Noah Review

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If there’s one thing I love, it’s a good bit of controversy. I don’t necessarily to get involved personally, but watching the vitriol spew forth from both sides is about as sporting as I tend to get these days. And, if there’s a sure fire way to get Bible thumpers up in arms, it’s to make an adaptation of a Bible story. A lot of the controversy stems from the fact that Noah isn’t a beat-for-beat adaptation of the Genesis story. Contrary to popular belief, Noah is not based in biblical canon but is rooted much more firmly in apocryphal texts like the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Book of Enoch. So, if anyone tells you that Noah is inherently a bad film because it isn’t right-wing retread of a watered-down Sunday school story, I want you do me a favor and smack them so hard that the front of their head becomes the back of their head.

I admit that I had been looking forward to seeing Noah for a long time, and the fact that Darren Aronofsky declined to direct both The Wolverine and Robocop in favor of focusing on Noah at the very least reassured me that he was passionate about what can only be described as his pet project. Aronofsky’s signature bleakness of tone is here in abundance and the omnipresent sense of tension and dread works exceedingly well within the context of the story. The film is expertly paced as the overarching plot is smartly broken into more manageable and intimate pieces, allowing the audience to become attached to the characters- an absolute necessity for the sublimely engaging third act.

Noah stars Russell Crowe as the titular protagonist along with Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, and also features a cameo by Sir Anthony Hopkins as wise man Methuselah and Ray Winstone as the evil Tubal-cain. Crowe and Winstone in particular work beautifully against one another as the hero/nemesis dichotomy is explored to its potential, culminating in a hand to hand showdown between the two. The thing I love about the characters is that they’re both relatively reasonable (in the beginning, anyway) and Tubal-cain actually has a coherent motive rather than being cartoonishly evil for no other reason than the story necessitating the presence of a villain. Crowe’s Noah, likewise, is a complex and tragic character burdened with the survival of humanity. Noah might be Crowe’s best performance to date, in fact, and his portrayal of a man crushed by the burden and guilt and responsibility is incredibly moving, to say the least.

Noah is an action movie, but it’s the good kind of action movie where the action exists to serve the plot as opposed to the other way around. Too often we have big budget productions that are essentially fireworks displays threaded through a vaguely coherent narrative, but in Noah, there always a clear sense of purpose for the fight scenes and the audience knows exactly what the charters are trying to accomplish in each of the battle sequences. Not a single shot is wasted either. Aronofsky knows exactly when to show off his expensive set-pieces and when to show restraint, culminating in a tight and wonderfully focused story.

The plot is fairly straight forward but cleverly waits until the third act to show it’s trump card, so to speak. Once Noah’s family is on the ark and out at sea, things begin to spiral out of control quickly. We begin to wonder who the real antagonist actually is, and that feeling of powerlessness and being trapped with something that passively, malevolently hates you is a major factor in creating the dramatic atmosphere. Indeed, Aronofsky somehow manages to stretch out the tension to the breaking point during the final act, but in a way that keeps you on the edge of your seat as opposed to inducing frustration. Even during the denouement, Aronofsky still portrays Noah as a deeply troubled, tortured character, making him easily one of the most interesting and memorable protagonists this year.

I urge audiences not to dismiss Noah as some toothless Bible move like the recent Son of God, and instead take it for the intriguing sci-fi reimagining that it is. Aronofsky has proven himself, one again, to be one of Hollywood’s most visionary directors, which certainly gives me hope for the future, if nothing else. Speaking of the future, Noah has likewise given cause to look forward to other out-of-the-box Bible films, namely Exodus: Gods and Kings, directed by none other than the legendary Ridley Scott. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Black Swan: Is This Real Life?

Have you ever considered if others see and experience the world differently from the way you do? Have you ever wondered how an autistic, blind, or deaf person may perceive reality? Have you ever thought to yourself “Is this real life. Is this just fantasy?” A great many thinkers spanning from Plato to Thomas Nagel have attempted to define the true nature of reality and how we perceive it. Today, we’ll take a look at subjective reality with the help of one of my favorite films, Black Swan.

Natalie Portman plays Nina, a ballerina who strives above all else for the perfection of her craft. Unfortunately for Nina, she realizes too late the all definitions of perfection are arbitrary because there is no objective standard to which she can be held. In her futile pursuit of perfection, our protagonist slowly looses her sanity, which manifests itself as hallucinations and false memories, among other terrifying symptoms. The question that we must ask ourselves is whether or not Nina’s experiences are any less real, simply because they may not be a shared experience or may not be relatable to a third party.

The term for the idea that the nature of reality is dependent upon the perception of the individual is ‘subjective reality.’ One of the oldest advocates of subjective reality is Plato, who gives us the “allegory of the cave” to illustrate his point.

Plato asks us to imagine a group of people who have been chained to the wall of a cave since birth and who have watched shadows flicker endlessly on the wall opposite them. To these people, the shadows on the wall represent everything that they know about reality. If a prisoner were to be set free and was finally able to look at the objects creating the shadows, Plato asserts that the prisoner would not recognize the objects and indeed would not be able to name them. We, as a third party (and not having been trapped in a cave), would be able to identify the objects creating the shadows at a glance. The prisoner, however, would believe that the shadows he had been seeing his whole life were more ‘real’ than the the actual objects were. In short, Plato’s allegory of the cave provides one of the oldest instances of support for the idea of subjective reality.

A much more modern philosopher, Thomas Nagel, put his thoughts on subjective reality into more simple terms. In his famous essay, What is it like to be a bat?, he argues that each and every individual organism had a unique point of view from which they see the world. Furthermore, no organism can gather experience from the point of view of another organism. The only reality that an individual can truly know is one based on his own experiences and perceptions. He asserts that human consciousnesses are closed-off from one another, and although there may be similarities, which practically speaking, allows society to function, it is impossible for two different individual’s perception of reality to be the same because they experience reality from different points of view.

In the case of Nina in Black Swan, the only thing that she can know for sure is that the living hell induced by her hallucinations are just as real to her as our own realities are to us. It may be slightly more accurate, however, to say that Nina experiences a kind of dual-subjective reality. That is to say, the individual is incapable of synthesizing information into one coherent reality, and instead makes several different interpretations of reality instead. It is important to note that even if she was the victim of terrifying hallucinations brought about by the pursuit of the unattainable, or if she experienced a form of dual-subjective reality, all of her experiences were real to her, and that really makes all the difference.

Reality is Perception

Perception is Subjective

Therefore, Reality is Subjective