in which a script can be problematic. Bad characterizations – no complex personalities, just stereotypes. Unmotivated choices abound. No imagery or story subtext. Huge story problems requiring ark-sized suspension of disbelief. Earnest, oh so earnest, dialogue with every syllable on-the-tedious-nose. Awkward transitions. Completely missing a coherent theme. Embarrassing soap-operaish holds on actors looking tense or worried or just staring ahead trying to convey lostness and doubt. And the fakest, funniest looking, plastic green snake used repeatedly to indicate “Evil is in the house.” It’s bad enough to be a Christian movie!
On Friday, my wife and I had a very rare date night.

Naturally, we decided to spend it being pummeled by the blaring condescension of the most insipid, absurd, unimaginative, clumsily contrived piece of anti-Christian filmmaking to come along since, well, probably just last week.

In fact, if I learned anything from Noah, it’s this: despite popular perception, you can often judge a book by its cover. Also, giant deformed rock monsters make for awkward supporting characters. [...]

Noah is a major Hollywood blockbuster, made by an atheist director best known for his previous flick where a mentally disturbed lesbian ballerina goes insane and bleeds to death on stage. Already, a critical person might be slightly concerned about his handling of the Bible, considering what he just did to the ballet.

These concerns grew from suspicion to reality before it was even released, when the man himself came out publicly and professed Noah to be both an environmentalist propaganda piece, and the “least Biblical” Bible film ever made.

He wasn’t lying.

But he forgot to mention that it’s also a terrible film.

And Brad Miner is thoughtfully and carefully eviscerating:
If you’ve heard bad things about Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah, believe them. It’s not just a bizarre, misanthropic rewrite of Genesis, it’s a brutal, soulless epic in its own right, a failure as both Biblical drama and . . . drama. [...]

An enormous problem lies at the heart of the film’s message, which is that Noah is the first VHEMT. That acronym stands for Voluntary Human Extinction Movement (the ‘T’ added to make it scan as vehement), a group that believes healing our beleaguered planet requires mankind to renounce reproduction – in order to do what God did in Genesis, only without the rainbow covenant.
It's difficult to believe that all of these people saw the same movie, isn't it?
One theory is that the people who said they liked it were being paid to say so, but I don't believe that.  I wouldn't accuse people I generally respect of being sell-outs unless there were some kind of overwhelming evidence, and praising a movie that other people damn is too faint to be evidence of any sort.
Another theory is that Christian movie reviewers try too hard to prove that they are open to secular movies, especially when advance press suggests that Christians will be outraged by those movies.  This one is sort of plausible, because I can remember other instances when Christians geared up to praise a movie of that sort, if only to prove that Christians can be cool, only to find out that secular audiences panned the movie, making the Christian praise of it look rather silly.  Yet even that is probably a bit of a reach.
No, the real reason for this Splash of the Titans among Christian movie reviewers of Noah is probably exactly what it appears to be: a simple case of de gustibus non est disputandum.  Judging from the reviews I've read, both the positive and the negative, I would say that Noah would probably not be to my taste either, as I have a low tolerance for rock people, homicidal grandfathers, and lethal antediluvian spring-loaded bear traps brought in as a plot device to explain why Ham hates everyone, when it's probably just being named "Ham" that did it.  (Kidding, kidding--I know the name is Biblical.  Just like Edna.  Only she's in Tobit, not Genesis.)  I also tend to dislike movies that play fast-and-loose with books I really treasure, which is why (gasp) I only saw the first half of Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring before deciding that I preferred Tolkien's Tolkien to Jackson's.  Proving only that we Christians don't, in fact, take marching orders from anyone when it comes to must-see movies, must-miss movies, or anything in between.

So if you're wondering whether or not Noah is one of those cinematic experiences to treasure for the ages or just a waste of a couple of hours and more than a few dollars, by all means, read the reviews from your favorite Christian movie reviewer, and maybe even check out a few secular reviews too.  But in the end, God gave man free will for our own good.  Whatever Aronofsky’s Noah may think of the matter.

UPDATE: On the other hand, this serious and scholarly review of Noah is very intriguing, and might explain the discrepancies in interpretation over this film.

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