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Posts Tagged ‘Noah 2014’

Noah Poster

Links: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

I went to see “Noah” on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  Fortunately, the movie ended soon enough that I could enjoy a nice, leisurely walk outside afterwards.  After seeing this movie, I looked on the beauty of the trees, the birds, and the sunlight, reflecting on God’s sustenance of all things, with greater joy and gratitude.  In this final installment of my commentary, I want to talk about why.

Noah6Let’s have a look at some pretty bad timing: After deciding that the human race must end with him and his family, Noah (Russell Crowe) learns that his son, Shem (Douglas Booth), and his beloved, Ila (Emma Watson), are having a child.  As patriarch and leader aboard the ark, Noah makes a firm decision: If the child is a boy, then he will replace Noah’s youngest child as the last man on earth.  If it is a girl — if it is a fruitful female human being, capable of bearing new life — he will have to kill her.

In spite of the entreaties of his family, Noah will not be moved.  He believes firmly, based on a process of discernment, that this is the will of the Creator.

“This gives me no pleasure,” he says to his wife. “But it is just.”

From that point on, there is an atmosphere of darkness, tension, and impending doom upon the ark — and I sincerely hope everyone who sees this movie feels it.  I certainly did.

Think about this from an existential perspective.  It is one thing to be facing catastrophe and death.  It is one thing to be uncertain whether we will survive or not.  It’s even one thing to intuit that we will not survive whatever ordeal we are facing.

But it is quite another when we come to understand that we should not be spared.

It is not simply, as a materialistic atheist might argue, that there is no real reason for man to be saved.  It’s worse than that.  Rather, it is right that we should die.

Our hearts yearn for life, and our instincts are geared toward survival.  So what do we do when we come to the sobering realization that there is absolutely nothing in justice to plead our cause?

Our hope rests in the…well, in the hope that the Creator will exercise mercy, that He will give us another chance.

Noah and Family

And this is exactly what happens at the end of “Noah.”  When he tries to carry out the execution of the baby girls, Noah finds that he cannot do it.  When he looks at their faces, he feels nothing in his heart but love.

That’s where it starts.  Then the waters of the Great Flood recede, and the family is given a new start on dry land.  And at the very end, in an impressive cinematic display, a rainbow — the sign of God’s Covenant with the world through Noah — fills the sky.

God has chosen mercy.  They know not why, but they know it, and can be glad.

Of course, the Gospel tells us why…

Christ Crucified by VelazquezThe Creator Himself, in the Person of the Word, foreseeing human sinfulness, determined from before the creation of the world to take on our human nature and, in His innocence, to take our guilt, shame, and curse upon Himself.  This He did on Calvary about 2,000 years ago.  The consequences we have earned for ourselves, He suffers in our place.  Having risen from the dead and ascended to the Father in heaven, He, the “spotless victim,” now advocates for us, always pleading that God be glorified in mercy.

As a cradle Catholic, I knew this; but it never really touched me to the core until I saw this movie (which is, no doubt, informed by the larger Old Testament narrative of which it is a part — a story of God’s unwavering faithfulness to His children even in the face of their unfaithfulness).

Now, at last, I truly understand how the greatest witnesses of the Faith could endure so much suffering and martyrdom throughout the years and still remain joyful.  We have been forgiven.  No one who turns to God in sincerity will be turned away.

I’ll say it again: We have been forgiven!  Let us strive to understand what that means.

Images from Wikipedia

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Noah Poster

Links: Part One, Part Two

Let’s start by briefly outlining the film’s plot:

  1. Noah (Russell Crowe) learns through a dream vision that the Creator is going to destroy the world with water.
  2. He discerns that while the flood cannot be escaped, it “can be survived;” so he and his family get to work on building an ark to save “the innocents” — that is, the animals…who, in the words of young Ila, still “do as they did in the garden (of Eden).”
  3. Noah eventually realizes that the same evil that is in the Sons of Cain, who have spoiled the earth, is dormant in him and his family as well; from this, he deduces that his family’s mission is to save what is left of creation and then die out so that God can begin anew…without humanity.

Let’s stop here for a moment.  Keeping in mind that Noah and his family are kept alive after the Flood, to give not only the world but also humanity a new beginning, we nevertheless do sense an echo of some modern environmentalist modes of thought.  There are those who say that in order to avert impending environmental crises, we must of necessity limit the growth of the human population (via contraception, for example), and in some cases even snuff it out (via abortion, for example).

Whatever the case, the bottom line of this kind of thinking is that mankind is the enemy of creation; and if this enemy doesn’t need to be destroyed, it must at least be crippled.

NaamehIronically, it is the woman of the family who argues against this impulse in “Noah.”  Noah’s wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), urges her husband to see that in spite of the corruption that is undeniably present, there is good to be found in humanity.

I call this ironic because the aforementioned environmentalist approach is often associated with the feminine, while the more pro-human approach is associated with the dominating, conquering masculine principle.  “Noah” reverses the situation entirely, giving the family patriarch the “man-must-die-so-nature-can-survive” initiative.

noah8As counter-intuitive as this might appear, it makes sense; in fact, it’s not really counter-intuitive.  A mother loves her children, and the lives of her children, like no one else can.  A mother’s heart, more than any other, will see the good in her children and fuel zeal for their preservation and flourishing.

Pope BenedictPope Emeritus Benedict XVI often spoke of a “human ecology,” noting that an imbalance in the environment always conduces to the harm of humankind (we can see that, for instance, in that way that certain pollutants affect the health of children with asthma).  And, as we observed in part two, humankind’s failure to flourish negatively impacts the rest of creation.  So it’s not an either-or scenario — it is simply a matter of knowing where things stand in the order of creation.

In a sense, Noah’s first impulse (as depicted in Darren Aronofsky’s film) was right: Man must die if things are to be made right.  But this is not a death of annihilation, nor even primarily of the natural death we all must face.  Rather, as I have argued elsewhere, we must learn to deny the satisfaction of our selfish desires and learn to live for God and neighbor…and, in that context, to be good stewards of the world God has given us.

Christ Crucified by Velazquez

Indeed, our model for this way of living must be no less that Jesus Christ Himself, after the pattern of His complete self-offering on the cross.  And that leads us naturally into our next, and final, topic in reflecting on “Noah.”  Stay tuned.

All “Noah” images obtained through a Google image search; images of Pope Benedict XVI and Christ crucified from Wikipedia

 

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Noah2014Poster

Note: If you are interested in reading part one, click here

In his great book — which I have referenced before, and which I highly encourage people to read — “Love is Stronger Than Death,” Peter Kreeft makes the following observation about modern man’s scientific/technological dream:

The (immortality) Pill will be the fulfillment of one of our deepest and darkest dreams, the Oedipus complex.  Now we will be able to kill our father (God), and marry our mother (earth).  For without death, and with an earthly technological paradise (. . .) (w)e can now return with our phallic power of technology into our birth canal.”

Neither I nor Kreeft are suggesting that modern technology is bad.  But our technological pride and idolatry of “progress” has led to a certain rape of nature.

Original Sin

What we tend to forget, however, is that this is merely one manifestation of a phenomenon that has been going on since the beginning of human history.  When the first human beings defied God and thus fell from grace, they brought a curse upon the earth.

The harmony in which (our first parents) had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay”.  (CCC 400 — bold added)

The Bible is very clear that humankind has dominion over the earth.  But this is not, was never, and never will be a dominion of selfish use.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:

Animals (. . .) plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image.

(CCC 2415-2417 — bold added)

Ray WinstoneDarren Aronofsky, co-writer/director of “Noah,” gives us a key example of the opposite impulse — the one given rise to by the Fall of Adam and Eve — in Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone).  At one point, we see him grabbing a live animal and biting off its head; he defends his action by saying that God put mankind at the top of creation, and therefore all other creatures on this earth serve man.

The implication is that as masters, we can do whatever we want with the rest of creation, no matter the cost to it.

Noah_Steward

But again, this is not the Divine directive.  The true nature of man’s dominion over the earth is more clearly reflected in the lives of Noah (Russell Crowe) and his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly).  Their family takes on the role of stewards, or caretakers, of God’s creation.  They use only what they need, and they devote themselves to tending the earth and its creatures as they would the Garden of Eden.

Why am I talking about all of this?  Believe it or not, it’s not because today is Earth Day.  The timing of this post is fitting, but purely coincidental (at least as far as my intentions go; I can’t say that God did not, in His providence, have something to do with it).  Many Christians took issue with “Noah,” labeling it vegan propaganda and a mistreatment of God’s Word by imposing modern environmentalist ideas onto it.

I hope, however, that I have demonstrated the film’s portrayal of concern for creation to be, in fact, perfectly Biblical and authentically Christian.

If not…

Jrrt_lotr_cover_design …take a look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”…

Chronicles of Narnia…or at C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia.”

Tolkien and Lewis were both deeply Christian and very much immersed in the Biblical worldview.  They saw the connection we have been exploring very clearly, and it comes across powerfully in their work.

Let’s end with a bottom line that goes back to the Kreeft quote: Sin is about making ourselves God; when we make ourselves God, we become selfish and domineering; when we become selfish and domineering, our fellow human beings and the world entrusted to our care suffer.

I do have a little bit more to say about this subject in relation to the movie “Noah.”  But in the interest of a certain kind of “stewardship” over my readers’ eyes and patience, I’ll wait ’till next time.

All “Noah” images other than film poster obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

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I went to see “Noah” with low expectations, and for reasons that had nothing to do with religion.

I find that many of today’s movies set in ancient times do not take themselves seriously enough; they seem more concerned with catering to franchises and to viewers with short attention spans than with telling stories.

Noah_Lamech“Noah” kind of started out that way.  We meet Noah as a young boy just coming of age.  His father passes on to him the responsibility of stewardship over God’s creation; we meet the story’s villains, the “Sons of Cain”; Noah’s father is killed, and young Noah is left on his own…and this all happens in the space of about two minutes (not just in terms of movie “run time,” but in the time elapsing in the scene itself).

But as the film progresses, we see more and deeper character development and greater depth of story…particularly towards the end.

Anyway, I was very pleasantly surprised by the film.  I’d like to talk about three things, in particular.

Let’s tackle the controversy first, so as to then move on to “meatier” subject matter.  The controversy surrounding co-writer/director Darren Aronofsky’s version of the Biblical account of Noah pertains mainly to his amplification of the story with material that is not in the Bible.

Charlton Heston_The Ten Commandments

I would point out that this isn’t the first time this has been done in cinema.  One of the most beloved Biblical epics, Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments,” is filled with extra-Biblical material.  The period of Moses’ life leading up to his encounter with God in the burning bush makes up only the first two chapters of the Book of Exodus, and leaves a lot of gaps.  And yet this part of Moses’ story comprises the first hour-and-a-half to two hours of “The Ten Commandments.”

MidrashAs Fr. Barron points out in his very insightful review, this type of approach to the stories of the Bible has its roots ancient Israel.  The midrashim were a collection of literary elaborations on Scriptural texts that are often scant in terms of story details, characterization, etc.  They often included not only elaborations of the texts themselves, but the introduction of new characters and subplots.  I would agree with Fr. Barron that Aronofsky’s film is a nothing other than a modern midrash on the story of Noah.

Watcher

The most obvious example is the incorporation of “the Watchers,” a group of rock-like creatures who protect Noah and his family from their enemies.  According to Aronofsky’s interpretation, these are fallen angels who were imprisoned within matter as a punishment for disobedience.  In the end, by helping Noah and his family, they find redemption.

I can see why this part of the story would trouble people, only because its conception of the nature of angels is problematic at best.  But the mere fact that these rock-creatures are in the story is not, in itself, a cause for concern.  It is a “midrashic” element of storytelling with which the ancient Hebrews would undoubtedly have been familiar.

In my humble opinion, far from being an affront to God and to His inspired word, midrashic storytelling is a sign of the Divine Generosity.  Having created humankind in His image, He allows human storytellers to use their imaginations to fill in whatever spaces He has left in Scriptural narratives.  The one caveat is that any embellishment must be true to the core messages of the text, without either adding to or taking away from what God is trying to tell us through them…

…which brings me to the next aspect of the film I want to touch on: The ecological element.

Next time.

Midrash image from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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