onsdag 30. april 2014

No Future?

Though the story is set in the final days before the world ends, Noah opens like a typical post-apocalyptic film. Nature is nothing but pebbles and rocks, and the human race in an equally sorry condition. In their own eyes they still are images of the divine creator; in reality the human interior is more like the spitting image of the foul surroundings. Since the eviction from Paradise, the children of Adam and Eve have turned into savages, killing and looting. Only one tribe has preserved some purity. Noah and his family live alone. Their goodness is expressed by their care for the natural world. Seth, captivated by its beauty, plucks a solitary flower for his father to see; and though he shares his son's wonder, Noah (with a mien we clearly are supposed to interpret as expressing a reverence for God's creation) explains how Seth now has killed the flower. Their alienation from the rest of humanity is also marked by the fact that they do not eat flesh. Noah's sons are stupefied when learning that humans hunt animals for food.

Noah contains long (in my mind too long, and boring) action scenes. The dialogues are strikingly artificial. The acting is often bad. At one level, this is a not very well-made survival movie (as a guide to the biblical story, it is worse still). Nevertheless, I found Noah interesting for its obvious concerns with environmental issues. The barren landscape is more than a mere mirror or a symbol of the moral landscape of the human soul. Nature's deplorable state is due to human folly. Having interpreted the command to "fill the earth and subdue it" as a carte blanche for exploitation (a clear misunderstanding, because God is obviously pissed-off by it), the humans have transformed the once lush Garden of Eden into a desert. When a now extinct animal is hunted and killed, the thematic backdrop of the movie suggests to the viewer that this is when and how this species went extinct.

When Noah starts preparing for the flood to come while being ridiculed by his neighbours, this is certainly true to the biblical story, but it is also an unambiguous statement about similar attempts today to undermine the environmental whistle-blowers. The movie leaves no one in doubt about who's right and who's wrong: all scepticism is literally drowned when the rain starts pouring down.

Other questions raised are left unanswered. Much of the drama revolves around Man's future existence. On this issue, the Bible is quite clear. When God commands Noah to "[bring] out every kind of living creature that is with you--the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground--so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it," (Gen 8:17) Noah, reasonably, never suspects that the notion of "living creature" might exclude human beings. In the biblical story, humanity too is due for a fresh start. But in the movie God doesn't speak so articulate. In fact, apart from a few miraculous incidents, there are no hints of His presence at all. The messages Noah receives all have the form of visions, and to Noah these visions suggest that human beings have no place in God's future plans. Hence, Noah takes care to collect two of every animal, but strictly forbids his own sons to procreate. (Put in the words of some extreme environmentalists, he is convinced that humanity is a cancer that must be cut out for nature to survive.) This alienates him from his family. The ensuing conflict reaches its climax when Seth's wife does become pregnant. Like a crazed Abraham with the knife, Noah threatens to sacrifice his two granddaughters on Nature's altar.

He doesn't of course (after all, there are still humans around), because in the end his fanaticism is softened by his love of children. It is natural to view this as a case of good sense prevailing over madness. But in the movie this is not necessarily so. When Noah, employing God of the Bible's words: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth," finally gives his blessings to the small family, this might indeed be interpreted as a hopeful conclusion. Humanity cannot continue exploiting Nature as before (a condition emphasised by Noah not repeating the whole Bible passage, which continues "subdue [the earth]; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth"), but on the condition that Seth, his wife and their children learn to change their ways, perhaps there is reason for optimism? But the movie leaves room for an alternative (and equally plausible) interpretation of this final scene. Everyone knows what did in fact happen next. Not much did change, at least not for the better. Hence, the environmental challenges facing us today. In this light, Noah's conditional, but still fundamentally optimistic blessing of mankind might strike one as comical -- if "comical" is not too light-hearted a word to capture one’s reaction (some might, after all, think history proves Noah made the wrong decision). This reading of the final scene is supported by the fact that the rainbow (the token of God's promise never to flood the earth again) is conspicuously missing.

Ingen kommentarer:

Legg inn en kommentar