This is a film from the future, both mankind’s future and from the cinematic future of sci fi-films.It neatly presents a scenario that all scientists talk about- what if God is an alien? Yes indeed! I can hardly imagine a country priest screening this film to his congregation as an audio visual aid to his sermons.It is likely to frighten and disturb rather than cement their belief in God.This film will offend many, and some of them would not even have seen it.That’s because the words in the Bible and their sugary explanations differ so vastly from the gritty imagery of the film.
The disclaimer at the beginning, that film has taken some artistic liberties with the material from the the Book of Genesis runs into a maximum of twenty words but remains on screen for a maddening 60 seconds.They really wanted it to sink in, lest a crazed fanatic tear up the screen. While they were at it they might as well as provided a soundtrack in Gods voice, blessing the film, after all its a big budget film and needs all the divine help it can garner to break even.
Noah feels he is doing what he is doing on the direct orders of God, yet when he is doubt there is no direct answer from Him.We are constantly reminded that God created man in his own image but does that encompass our thinking too? We certainly have no dearth of men who consider themselves God. Noah is a man who comes across a religious fundamentalist at times who finally allows his heart to take over when God does not answer his direct questions.In this film too God is stubbornly silent just as in Ingmar Bergman’s silence of God trilogy.Noah is both right and wrong and his hallucinations and visions, which are confirmed by his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), take the concept of blind faith to a very high level.If we convince ourselves that we are about to commit an act sanctioned and condoned by God himself we are quite capable of becoming very barbaric. We all know that very well and its no small coincidence that Noah’s darkest days see him with a shaved head and a shaggy beard.The delicious and subversive choices filmmakers make!
This is a very “smart” film and “deserves” all the controversy surrounding it.Malaysia and Indonesia just have just banned the film and I am happy to be in firmly secular Singapore which has a healthy number of freethinkers and non-believers.For example the use of the word “Creator” instead of God is both an act of intellectual secularism and commercial astuteness but is bound to offend many.A film of this budget would certainly need to succeed at the box office in China and Russia and they would have foreseen the ban coming in the hardline Islamic countries.
So where does this film fit into Arronofsky’s body of work?He is an atheist and his taking up this project is a cinematic challenge, its a compelling story and he uses all his considerable storytelling prowesses to bring it to screen.I remembered the words of my Cristian teacher when I was in sixth grade that we should all read the bible for its wonderful stories, whatever be our religious affiliations.This film takes one of those most immortal of stories, and tells it in a way that it can be accessed at multiple levels.Above all it illuminates the circularly of life, the cycle of death and birth, destruction and rejuvenation and as humans we should be smart enough to be not caught unawares as a generation when a major extinction event occurs.I recently saw a wonderfully mounted exhibition of Dinosaur fossils recently and wondered how would have Noah’s ark been different if he had to accommodate all the species of Dino’s in his arc! It’s just as well that dinosaur fossils were not discovered at the time Book of Genesis was written/composed/devised.
The biblical floods of the film resemble hurricane Katrina and become a potent metaphor for rising sea levels in the present times.Noah is told of the coming floods in visions and dreams and signs while we in the modern day have far more sophisticated and precise warning systems that are pointing towards the a similar catastrophe. Noah the film, is the attempt by a filmmaker to raise the alarm, despite being a non-believer, in “Gods” name.But we are more likely to debate it within narrow theological frameworks and I wonder if it will it be considered for a best adapted screenplay award since it adapted from the Book of Genesis itself?
Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew springs to mind too.It was made by another avowed atheist, poet and filmmaker in a low key neo-realist style.He set out to film the story of Jesus faithfully, as written in the testament and then followed it up with his own interpretation in Theorema. He read the New Testament while waiting in a hotel room in Rome to meet the Pope who had invited him as a part of the Catholic Churches dialogue with non believers.While that utterly brilliant film needs to be seen in conjugation with Pasolini and his ideology, Arronofsky uses the canvas of this fabulous fable to build in enough for everybody to think about, irrespective of their faith and religious affiliations.
Since I was raised in a orthodox Hindu household and grew up with Hindu mythology I always wonder why the the great Hindu epics have been ignored by the biggest film industry in the world, that of India and within it the most powerful and prosperous Bollywood.The Ramayana and Mahabharata were both filmed for television in the 1980s and 90s in a garish style and the despicable and debauched behaviour of some of our Gods remain fresh in my mind.I do hope that one day somebody will make a film as thoughtful as this one drawing from Hindu mythology.As an agnostic it made me realise how much goodness resides in our holy books, its for us to continually contextualise and filter out the dogma.