Saturday, March 29, 2014

One of the greatest mysteries is why Hollywood hates Christians so much (actually, it’s not a mystery at all but play along anyway).  Christians spend the same money everybody else does.  And as The Passion of the Christ demonstrated, if Christians are presented with a well-made movie that simply tells the story and that respects them and their faith, they will quite happily make some filmmaker a BOATLOAD of jack.

Hollywood, you’ll recall, has made two sets of Spiderman movies within about a decade.  Christopher Nolan’s excellent Batman series, the second, is over but don’t be the least bit surprised if another studio or director rolls out a third very soon.  And it would not shock me at all if someone took another run at The Lord of the Rings.

Big-time showbiz, then, is out of ideas which is why it’s periodically forced back to the Bible from time to time.  A “Biblical” movie, Noah, debuts soon.  Will I see it, either at the theater, on DVD or Blu-Ray or downloaded?  Are you kidding me?  If Ben Shapiro is accurate, this thing seems to have been created by an Episcopalian on crack.  How does Shapiro hate Noah?  Here are several of his ways:

The story goes something like this: incipient Jedi master Noah is tasked with keeping the earth safe from the clutches of the encroaching and exploitative Emperor, Tubal-Cain; Tubal-Cain, aka Avatar’s Colonel Miles Quaritch, seeks to murder Noah and his family (a la Avatar’s Na’vi) and destroy the planet’s animals and resources; the Jedi, aided by Treebeard’s rock-cousins, the Nephilim, build an Ark; Yoda Methuselah helps Noah find his path, and also magically heals infertility; the flood comes; Jedi Noah considers becoming a homicidal maniac. If this sounds like the Bible to you, complete with magical gold-like material that creates energy and rock monsters that contain fallen angels, then this movie is for you.

You all remember the rock monsters from Sunday school.  Right?

Yes, Treebeard’s slag cousins show up here, this time in the form of supposed fallen angels imprisoned in their stone bodies as a punishment for helping humanity. They talk like Treebeard. They walk like Treebeard. And they kill villains like Treebeard. These were supposed be the Nephilim of Genesis 6:4. Those Nephilim, however, were not giant rock people tasked with bludgeoning legions of humans.

Remember all the rumors about how this thing was going to be some kind of environmentalist fable?  Those rumors seem to be spot on.

In this version of the Noah story, the sins of mankind that require Godly extirpation are not chiefly sexual immorality or idolatry or murder. They are environmental. Tubal-Cain’s motto is that he will do everything he can to allow humanity to survive: “Damned if I don’t do what it takes. Damned if I don’t take what I want.” As the villain of the film, he paraphrases Genesis 1:26, in which God gives dominion over nature to mankind and says that man is made in God’s image. Noah, meanwhile, believes – we are supposed to agree with him – that man has destroyed Eden because he is exploitative and brutish. Because man has sinned against nature itself, man must be destroyed.

I don’t know where Aronofsky got the following crap.  James Cameron, maybe?

Noah wanders the earth with his family in search of Methuselah’s mountain, and stumbles on a mining operation designed to uncover “zohar,” a magical substance that acts essentially like oil. The primitive fracking operation that has uncovered this zohar is seen as a disastrous environmental degradation.

Then there’s the whole, “Maybe Hitler wasn’t ambitious enough” idea.

Because man has destroyed nature and therefore deserves to be destroyed, Noah is left in the odd position of saving his family alongside the animals. That’s odd because Noah and family are also humans – humans who have also exploited nature in order to survive. In the Biblical narrative, God saves Noah because he is not immoral – because he walks with God. In the Noahstory, God chooses Noah because Noah supposedly has the strength to do away with all of humanity. God chooses Hitler. What Aronofsky never quite explains is why God rewards Noah for failing in his mission – and why, if humanity was meant to survive and Noah’s children will be sinners, God doesn’t just send a couple cases of TB to finish off the job. Instead, Aronofsky’s Noah sits by idly while the last of the humans drown just yards from his boat, screaming pitifully. Then he proceeds to consider whether or not to demolish his own kids.

Be sure to read the whole thing.

Erick Erickson thinks Noah is one of the funniest movies he’s ever seen.  Over on the left, Jay Michaelson thinks that Christian fundies will hate Noah Noah is “nuanced.”

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is, in contrast, an exercise is complexity. Its title character is being marketed as your standard Russell Crowe action hero—Gladiator, the Prequel. In fact, he is tortured, obsessive, wounded, and deeply flawed. He ends up being the villain of his own story, eager for humanity to be wiped out.

No, this kind of hero—corny, shallow, stupid, unrelatable, and flattening of the beautiful and horrible complexity of the human experience—is not specific to any religious tradition. It is specific, rather, to a particular unsophistication of taste and simplicity of intellect, both attributes that are affirmatively praised by many religious fundamentalists. Simple faith, simple values, common sense, old time religion. 

In this reading, Noah has to be a good, simple guy because he’s a hero (in Christian readings of the Bible anyway—Jews were always more ambivalent about him) and therefore he can’t be seen getting in knock-down, drag-out fights with his sons. Good people don’t do that. And of course, Jesus can’t be tempted by sins of the flesh—even though the Bible itself suggests that he might’ve been.

While Brook Wilensky-Lanford observes:

So after all this hubbub I was eager to see for myself just exactly what Aronofsky’s Ark did contain. The answers were just as fantastical as I had hoped: a terrifying burnt-out post-paradise landscape, a feverish retelling of the necessary prehistory that gets boiled down to just three shots: snake; apple; fist of Cain. An invisible God, never named as such but always called “The Creator” or “him”, a jolly if terrifying Methuselah, has in his possession magical seeds from Eden that grow an entire forest for Noah to chop down and build the Ark. Giant benevolent fallen angels trying to redeem themselves after being turned into stone for failing to protect Adam and Eve. It’s even got intelligent female characters, conjured from nearly nothing in the text, and a believable backstory for Ham, the cursed son.

All of these directorial choices required thoughtful religious research, but were deployed without the tone-deafness of Biblical propaganda. (With the exception of villain Tubal-Cain, representative of all that God found worthy of drowning, who says things like “It is man who decides when he will live and when he will die.” But you gotta have one, right?) If Aronofsky’s movie tests the proposition that there is room in American pop culture for a movie that is biblical without being religious, I say he succeeds. But of course it’s this weekend’s box-office numbers that will have the last word.

Bottom line?  This turkey’s going to tank in a major way.

So why make Noah in the first place?  I can think of only two possible explanations.  The first is to sabotage the idea that Biblical movies can make money.  “See?!  We made Noah and nobody cared!  So stop bugging us to film more of this fundie crap!”

The other explanation is simpler and I believe correct.  As far as American professional show-biz is concerned, serious and committed Christians might as well be space aliens.

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