Thursday, April 17, 2014

La Mer Avait Embrassé Moi

Living in New York can make you forget about the realities of this country. It's a different culture here, more like medieval Germany with all the little ethnic enclaves at each others throats all the time. It's an honest antagonism, so different from the flat homogeneity of the suburban sprawl that makes up the majority of this country. Seeing it all again like I did this weekend brings the existential wretchedness of American existence into sharp focus.

And it made me finally understand the appeal of big budget noisefests like Transformers and The Avengers. Because it's a noisefest and because it's so very different from everyday life out there in the barren suburban landscape. It's two hours of being forcefully plucked out of the all-American drudgery that you can never admit to in this country. Escapism that doesn't allow you any thought or ironic distance, because such things might lead you to really think about your own nothing life in a nothing town where not even your petty tyrant of a boss has a future.

Which brings us to Noah.

Better learn to swim...

It's as big and loud as any other blockbuster, but it's loaded to the gills with real thoughts and ideas. Russell Crowe's Noah isn't the kindly bearded gentleman from those Catholic kid's books, he's a hard scrabble survivor with more questions than answers concerning the Creator's grand plan of purging the world. There's little about this fiction that's "inspirational" as it's called by publishers. Noah views his work as a grim duty, all the more so as he listens to the screams of those still clinging desperately to the outside of his ark or on nearby mountain tops. The film follows a confusing and challenging morality, much like that suggested in Kierkegard's Either/Or. Noah, as the antecedent of Abraham, is presented with the Will of God and must fight his own moral instincts to obey. Depending on your point of view, he ultimately fails.

Much has been made by the Fox News crew about all the liberal bias and evulz of the film and like a stopped clock they're right. Noah is absolutely environmentalist, presenting conservation and sustainable living as not only good but Godly. Noah and his family are even strict vegetarians, because killing and eating animals is presented as defiling Creation - a view shared by some Egyptian Copts, if you didn't know. If that weren't enough, the climate change analogy is inescapable, though unlike many other parables on the subject it offers no easy out. Man has defiled Creation and shall now be destroyed by the elements, forces beyond the scope of the Will to Power so celebrated by Ray Winstone's snake-eating villain.

All of this is delivered in a visually brilliant manner. From the swirling sky to the to the industrial blight of the cities of Cain to the endearingly grotesque fallen angels, Aronofsky's Noah is both familiar and alien in a way not seen in fantasy film since Army of Darkness or Willow. And even with its grim thesis, it champions above all the human capacity for love. Noah believes the Creator intends for all of humanity to die, believes that he and his were chosen to preserve the innocent beasts not because they are any better but simply because they can get the task done. But when presented with the continuation of humanity in the form of his own grandchildren, Noah cannot bring himself to "do what must be done" because of love. And in keeping with its own self-critical morality, it's because of love that the inconstant Ham slays Tubal-Cain and likely starts the cycle all over again. Humanity is purged but not cleansed and the film makes clear Man can still be as much a detriment to creation as a steward, the latter only possible not through blind duty to some inscrutable deity but through compassion for one another and a humble acceptance of our limitations in contrast to the infinite cosmos.

A stirring film... And utterly lost on the audience. Outside the theater where I saw this were four places serving bacon cheeseburgers and a Cold Stone. The people who left the theater stuffed their faces with easy fats - the only legal pleasure allowed in this wasteland, besides petty malice - before driving massive money-hole cars back to their depreciating homes, Aronofsky's work just one more spectacle to distract from the flatness of their lives. Another day spent growing fatter and sicker and meaner.

The rains can't come soon enough.

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