Sunday, 6 April 2014

Noah; 2014's second worst treatise on naval architecture

Noah is likely to meet all your flood related angst needs for the immediate future, if only because no-one in the whole world has any flood related angst needs in the first place. I like to ponder how the movie came about at all; “Lets make a movie about Noah and the Ark” is the kind of elevator pitch which gets you thrown out of the elevator, but in a moment of transcendent brilliance, the producers distracted everyone from the rampant insanity of their very idea by choosing Darren Aronofsky to direct it. I imagine throughout Hollywood, the question “And you got Darren Aronofsky because ….?” draws the mind away from just about any movie pitch. “Osama bin Laden, eating an orphanage, on ice, with Congolese rap music!” “Yeah, yeah, put a pin in that just now. Darren Aronofsky. Walk me through that bit."

Because it’s Darren, it looks great. Well, not always, but even the bits which look terrible look like they looked terrible on purpose, which is high art for Hollywood adapting the bible.

The biggest challenge in adapting Noah is not the flood, but the fact that the moment you try to populate the Ark, the sheer idiocy of the concept is going to bring the house down. As a story, to be told around flickering camp fires, about just why we’ve got the animals we’ve got and not a whole bunch of other ones, the story of Noah and the Ark is serviceable. It’s nothing like as much fun as the Just So stories, though the authors of the Pentateuch weren’t living in anything like the comfort Rudyard Kipling afforded himself, but it gets the job done. I’ve always found it odd that in all the unpicking that the Bible’s had since, no-one’s wondered out loud how God could wipe the plate clean, get Noah to handpick pairs of the right animals and still turn around later on to Moses and give him a long list of animals that were unclean and shouldn’t be eaten. You’d have thought a Flood would have been a perfect opportunity to deal with that problem. Still, it’s a rousing story, as long as it doesn’t worry you that God gave everyone free will and then kicked over the table when he didn’t like what everyone was doing with it.

But it’s not the flood which gives the problem, it’s the Ark. Two of everything. And food. And the less said about the mucking out arrangements, the happier we’ll all be. Just how big would a boat need to be for two of everything ever? Pretty big. Then add 40 days and 40 nights worth of food. Considering that food for lots of animals is other animals, quite a lot more than two of certain things. The minute you start to do the maths, you start to think the Ark has to be some kind of metaphor.

Or, you’re Darren, and you get yourself a swing shift of fallen angels and a buttload of timber and you just build a three storey floatable shed in the middle of the wilderness over the course of ten years, and then you pack it full of everything that walks and crawls and slithers. And you skate the food and mucking out arrangements by cooking up a herbal potion which makes the livestock fall asleep and not wake up hungry (We’re in the domain of miracles just making the shed, so we won’t sweat the fact that the potion’s a smoke which Noah and family walk around wafting through the shed without just falling over asleep themselves).

The construction of the shed gets skipped over; one minute Noah’s got all the hair in the world and a young family, and the next thing he’s shaved his head, the shed’s all built, and his family are an assortment of awkward ages, all the better to pick fights with him. And since Noah’s family rows and the end of the world aren’t enough drama, Ray Winstone’s thoughtfully brought all the potential flood victims to pick a fight with Noah and see if they can get a seat in the shed. 

Sorry, I keep saying shed. I should say Ark. But Ray and the lads should have taken one good look at the thing, and then just headed back into the remaining forest and started running up some real boats. Noah’s Ark has the clean, wave-cutting, nautical lines of the packing case that Indy put the Ark of the Covenant into, except three stories high and with a distinct log cabin sensibility to it. It’s like a five year old’s idea of a boat, if your five year old has never seen water. No, I’m being too kind. It’s like Jeremy Clarkson’s idea of a boat.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. First half of the movie; rough in the challenge, build the boat. Second half, watch Ray and the lads think about storming the boat, then storm the boat and get royally schwacked by the aforementioned falling angels. Cue rain, waters coming out of the earth, shed miraculously floats. [1] Then watch Noah brood like a son of a bitch for the rest of the movie, convinced that his job is to make sure that no human is left alive, which I suppose is one way to give some context to building a boat big enough for every animal in the world and keeping everyone but your family off it no matter how much they screamed for mercy. 

Apparently Noah’s annoyed the hell out of Christians everywhere, or at least out of the kind of Christians who specialise in getting upset by things (there was one on my kitchen radio on Saturday morning, whamming on about how sinister it was that UK lawyers were reading up on how Sharia law was supposed to work, as though that were somehow an affront to the Christian character of - what, modern England?). For once I kind of see their point. Noah does nothing to make wiping out the whole population of the planet look in any way like the kind of carry-on which would make you gaze up at God, stroke your beard reflectively and say “You know what, that’s MY kind of guy.” I can see how that might provoke some anxiety in the kind of people who think not only that the Bible is literally true, but that everything in the Old Testament is a manifestation of the will of a kindly loving God. I think I’d just as soon get irritated at thinking what you could have done instead with 125 million dollars to make the world actually a better place. Or you could get ticked off that it’s thinly veiled propaganda about pollution, eco-awareness and climate change, where all the “good guys” seemed to be vegans. Though they couldn’t really have been vegans. They didn’t TELL anyone they were.


[1] Making it the second daftest floating thing this year after this.

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