Tag Archives: God at the movies

Movie Review: 'Noah'

This past Monday, a couple of friends and I had the privilege of seeing the esteemed and much and anticipated ‘NOAH’!

Honestly, I was not quite sure what to think of this film going in. In the evangelical community it seems as though the three big films to look for at the moment are Noah, Son of God, and God’s Not Dead. Son Of God seems to simply be yet another dry rendition of what ought to be called “the lie and times of white Jesus”; God’s Not Dead (as evident in the gag-worthy trailer) simply affirms the mistaken narrative of the innocent young, white, ,cheery-eyed Christian pitted against the angry, atheist  professor. So, striking these two off of my list, the only one I was even remotely interested in seeing was Noah.

With any movie even loosely based on the bible, there is going to be some degree of artistic liberty taken. One of the biggest places this is evident(almost distractingly so) is in the ‘nephilim’ passages:

When man began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown.

And what does this translate to:

That’s right, the image you see above is the movie’s depiction of the elusive ‘nephilim’ or, as they’re referred to in the film, the watchers. They’re essentially these rock golems who are described in the film as being angels who were sent from heaven to protect and guide humanity , but the watchers you see above are the result of those angels that have gotten too entangled with the things of the earth(sin) and quite literally the lava and solid portion of creation and so God encased their more beautiful former forms in rock as punishment. It’s an interesting concept and in the end I guess I appreciate the risk with such an artistic rendering, but it was also a bit distracting, especially if one didn’t have a passing familiarity with where the idea even came from..

The rest of my ideas about this film are essentially spot on with an article that fellow-blogger, blerd, and liberation theologian Rod had shared with me. It was an article from Greenleft Weekly, entitled  “Noah story not for conservatives“. In it, the author,Karl Hand, makes several great points that run perfectly in line with the vibes and ideas that I got from the film,

“Conservative scholars like to breeze over these unedifying details, and give a Disneyfied, PG version of Noah. But Aronofsky’s warts-and-all reading of Noah, with its “green agenda”, gets something of both the Noah myth, and the ancient Semitic mythical world-view, that the traditional, Christianized re-telling miss”

– This is a powerful, powerful statement that I agree with whole-heartedly. On the car-ride back with my friends, I remember turning to them and asking “It was subtle, but I got a bit of an ecological/environmental apocalyptic vibe from that film” and they nodded hesitantly ( so as to appease the resident rabid environmentalist- myself). Or WAS it so subtle? As Hand alludes to in his review of the film, ( and in the quote above) much of our own perceptions of ‘Noah’ has to do with the way American Christian culture has presented the story. The way it’s been presented , traditionally, was so as to emphasize and harmonize the strict , self-righteous moral code within the evangelical Church and , thereby externalize/dismiss any other part of the story that are “irrelevant” to reinforcing this moral code. This story is often taught in tandem with the Sodom of Gomorrah – need I say more?

“Creationist Ken Ham’s recent public debate with Bill Nye (“the science guy”) at the Creation Museum included a lengthy and totally perplexing section on the science of building arks, and the feasibility of one being built 4000 years ago by a 600-year-old man named Noah.

This debate fizzled about the time Nye asked Ham if there was a kangaroo on the ark, and why haven’t we found any remains of it on its journey to Australia.

As bad, if not worse, than Ham’s appalling science was his appalling anthropology and total insensitivity to the function of a good myth. Any attempt to take mythology as a record of literal events will result in this kind of absurdity.”

There was a scene in the film where Noah was reading the beginnings of Genesis to his family on the Ark as the torrential downpour had just began. As he was reading, there’s an incredible illustration of the world being formed from the beginning – however, the way it’s illustrated is awfully similar to the proto-planetary hypothesis in its display of the big bang and the formation of Earth from resultant rock bits and collisions from asteroids and the later appearance of the ocean and tectonic processes. This scene was so immensely potent because it essentially resolved (IMO) the idea that Genesis and the scientific account can coexist and achieve syncretism – but on a deeper level, for me at least, it revealed the divinity intrinsic in even the most exacting scientific account of the world’s formation. Scientific laws, theorems and properties often have very poetic rings to them – “Energy is neither created nor destroyed” , we call this science- but that’s ART!

“The power of mythology is its ability to describe the meaning of human life and resolve deep dialectical tensions (such as, in this case, the tensions between chaos and order, justice and kindness, ecological priorities and the value of human life).”

Excellent quote. I could not have said this better myself, honestly. The tension between chaos and order is certainly well-illustrated in this film and further fleshed out in cinematic finesse. I especially felt this film expertly illustrated the ecological priorities and the value of human life – the fact that the account of Noah’s story describes God as destroying a perverse humanity yet preserving the animals- the very foundations and cornerstones of our global ecology, is far more radical than most mainline evangelicals care to acknowledge. The Noah account displays the result of human wickedness- with the state our natural, physical planet being an indicator or reflection of our collective sin.

Adam and Eve’s first child Cain kills his brother Abel in a fit of jealousy, and this seems to damage the cosmic order of things as the ground cries out to God for justice (4:10). Aronofsky represents this in Noah’s dreams. On two occasions, he steps onto the earth, looks at the sole of his shoe and sees in horror that it has blood on it, which is oozing from the ground.

This is a representation of how violence and injustice affects the cosmic order — the ground itself is bleeding. Violence is not a purely individual phenomenon, it is systemic, it makes the order of things sick.

In one of the most brilliant scenes in the movie, the silhouette of this first primeval murder by Cain morphs into killings and murders from all ages in human history. It features various military clothing styles from different eras and also period weaponry.”

This quote is essentially the main punch for me. This quote sums up why, though trippy at parts, I ended up enjoying the film and its message overall. The notion that our very planet bears witness to our wickedness is certainly an idea that Christians today must understand and is not hard to believe (i.e. to what extent is the  abrupt shifting of our climate, rapid deforestation, loss of biodiversity, etc. telling of our problematic relationship to one another as a collective humanity- whether it be greed, racism, xenophobia, etc.?) The most brilliant scene in this film, that actually enhanced my understanding of the passage, was , in fact, what Hard described, as “the silhouette of this first primeval murder by Cain morphs into killings and murders from all ages in human history. It features various military clothing styles from different eras and also period weaponry” – all this so as to say we as a humanity, like Cain, are quite guilty for killing our brothers and sisters.

 

All these great things having been said – I did NOT appreciate the pale British-accented casting; let us remember that people who were essentially desert nomads would not have looked nor talked as European as they were depicted- but of course this is of no surprise to anyone with even a passing familiarity with Hollywood’s race problem. And with a film geared towards white evangelicals (along with Son of God and God’s not Dead), it can really be of no surprise that this is was the result.

If I had to rate this film, anything, I’d give it  a 7/10 – it was a solid film and one I think anyone who even thinks they might enjoy, in fact, would. While this film was probably more for the Emma Watson fanboys if anyone (lolz) and often displayed trippy/distracting cinematography and character traits ( Methuselah is a stoner- for lack of better words) along with (chronic whitening of biblical characters, the ideas this film confronts its mostly evangelical audience with are sure to reinvigorate a conversation that must take place within the Church today regarding the connection between environmental, social, economic ( and ultimately, spiritual) problems.

P.S. By the way, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that this film was so trippy – the director, Darren Aronofsky, also directed perhaps the most mind-numbing portryal of drug addicts in film history: Requiem for a Dream:

 

 

 

Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ

A PACIFIST HIJACKING

 

The Passion of the Christ

The Passion of the Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today was the very last day that Netflix would make available (according to my sources, could be wrong)Mel Gibson‘s The Passion Of The Christ. I have heard the worst and best that this movie had to offer. Was it going to be anti-semitic kinda like Gibson’s tendencies? Was it going to be heartwrenching and moving, taking me closer to the Almighty? The point of the violence, well the point of all movies, television, and visual media like them (YouTube videos,etc.) is to move us emotionally from one place to where the director wants us. When The Passion first came out, it was all about EMOTION EMOTION EMOTION. Isn’t it sad how Jesus was beaten, and bruised, and crucified for our sins?

Well, I would have been saddened if I had not been familiar with the story of the crucifixion. The problem is not the movie The Passion of The Christ itself, but the bad theology of the Cross that American civil religion has. American civil religion wants us to only talk about the Crucifixion during Eastertide, and really, some churches can’t even do that much during Holy Week. So I finally overcame my fear and watched this movie all the way through, and this is what I have to say. This is movie is not anti-Semitic, in fact, it went out of its way to have Jewish leaders have a vibrant debate about Jesus’ claims. The Roman Empire for the first 15 minutes were invisible, but after that, they were pretty prominent, and though a little to cheery of interpretation for my tastes (no mention of Roman polytheism with little mention of oppression, etc), I felt the depiction was okay.

The theology of the movie was left to be desired. The demonic baby held by satan was unnecessary, and while the Evil one definitely plays a role in Christian atonement theories, because this film was biased toward Substitutionary Atonement, the devil’s role was somewhat diminished from the classical/Christus Victor view. I was not moved by the violence or gory white body of Gibson’s Jesus; I was much more touched by Jesus’ teachings, to love our enemies, and forgive those who persecute us, the idea that eye for and eye, tooth for a tooth was not to be given over for the ethic of enemy love.

Anti-violence can be found in the Christus Victor atonement theory, the idea that the Son of God overcomes sin, disobedience, Satan, and death in one deed paints a beautiful picture of just how much God loves us. I really believe that a film like “The Victory Of Jesus of Nazareth” would work. For more on this view, I recommend a recent video series by evangelical preacher Greg Boyd: Penal Substitution Vs Christus Victor.

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The Jack Bauerization of the World

And by World, I mean the Cosmos We Know As American society

So everyone knows I’m a pacifist and makes that point so clearly when they accuse me of being a hypocrite for watching the Jack Bauer Power Hour for the past eight years.  This post is dedicated to them.

Yes, we all know that Jack Bauer tortures people. He defies executive orders of Presidents in order to set his own agenda to save the world. Yes, Jack Bauer dehumanizes other human beings in order for America can win again. Imperialism, violence, male domination, patriarchy, need I say more? It is a theme so very clear. But if we stop there, I would argue, that that is only a superficial reading of 24.  Yes, it may be pro-war conservative propaganda for some, but what about those like me, who are pro-peace and enjoyed this show? Something must be said.

Jack Bauer is who he is for several reasons. He is not a hero; he is the very disfunctional post-September 11th 2001, anti-hero.  God does not exist in Jack’s universe; only as a thing to give recognition to or curse at every time a tragedy happens. The lives of women are superfluous; they have no meaning outside of their interactions with the alpha male, Jack Bauer.  Even the first woman president of the U.S.A., Allison Taylor, has no agency outside of what Jack Bauer allows.  Bauer’s subjectivity is so influential (read: Bauer’s numerous violent acts, including his threats) that he limits the decision making of others.  Possibilities are suppressed, fatalism and urgency set in.

24 is a commentary on the Western notion of the self after the downing of the World Trade Center.  The self exists apart from the Other, exists for domination, and urgency is the way forward in the manipulation of others.  [Male] selves have no need for female selves so progress must come at their (women’s) expense. [Like, whatever happened to Kim Bauer?]

I think more importantly however the Jack Bauerization of the world (the U S American cosmos) in the re-telling of other stories via movies and politics.

It was not long ago I was an eight year old, watching the original Batman movie with Adam West and gang.  It was light hearted, action packed; there was basically a comic-book like care-freeness, even with the villains. Fast forward to my early and mid-twenties, and the story of Batman has been re-told, Batman re-casted as an anti-terror anti-hero whose identity formation occurs without his mother or women.  Or, for those James Bond fans, well, you know there is a difference. Less on the comedy, more on the action and story, a more realist approach today.  Jason Bourne. Jack Bauer. James Bond. They all have a similar narrative being told.

In politics, we see on the left and right, the Jack Bauerization of the American republic.  With the 2008 economic decline/recession, the media took the opportunity to scare everyone into a panic; urgency was the key, bailout was the only options. In the name of an emergency, all other policy options were suppressed, and dissenting voices marginalized (and they still are).  The War on Terror was another urgency. The Healthcare debate, still another.  BP’s handling of its Oil Spill, and  immigration.

All exemplify the short-sightedness of political policies made only for the here-and-now, with the children of the future not in mind.

It is the Jack Bauerization of the World.