Even religions have their symbols; Buddhism is symbolized by a serene wee man sitting meditating in the lotus position. Judaism has the ‘Star of David’ and Islam has the Star and Crescent.
What have we got, what is the great symbol of our faith?
It’s a dead man hanging on a cross, nails through his hands and feet and a crown of thorns on his head.
If there is one thing you can say about the Catholic Church, it is that it does not run away from the pain of the world; it holds sorrow and pain right up in front of us, reminding us that this world is full of trouble and strife but that somewhere in the middle of all this God is with us.
I mention this because by now we are right into the heart of Holy Week, the week leading up to the greatest feast of the church, Easter Sunday.
Easter Sunday is the day that promises us that if we go through the cross holding on tight to God we will always come out the other side. It is the great hope to the Catholic that somehow this world does not win, even though the evil and badness of the world always appears to be on top.
We are back to that favourite topic of mine, the poor old atheist, the man who when they put him in the coffin, is all dressed up with nowhere to go!
What is his answer to pain, what is his answer to suffering and grief?
There are some good actors in the film: Russell Crowe plays the lead, Anthony Hopkins plays the part of Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah, who we are told in the Bible lived to the ripe old age of 969. Emma Watson, who was the young female star of the Harry Potter movies, stole the show and let everybody see that she is an actress of some stature.
Most of the religious critics have complained that the film plays fast and loose with the Genesis account, adding all sorts of distracting and fantastic elements to the well-known story. In the midst of all of this, and no doubt in part because of it, “Noah” took in $44 million on its opening weekend.
Perhaps the Catholic Herald summed the film up best of all:
“Certainly not since the 1950s, perhaps the golden age of biblical spectaculars, when filmmakers like Cecil B DeMille regularly employed the proverbial “cast of thousands”, has there been anything quite so ambitious as this often eye-boggling attempt to re-create one of the greatest stories ever told using the kind of technology that would have been unimaginable to the Hollywood of yore. However, after a glimpse at the Bible text it becomes clear: Aronofsky, the American director of films spanning drugs drama Requiem for a Dream to the ballet-set thriller Black Swan, and his co-screenwriter Ari Handel have merely used it as a sketch for their spectacular.”
As you could guess from their names Aronofsky and Handel are both Jewish and to understand the film you need to know a little more than the biblical account of the flood. In the Jewish faith there is a whole host of extra stories and incidents that we don’t have in our Christian tradition. These stories and traditions fill out the basic story the we get in the Book of Genesis.
So what is the film really about?
Like all good films the story is one of good and evil. Evil in this case is remarkably modern and would go down well with the Green Movement.
Man has destroyed the world; he has turned it into an industrial wasteland. There is even one scene, when the men are trying to storm the ark, where they are using modern sheets of tin as cover.
Noah is protected by ‘Watchers,’ huge stone men who are really benign angels who looked after good people after the fall of Adam. They were not supposed to do this and for their sin God encased them in bodies of stone.
If you ask me, they sound remarkably like our guardian angels that we all pray to every morning.
Noah is not sure what God wants of him. He obeys God to the best of his ability and on one of the main themes of the film he gets the whole thing wrong. But more on that later.
The world has become a wasteland and Noah is living on what he can scrape from this barren earth. Eventually he sets out on a journey, in obedience to God’s will as he sees it, and goes to visit his old grandfather Methuselah.
Methuselah gives him a seed, the last seed from the Garden of Eden, and Noah heads off to find what God wants of him. Eventually Noah realizes that God wants him to build an ark but Noah lives in a treeless barren wasteland where there are no weeds let alone timber.
In a beautiful scene he plants the seed and instantly a whole wonderful forest grows and flourishes.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Well, not quite. The leader of mankind is Samyaza, an arrogant git who clearly and openly defies God, saying that mankind has a right to use the world and people in any way it wants, since man was given dominion over the world by God.
This same idea of man being lord of the world and being the master of his own destiny is at the root of modern atheism. Atheism reflects Samyaza’s statements such as ‘the world belongs to me,’ or ‘together we can do anything,’ or ‘we dominate the world.’
The week we are in, Holy Week, is God’s answer to Samyaza’s arrogance. Man is a mess and needs God’s help to cope with the pressures of life around him.
But the film reveals a few home truths about mankind that some of us don’t like to face: there is good and bad in all of us—we can use good ideas to hide our selfish desires—the use of force, even by good men, to get their own way.
There are also some very revealing insights which bring us right up to Holy Week.
The serpent was the animal used by the devil to tempt Adam and Eve. But even the serpents or snakes came into the ark. It was as if God had forgiven them.
This scene of the snakes entering the ark, reminded me of the fact that Jesus gave Judas Holy Communion at the first Mass on Holy Thursday night, before Judas betrayed him. That is something we seldom think about when deciding to judge people.
There are some beautiful tender scenes in the film. The evil men come and kill the Watchers but then we see that the Watchers are really angels and as soon as they die, beams of light leave this world and go to heaven. It is as if their task on earth is complete.
Then there is the big mistake that Noah makes. Noah decides that it is God’s will that mankind should die out. When the character played by Emma Watson becomes pregnant, Noah decides that he has to kill the child as soon as it is born.
I won’t tell you what happened but no pro abortionist could watch the climax of this scene and still hold with abortion.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day....
As Noah speaks the film shows the Big Bang, the evolution of the universe, the forming of the earth and the evolution of man. It is so well done and shows in a clear way that the story of Genesis is not meant to be taken literally but makes perfect sense when seen for what it is, a story by simple people to explain how the world came to be.
Noah is supposedly a film about something that happened thousands of years ago but it is the most modern and up to date film you shall ever see.
It is the eternal story of man’s struggle with his own arrogance and his defiance of God. There are always people who believe we can do what we want and there are always those who hold that God is God and that we are subject to his laws.
You could change the scenery to modern day New York or London or anywhere. You could change the characters with ease and you could write the story about any major city in Europe.
The story of Easter is something similar. Jesus came and he walked among men and they didn’t like it. The vested interests, the Pharisees and the Chief Priests, decided that it was better for one man to die than for the whole Jewish nation to be destroyed.
But what kind of a reception would Jesus get today? How long do you think it would be before the vested interests in oil, food production and the stock market would want rid of him?
Perhaps he may even tell us to turn the other cheek and let the Orangemen march where they want. Or perhaps he might even ask us to give 10% of our income to the poor (after tax, mind you) or drive a smaller car so that you could throw a few quid to Trocaire.
Jesus got three years to preach in Roman times. He mightn’t get three months now. And there is a bit inside all of us that would want to stone him.
That is the great thing about the film Noah; it shows each one of us that we are not simply good or bad, but that we are a mixture of each. The film is meant to leave you feeling uncomfortable and so it does.
For all his faults, Noah was a good man, while poor old Samyaza died in his arrogance, cursing God and man.
Samyaza is the man who rejects God and decides that he can do what he wants. He is master of his destiny and for a long time he appears to the lord of all he surveys. But in the end his life is just a shallow charade, an image of a life, not a real life at all.
Noah, he is more like your average person, getting it right some of the time but more often than not, making a mess of things. He is like all of us who are parents; we are not quite sure what we doing when we are trying to raise these children but we are doing the best we can and we hope that it all turns out right in the end.
Mostly it does.
Aronofsky and Handel confront us with that part of our life that most of us want to hide from, our humanity.
Noah is a brilliant film and the big screen production adds to the depth of the story. If you are looking for the story you read in the Bible you won’t find it here, but you will find a reflection of yourself and every man.
All great stories reflect the battle of good and evil that goes on inside every person on this earth. This week’s story, the story of Holy Week, is the greatest of them all. Evil appears to win, even to the extent of killing the Son of God.
But God has one last trick up his sleeve. It is called Easter Sunday morning.
And thank God for it, for without Easter Sunday we would all have no hope.
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