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The Bible Reloaded - Noah Review II

23 May 2014, 11:12
As a Calvinised kid growing up in the township years ago I have always wondered how some of the Bible stories I grew up reading would look like if they were made into films. Having read every Bible story from Genesis to Revelation my curiosity was like a hunger difficult to please. So, when I was in apartheid primary school they showed us the story of the famous Jewish King David as a boy and how he killed Philistine Goliath with a sling. How I loved that story and the symbolism behind it; nothing in me questioned the point behind the cinematographic narrative.
I worry that nobody is looking at that; especially given that even the symbolism gets lost when Martin Indyk enters a room with two poles. Nobody looks at Goliath as a country with a nuclear weapons, a capable air-force and highly trained brigades that gets beaten by a sling called Boycott, Disinvest and Sanction (BDS).

Okay, politics aside; I went to watch Noah a few days after it debuted in South Africa to little fanfare; quite different from how it was received in the United States of America. This could be owing to the secular nature of our society. Noah's story is a Biblical tale which does not carry the same weight within the Hindu, Muslim and other native faiths in our religious mix. So, not enough bums on seats could be expected in a country fractured across cultural lines.
So, when I finally went to the Brooklyn Ster Kinekor theatre in Pretoria there was only a handful of us in a theatre built to accommodate hundreds of cinemagoers. I concluded that most of the people in there were actually researchers and church elders wanting to advise their flock from the comfort of the pulpit whether they should go watch or ignore the film. Talk of a Litmus test. I was there to watch after reading an article in TIME magazine about the number of versions that went through the eyes of padres, pastors and evangelists to find the right mix. It seems you can offend anyone; but Christians and their wallets.

My conclusion after sitting through two hours of the film with my nondescript 3D glasses glued to my eyes is that the film is really an interesting attempt at reloading a Biblical story. I know the story of Noah intimately and after watching Darrel Aronofsky's interpretation I felt proud of him for having taken the mantle of a historian. Few so-called amateur filmmakers have such an iron spine. Few, like Mel Gibson with his The Passion of the Christ have tried and prevailed. Few have taken that route through independent funding. It is a path dangerous to tread as there are many landmines laid there by Christian fundamentalist who have no comprehension of anthropology; but the abridged Bible tale. Ask Martin Scorsese withThe Last Temptation of Christ.

So, for Aronofsky to screenwrite and direct what can easily become heresy is a brave act; kudos. However if his intention was really to bend the tale to suit a consumer audience with deep pockets, that audience is not going to be Christians. Noah - the film drifts so far away from the script that at the end of watching it I concluded that it's just another interesting film pretending to be sourced from the Bible. It probably was sourced from a history book, maybe the biography of Noah, which I would like to put my hands on. Otherwise it's an interesting thumbsuck from Aronofsky.

More kudos should be given to acting by the lead actor Russel Crowe who plays Noah. The Bible says at that time Noah was probably 518 years old; something that gets lost on the 55-years looking stud. It was also refreshing to see the re-emergence of old Anthony Hopskins (Silence of the Lambs) playing the role of Noah's father, Lamech. Credit should go to the make-up team for making Hopskins look like what God on film would look like and the screenwriter for portraying that character in an innocent-passive yet sage-like incarnation.
The rest of the actors are brilliant; from a young to an older horny Shem and his wife, treacherous Ham and bisexual looking Japhet. Their roles were in a way consistent with what the Bible says excerpt that the film tries very hard to demonise Ham even before he saw the nudity of his debauched Papa. The film does not try to moralise about what's the point of Noah deciding to get sloshed when that was a conduct unbecoming in the eyes of a more retributive God.

And maybe the film is an attempt at that Jewish narrative as to why everybody should accept insurbodination and forget about heavenly glory since Japhet and Ham's offspring was poisoned at 'genesis'. All their loins could litter after the floods were wild seeds. However, it's quite interesting that this tale is not evidence of anything that is happening today in that part of the world. History has been so rudely bastardised over the years to the extent that nobody really knows if some truths are served in doses to support ethno-political narratives.
Aronofsky'a direction of Noah is very political - especially given the state of negotiations at the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate. Some call that quagmire a Jewish-Arab conflict; if that was the case it would have been solved long time ago since both of them would have pleaded to being the descendants of Shem and being entitled to every blessing he got for concealing the shame of his father - as per Bible and Noah the film.

However real kudos for the aesthetic of this film goes to the the make-up, special effects, SFX, sound effects and CGI teams. Half the film was computer generated, from the depiction of the creation, the sprouting of trees, the bursting of water, the animals entering the ark, The Watchers and everything that me as a young Calvinite couldn't imagine. I have wondered for over twenty years how the story of Noah was going to be told and when I watched the film I understood why it couldn't be told before computers were advanced enough to tell half of it.
So, the CGI team (not Aronofsky) deserve the Best Film award. Next is the sound effects which become ear busters on a Dolby Digital surround sound theatre. The special effects are just out of this world and they are what makes this film riveting.

I would think Aronofsky is brave and his storytelling is brilliant. But I refuse to acknowledge him as a genius because this is our story as told by him; he reloads a lot of it to the point that some scenes just became alien to me and believe me I don't consider myself passive to be alienated by remixes. I have my understanding of the story of creation and Eden and how it is told in this film defies the many books I have read on it. It's not as controversial as the Big Bang Theory but it will make people think.

We were handful in a theatre built for hundreds but I really felt this is one of those stories that grow on you. It's not a blockbuster likeSpiderman III but the kind of film which's success depends on what the pastors say in church after watching the film and holding their three day spiritual retreat to seek 'spiritual' direction on what to advice the flock on. This will become the talk of the town in a few weeks or months' time and that's when those Christian bums will fill the seats. One believes it will eventually recoup the millions pumped into it by austeric Paramount.

Truthfully, since with a film like Noah I can only be truthful; I am giving this film a good score, for the artistic approach to the settting, the CGI, the wardrobe (even though I saw what looked like a pair of jeans worn by Shem's wife), SFX and the bravery of telling this story. I don't do fat lips; but if I was to give a statuette; here goes for six out of ten. Hooray! There's always room for improvement, Aronofsky my friend.

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