Film Facts:

The Postman was released in 1997 and is based on the 1985 novel of the same name. Starring and directed by Kevin Costner.

Plot synopsis: In the year 2013, America’s soil has healed from an apocalyptic war but society has not. Reverting to the Wild West lifestyle, American towns are isolated and oppressed by General Bethlehem (Will Patton), a self imposed feudal lord and leader of the hyper-survivalist group called “the Holnists”. When a drifter (Kevin Costner) discovers a US Postman uniform and begins delivering mail under the ruse that the United States has rebuilt, he restores hope and inspires revolution.

The Apocalypse Scenario:

The Postman occurs 16 years after an unspecified war which used weapons of mass destruction (according to the book: nukes, EMPs, and bio-engineered plagues were all released on US soil). The land is lush and green once again but civilization hangs by a thread. Isolated towns are able to farm by hand but most supplies are confiscated by the hyper-survivalist militia. Americans cling to remnants of culture; we witness traveling actors performing Shakespeare and a folk version of “Come and get your Love.”

The Year:

2013. The apocalyptic war ended 16 years earlier (1997).

What They’ve Run Out Of:

Mailmen. (ha).
Okay, to be serious, it’s “Hope.”
Apparently EMPs have wiped out pretty much everything electric; so horses, carts, livestock, and hand-planted crops are all they’ve got. The setting is a remarkably interesting return to the Wild West in both technology and political structure. The Holnist militia that once helped them survive the wasteland has now become their greatest obstacle. So when a lone postman arrives talking about a “restored United States” and delivering long-lost mail from their loved ones, they have reason to hope for a better life once again. This tale is less about struggling to survive in adverse conditions and more about a fractured nation finding hope amidst the oppression of an evil ruler.

What this Film Adds to the Post-Apocalyptic Genre:

“You have a gift, Postman… You’ve given us all back what we’d forgotten. You made Mrs. March feel like she could see again. You made Ford feel like he was part of the world. You give out Hope like it was candy in your pocket.”

Despite its flaws, The Postman has one of the more interesting and unique premises in the genre. Its a return to the Wild West, where being a decent person can actually impact society. Most films in the post-apocalyptic genre focus on the hopelessness of survival (The Road), preserving a remnant of civilization (Book of Eli), or escaping to a ‘safe-haven’ outside the wasteland (Waterworld). But The Postman’s setting is unique; there’s no wasteland, no nuclear fallout, nothing to escape from… except the hyper-survivalist leader General Bethlehem. Reconstruction is possible, it just has to be wanted badly enough by decent human beings. The Postman becomes a symbol of what the United States once stood for and could be again: freedom from tyranny, protecting the innocent, and hope for the future. His code of honor is the Postman’s creed: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” It’s a bit silly that a post-apocalyptic Pony Express is foundational in restoring the United States, but The Postman reminds us of what an important thing hope is.

Isaac’s  Rating:

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3 Zipped Lips. – What is lacks in polish, it (almost) makes up for in heart.
Starring and directing in a 3-hour epic, this is basically Kevin Costner’s attempt at copying Braveheart. The result is a good-hearted but goofy fable. Costner’s final climax is predictable, with too many cheesy, contrived, slow-motion scenes screaming “I just want to be as epic as Braveheart!” (Considering how Waterworld is basically “Mad Max on water,” Kevin Costner must have a serious man-crush on Mel Gibson.)
Anyone who watches this must ask themselves questions about the nature and importance of hope, and its ability to inspire people to rally together. The ruffle in this story, however, is that the truth behind that hope is apparently of secondary consequence.

The book does a better job of showing how if it wasn’t for the Holnists, America would have returned to its unified state and the Postman’s fabrications gave isolated towns the hope they needed to do that. “It was not the electronics-destroying EMPs, the destruction of major cities, nor the release of various bio-engineered plagues that actually destroyed society: rather, it was the hyper-survivalists themselves, those who maintained stockpiles of weapons and ammunition and who preyed on humanitarian workers and other forces of order.”
I was initially put off by how slow and saccharine The Postman is. After doing some reading on the novel and giving it a second watch, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Its inspiring, hopeful, and features a wonderfully patriotic score by James Newton Howard. I recommend giving The Postman a chance because even though its goofy, it has the heart of an epic.

Don’t forget to check out our other movies in the Post-Apocalyptic Roundup!

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Film Facts:

Mad Max: Fury Road – released in 2015. Starring Tom Hardy as ‘Mad’ Max and Charlize Theron as Furiosa. Directed by George Miller. (Spoilers to follow.)

mad max helicopter shot over war party

The Apocalypse Scenario:

“As the world fell, each of us in our own way was broken. It was hard to know who was more crazy… Me, or everyone else.”

Set some time after the events of the original trilogyFury Road continues the bleak image of a nuclear wasteland. This time, however, civilization has begun to rebuild under the tyrannical rule of Immortan Joe. Joe lives in a rocky citadel filled with amenities like water, milk, gardens, and a harem. His empire is a cult, with an army of War Boys who believe Immoran Joe has the power to deliver their souls to Valhalla. We witness a stark contrast between the famished hordes below and the decrepit elite above.

mad max fury road citadel immoran joe

The Year:

Unknown. If the previous films were an alternate 1970’s and following, we can assume that the timeline is somewhat contemporary.

mad max fury road Immortan joe closeup

What They’ve Run Out Of:

Babies.
The Mad Max tagline has always been “water, bullets, gas.” Immortan Joe’s empire impressively has all these bases covered… except for healthy people. Miller conceived of a story where “violent marauders were fighting, not for oil or for material goods, but for human beings.” Mutation-free women for breeding and Max’s O-negative blood have become the most precious of commodities. Many characters from the citadel, especially Joe’s previous sons, have tumors or various defects and deformities. Immortan Joe needs a healthy child to continue his legacy and most of the film involves Joe’s attempt to reclaim “what is his.” The bride’s protest is “we are not things” and “our children will not be warlords.”

mad max and the brides

What this Film Adds to the Post-Apocalyptic Genre:

Redemption of the wasteland.
Almost every post-apocalyptic story involves the search for an oasis, preserve, or “safe-place” away from the wasteland (Waterworld, The Road, Walking Dead, etc.) Fury Road turns this trope on its head when the long-sought “Green Place” is desolate, and the only hope is in freeing the citadel from Immortan Joe. The result is a unique and hopeful note; even the corrupt and violent wasteland can be redeemed. Hope is not in escaping the world, but taking a stand against evil.

furiosa beats Max

Feminism.
In a genre seriously lacking in compelling female characters, Fury Road gives us the terrific, one-armed Furiosa (Charlize Theron) on a mission to save women from sex slavery. Even Max takes on a supporting role to Furiosa’s mission (instead of the “white man saves the day” trope). There are only a handful of explicit “feminist lines” (“We are not things”), preferring character interaction over heavy-handed cliches.The simplicity is brilliant here; there is no dialogue defending Furiosa’s identity as a woman warrior, or how she learned how to shoot so well, she simply does it. She is as self-sufficient and resourceful as Max is, and their redemption is in learning to trust one another. There is much that could be said on this topic and I highly recommend this article on ways Fury Road subverts movie sexism, and this article on heroic masculinity.

If I may emphasize anything here, its that the beauty of Fury Road is in its simplicity. To see Immortan Joe and his war boys as an elaborate personification of the white male patriarchy who must be overthrown and replaced with a matriarchy (because men are always evil and women are always benevolent) is grossly misreading the film. There are themes and real world parallels here, but we should remember that Miller’s words, and consultant Eve Ensler’s expertise, explicitly state that Fury Road is exploring how women are subjugated and abused in contexts like sex slavery and war zones. Perhaps a better analogy than first-world America is the very real sex slavery, harems, and torture of women by radical Islam and the religious justification of Jihad.

Mad Max and Furiosa

Isaac’s Rating:

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5 Zipped Lips – The quintessential action movie.

Fury Road’s success is in its unadorned plot, iconic imagery, strong characters, attention to detail, and relentless action. The trailer alone is a work of art. George Miller describes Fury Road as “a very simple allegory, almost a western on wheels.” Almost the entire movie is an extended car chase and an astonishing amount of the special effects are practical rather than cgi (about 90% according to Miller). Each vehicle is a moving set piece with real roadsters racing, crashing, and exploding. The tension begins in the opening credits and never stops. The result is a nail-biting, stomach wrenching, edge-of-your-seat experience. Fury Road stands as one of the best in the post-apocalyptic genre.

mad max fury road big rig explosion

There you have it, fans, Mad Max: Fury Road. Do you agree, disagree? Comment below! Don’t forget to check out our other movies in our Post-Apocalyptic Roundup!

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Film Facts:

Starring Mel Gibson as ‘Mad’ Max Rockatansky in the first three films, and Tom Hardy in Fury Road. Directed by George Miller (although George Ogilvie took over directing much of Thunderdome).

All of the Mad Max films have received ‘cult classic’ status and the sequel The Road Warrior is truly the best, most iconic, and post-apocalyptic of original three. This article will focus mostly on Road Warrior and I covered Fury Road in a separate review.

The Apocalypse Scenario:

Global nuclear holocaust set in the Australian Outback. Cold War tensions and a global energy crisis paved the way for the dystopian and near-anarchistic setting seen in the original Mad Max, and the ensuing nuclear war creates the wasteland seen in Road Warrior and Beyond Thunderdome.

The first Mad Max features the Outback’s descent into chaos and anarchy as wild biker gangs take over the open road, torturing and murdering anyone they encounter. The Road Warrior, its sequel, depicts a world totally destroyed. The wasteland lacks any semblance of order or civilization and is at the mercy of insane marauders.

The Year:

Unknown. While Road Warrior and Thunderdome clearly follow a nuclear war, they are purposefully vague on the details and dates of these events. It’s safe to say that the ‘Mad Max Universe’ takes place in an alternate 1970’s and following.

What They’ve Run Out Of:

-Gas. Inspired by car-wrecks and violent reactions during the 1973 oil crisis, George Miller wrote the script “on the thesis that people would do almost anything to keep vehicles moving and the assumption that nations would not consider the huge costs of providing infrastructure for alternative energy until it was too late.”

The entire plot of The Road Warrior rides on the premise that gasoline is now a rare and precious commodity. (You run out of fuel, you’re dead.) Max cruises through the wasteland in his supercharged V-8 Pursuit Special, clashing with marauders and running on fumes. Later, he happens upon some semblance of civilization, a small oil refinery besieged by the marauders. Max offers to help them escape by driving a battering ram equipped fuel tanker, hauling the precious gasoline and fighting off the pursuers. The ensuing chase is one of the most iconic action sequences in film history (and regularly tops “Top 10 Car Chase” lists).
Food, water, and ammunition are also scarce. Firearms are rare, and most resort to using bows and crossbows. Max bluffs with an empty sawed-off shotgun and eats a can of dog food for supper.

What this Film Adds to the Post-Apocalyptic Genre:

Everything. You can’t talk ‘Post-Apocalyptic’ without covering Mad Max because it defined the film genre. Everything from the Western style ‘man with no name’ hero to the beat up roadsters tearing across the wasteland have become infamous tropes. Road Warrior’s ‘comic-book, post-apocalyptic/punk style’ popularized the genre and jetted Mel Gibson to superstar status.
Mad Max is all about crazy car chases with crazier badguys. These villains are flat out insane. Their punk Mohawks, leather studded costumes, ragtag vehicles, unrelenting pursuit and psychotic battle cries make unforgettable villains.
The car chase sequences are action packed, tightly edited, fast-paced (by 80’s standards) and full of tremendous crashes. These pre-CGI films all feature an amazing amount of stunt work that leaves the viewer wondering what safety laws, if any, there are in Australia.

Isaac’s Rating:

The Mad Max series, especially The Road Warrior, is foundational to the Post-Apocalyptic genre. With that said, these movies are far from perfect. Unpolished and slow paced (it was the 70’and 80’s, after all) can make the Mad Max films rather laborious if you’re unprepared for its style.

Mad Max (1979). 2 Zipped-Lips. A classic ‘cop gets revenge for the death of his family’ story featuring car chases across the Australian Outback. In my opinion: Doesn’t stand the test of time. It is slow paced with lots of driving filler, minimal budget, unpolished, and ultimately skippable. (The Road Warrior recaps the events of this film in its opening sequence).

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981). 4.5 Zipped-Lips. Clearly the superior film of the series. Gritty, relentless, iconic, but clearly dated by today’s standards. Max is a fantastic protagonist, sustaining realistic and permanent injury (he continues to walk with a limp and a leg brace after being shot in the first film). Road Warrior is a must-see for anyone interested in the Post-Apocalyptic genre.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985). 3 Zipped-Lips. This PG-13 sequel should have been called “Max Max and the Lost Boys from Peter Pan.” The gritty action was swapped out for a cheesier approach where badguys are subdued with frying pans and vats of pig poo. This humorous, slapstick action works wonderfully in movies like Hook but feels childishly out of place in Mad Max. The Thunderdome match against Master Blaster is a highlight (“Two men enter! One man leaves!”) but everything is downhill after that. Some fans argue that the film’s lighter tone was meant to reflect Max’s return to humanity, but in the end, its just disappointing.

There you have it, fans! The Mad Max series. Don’t forget to comment below!

poster

poster From The Walking Dead to Mad Max: Fury Road, the post-apocalypse is hot. Fluctuating between action, adventure, drama, and science fiction, its one of the most captivating genres out there. The post-apocalypse presents a new frontier, a landscape for ethical questions, warnings for the present, and a place to explore what makes humanity, well, human. (I will explore these ideas in future posts.) Stuck somewhere between fatalism and optimism, the genre is one caught in a very human tension. Are we a necessary part of this world, or a parasite that leads to its destruction? Is humanity truly “The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!” as Hamlet wonders? Or merely “this quintessence of dust”? My belief is that the endless wastelands serve as a foil, highlighting the courage it takes to be a virtuous person in a ghastly world. We’re excited to take you on a tour through the good, bad, and ugly of the post-apocalyptic genre. And whatever you do, please, don’t forget to shut up and watch the movie. P.S. A special thanks to Dalton from Sickle and Efrit for making our poster. – Check out his stuff!

Films:

The-Avengers-Cast-and-Director

Its no secret that DC Entertainment and Warner Bros have been looking for an opportunity to compete with Marvel Studios. Marvel has consistently produced one blockbuster after another and most have been well received by critics and fans alike. With Avengers 2 this May and a Civil War film in the near future, things are looking dark for DC’s iconic Super Friends. Despite Marvel’s success, however, there is one category they haven’t performed well in: the awards.

Looking to get some recognition, DC sets their sights on the Oscars and wants to beat Marvel to a Best Picture win. Here’s an interview with Chris Terrio, writer for the upcoming Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice (2016).

I: …The superhero genre is mocked at these awards shows, not celebrated. What makes you and Zack [Snyder] think you’ve got a shot at the Oscars?

Terrio: (laughs) I’ll admit, its ambitious. A lot of people see superheroes as nothing more than your typical popcorn, blockbuster movie. That’s why we did a lot of research before we wrote the script. We looked at current events. We studied films like Silver Linings Playbook, 12 Years a Slave, and a number of other dramas that did really well. Then we asked ourselves “what is it in these films that people are responding to? How can we tailor our superheroes around that?”

I: Interesting…

Terrio: We found that the Justice League could stand for a lot more than fighting bad guys. They could also speak into modern issues that people struggle with every day. They could stand for justice on more levels than just one. If you look hard enough, its already there in the characters.

I: How are you changing the Justice League characters to do that?

man of steel scream

 “Superman is the privileged white American male who has a crisis when he realizes that traditional American values won’t solve today’s problems.”

Terrio: We’re not changing them,we’re looking at the root of the character and seeing it fulfilled in the 21st century. Take Superman, for example. Superman is the privileged white american male who has a crisis when he realizes that traditional American values won’t solve today’s problems.

I: Wait, what?

Terrio: Think about it. Superman is the big blue boyscout, right? The small town, farmboy, conservative values… all that stuff. When we get to the Justice League movie, he has to face the real world now. Its complicated. His idealistic ideals of black and white, right and wrong, just won’t cut it today. We already saw that character arc begin in Man of Steel. Superman has this psuedo-pacifist code of “no-killing,” but he had to break that code in order to stop Zod. Superman’s coming to terms with the real world is at the heart of these films.

batman

“Batman is living out a little boys’ fantasy of creating a world where no child’s parents have to be murdered. He’s completely OCD…”

I: If that’s Superman, what about Batman?

Terrio: Bruce Wayne is an orphan who never recovered from the trauma of seeing his parents murdered. He’s still a spoiled little rich kid in a lot of ways. By becoming Batman, he’s living out a little boys’ fantasy of creating a world where no child’s parents have to be murdered. And that’s why he’s so obsessive. This guy has a contingency plan for everything, I mean everything. He’s completely OCD.

I: So your plan is to give the Dark Knight an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

Terrio: (laughs) Maybe not so specifically. Mental illness is a big topic that people are interested in connecting with. When we took a look at the Justice League, we definitely see Batman in that same boat.

wonder-woman-batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice

“Wonder Woman is a lesbian who brings an ancient Greek message of acceptance and tolerance to the judgmental, fundamentalist America.”

I: Interesting. What are you doing with the other characters?

Terrio: Wonder Woman has always stood for freedom, particularly women’s rights. We looked at our culture today and I think Wonder Woman is relevant now more than ever. She’s a lesbian who brings an ancient Greek message of acceptance and tolerance to the judgmental, fundamentalist America. She stands for the oppressed, especially women’s rights and LGBT rights. Her opening scene is stabbing the entire Instagram board of executives.

I: Um, how is stabbing innocent people “tolerant”?

Terrio: Innocent? I’d hardly call the rich white men who maintain the oppressive regime of social media “innocent.”

I: Well, I guess so… But stabbing them? Are you really going to trade villains like Brainiac and Darkseid for some corporate executives?

Terrio: Its not about stabbing, its about being relevant to modern issues.

green lantern

“Green Lantern is a space-cop who has become disenchanted with a harsh and oppressive police state.”

Terrio: …Take the enforcer, Green Lantern. In our film, John Stewart is a space-cop who has become disenchanted with a harsh and oppressive police state. The Guardians and their Green Lanterns have become tyrannical, militant, unjust, and racist. Green Lantern comes to a place where he can’t wear the uniform because it doesn’t stand for “serve and protect” anymore.

I: It sounds like you’re drawing some influence from Ferguson.

Terrio: Absolutely. People are questioning the justice system, and what better way to have that conversation than with Green Lantern?

I: What about Captain America? Winter Soldier addressed a lot of those same themes.

Terrio: Well… Yeah. But our movie will be better because our hero will be played by Chiwetelu Ejiofor. I’m looking forward to the scene where he uses his Power Ring to smash Mall of America.

aquaman

I: What else should we expect from the new Justice League? Is Aquaman gay?

Terrio: What? No… He’s obviously a Buddhist environmentalist who is concerned about the oceans and global warming. Why would he be gay?

I: You know… The skin-tight water suits? The constant beach boy, model look? The fish-scales speedo? The years of fan-fiction?

Terrio: Those things don’t make someone gay.

I: Well, sure, but it seems like you’re looking for any reason to make a connection to social justice issues…

Terrio: I find that really offensive.

I: Okay, sorry, um… What about Flash?

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“Flash is addicted to the “fast-pace” modern world… He’s going to be a social media and technology addict.”

Terrio: Flash is my favorite. We looked at what’s trending, and how to fit Flash’s “fast-pace” into the modern world. He’s going to be a social media and technology addict.

I: Like… Facebook?

Terrio: Not just Facebook. Twitter, Instagram, Clash of Clans, everything. He’s so fast that he tries to keep up with everything that’s being posted to the internet. He’s running like crazy from one thing to the next, just like people today. Flash is punching out badguys with one hand and checking his notifications with the other. Addiction is a hot topic at the Oscars, and we’re excited to be the first to tackle social media addiction.

I: It sounds like you have a contingency plan for everything. Well, except for maybe the Holocaust.

Terrio: Oh, we’re covering that, too.

I: Wait, seriously?

Terrio: Absolutely. The Holocaust always wins big at the Oscars. Its pretty much a guaranteed win.

I: How are you going to get to the Holocaust in a Justice League movie?

holocaust capture

“Martian Manhunter will have flashbacks that compare the Holocaust to the persecution people experience today.”

Terrio: Martian Manhunter. Although, we’re not going to use that name. It’ll be simply, “J’onn” or “the Martian.” J’onn is an alien who came here from Mars in the early 20th century. He wound up in Germany, was arrested and taken to a concentration camp. There will be flashbacks that compare the prejudice of the Nazi’s to the persecution people experience today.

I: I love that idea. Are you going to talk about the innocent people being executed by ISIS?

Terrio: No, that’s the wrong kind of controversy for the Academy Awards. We’re going to talk about American laws that discriminate against certain groups. The Martian comes from a genderless society. Everyone is a shape-shifter, so they can appear as male, female, or anything they want to be. He’s not a cis male like in the comics. In fact, the labels “male and female” aren’t even in the Martian vocabulary.

wonder-woman-vs-manhunter

I: It seems like you’re saying that the real villain is society itself. That evil is only a result of oppression, and not something every person struggles with.

Terrio: Yes. If something such as evil exists, it is the result of systemic oppression. If we get rid of oppression, we get rid of evil.

I: But doesn’t that defeat the entire point of superheroes? The inner struggle of good vs. evil? Our heroes make good choices even when it means sacrifice, that’s why they are heroes. And then the villains do the opposite, choosing to use their powers for selfish gain. It has nothing to do with society. What makes superheroes timeless is the struggle of good and evil in the human heart, not tailoring them to hot-button topics of the day.

Terrio: Zack and I really don’t see it that way. And that’s why we picked the villain that we did.

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“Vandal Savage is the ultimate oppressor… He has both Lex Luthor’s wealth and brilliance, and Ra’s Ah Ghul’s historical conspiracy factor.”

I: So, who is the villain for this film?

Terrio: I’m really excited about the villain we picked, Vandal Savage. He’s the ultimate oppressor. He’s got both Lex Luthor’s wealth and brilliance, and Ra’s Ah Ghul’s historical conspiracy factor. Savage is a power-hungry immortal who has been around since the beginnings of the human race. He’s the one working behind the scenes of history to cause tyranny and social inequality. The opening scene is of Savage talking with the first humans and tricking them into creating an oppressive and selfish society. Evil begins with him.

vandal savage time

I: Interesting. So you’re saying that the question, “what’s wrong with the human race” can be traced back to an initial deception by an evil character? That sounds like a Christian allegory.

Terrio: Does it? Hmm… I never thought of it that way. Do you think that hurts or helps our chance at winning Best Picture?

I: It hurts it. Definitely.

[end transcript.]

NOAH – 2014. (Review by Isaac)

noah poster

There’s been a lot of talk about this film. It has big names like Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, it was written and directed by the talented Darren Aronofsky (who has some unique beliefs and some claim he’s an atheist), and it’s “based on a popular Bible story”. Aronofsky himself claimed that Noah is “probably the least Biblical film ever made.” The reactions have been loud, lengthy, divergent, and abundant.

At the end of the day, I keep hearing this question: “Should I see Noah?”

My answer is: “If you are in a position where the film will come up in conversation and you have an opportunity to intelligently speak about it, then yes. Absolutely.”

Before I get started, let me give you a few of my presuppositions.

1. I am not an isolationist. Cultures can have good or evil elements, but the culture itself is not evil. Like a city, or a state, culture simply exists. I think Christians should participate in our culture and be “all things to all men.”

2. I love stories because they are a powerful method of communication. Anytime we engage with a story, we should consider the worldview that the author is presenting.

3. I think Christians should redemptively engage with our culture and “make the most of every opportunity” to witness.

Whether it’s The Chronicles of Narnia or Hunger Games, Christians are part of a movie-going culture that talks about films and is willing to think about the deeper meanings behind them. You won’t see me quoting philosophy books after seeing Spider-man, but his films have led to some great conversations about the nature of responsibility, obligation, sacrifice, and choices. So in the spirit of engaging and promoting dialog, “what do we do with Darren Aronofsky’s Noah”?


noah sin

First, I want to acknowledge things I really liked about Noah:

1. Sin is a serious matter.

Writer/Director Darren Aronofsky depicts Genesis 6:11 pretty literally, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.” The film opens with a brief, Lord of the Rings-esk explanation of the Creation and Fall. God created everything to be perfect, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, now humanity is cursed. Aronofsky’s treatment is artistic and powerful. The descendants of Cain are violent, greedy, and disgusting. Rape and cannibalism are implied. One man steals a child to trade it for food, and we see a horde of starving people begin tearing apart a pig and eating it raw. You can understand why God decided a flood was necessary.

The film is clear that the cause of humanity’s violence and wickedness is sin. The dialog hints at total depravity: every aspect of us, even our noblest intentions, are tainted by sin. This sin destroyed society and the world, and now God is judging humanity. In the final act, Noah struggles dramatically with his own depravity and questions how a society after the flood could ever be good because it is still tainted by human sin.

noah-drowned-bodies

2. God really killed a lot of people in the flood.

“Noah’s Ark” is often told as a children’s story and we easily forget how brutal it is. Minus a handful of people, the entire population of the earth was wiped out. As the rain begins to pour down, Noah and some rock monsters (angels who God cursed to live in rock bodies) violently defend the ark and stop anyone from climbing aboard. When the flood waters rise, Noah’s family hears the screams of drowning people outside the ark, but Noah refuses to help them. “God has judged them”, he says. “The Creator” has destroyed his creation with water and is going to start over. Justice and mercy are pivotal themes throughout the film.

If the Ents saw this, they'd be pissed.

3. Noah took stewardship of the Earth seriously.

Aronofsky takes a page of out Tolkien and, like Saruman building an army worthy of Mordor, Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) and his people devastate nature. Caring only for weapons and cities, their terrain is burned and lifeless. Filmed in Iceland, the tone is survivalist and practically post-apocalyptic as Noah and his family scavenge a barren landscape to survive. Tubal-Cain justifies this consumerism, “God told us to have dominion over the earth.” Noah’s family is vegan and views eating animals as disobeying The Creator (this is Biblical, but God also lifts this command after the flood in Genesis 9, which is not depicted in the movie.)

Aronofsky said that he wanted to explore the tension between God’s command to “care for the earth” and “have dominion over all the earth.” While some denounce Noah as environmentalist propaganda, what is wrong with saying that we need to care for nature? We may reach different conclusions, but there is nothing wrong with promoting stewardship in general.

tubal-cain

4. We are created in God’s image, and man’s greatest sin is pride in our own image.

Wanting to get the ark for himself, Tubal-Cain says he will survive the flood and “remake humanity in his image.” Like this wicked king, humanity rebels in our hearts against God and takes pride in our own image. The film has a brief, prophetic montage of the result of this sin: war and violence carrying on throughout human history.

5. The cast, visuals, and rock-monsters.

A lot of people (particularly Christians) are saying that Noah is a terrible movie across the board, and that’s unfair. Except for the third act (which I will get to later), I really enjoyed the movie. Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson all gave notably good performances. The flashbacks and creation story are powerful both visually and dramatically. I was very disappointed in the idea of making “The Nephilim” from Genesis 6 into rock-monsters, but they were actually my favorite part of the film.

noah's vision

Legitimate issues I took with Noah that are worth ending my 2 year “break” from movie reviews:

1. God gives Noah a vague vision of the flood and Noah is left to interpret/misinterpret it as he pleases, which leads to Noah making some really bad decisions in the name of carrying out “God’s will.”

In the film, Noah has a vision of people drowning, animals swimming, and a giant boat. He concludes that God is going to punish the sinful and save the innocent. Noah starts out believing that God is going to save him and his family. In the third act, Noah remembers that he has sin too and concludes that his family should all die out in order to rid the earth of sin. Noah’s logic looks something like this:
1. Humanity destroyed the world and filled it with sin and violence.
2. God is going to punish sin by flooding everything and make a fresh start.
3. But wait a minute; me and my family have sin, too!
4. Therefore, God wants us to die so he can make his “fresh start” without sinful human beings.

Let’s explore this on two levels:

Dramatically, this is a brilliant move.
Once the flood waters lift the Ark off the ground, there’s not a lot of excitement to be had by Noah just chilling with his family and a bunch of sleeping animals.

Darren Aronofsky wanted to highlight the “story-arc” of God’s justice and mercy, so he decided to have Noah embody the same character arc (interview here.) Noah is a man of conviction, he cannot let the human race continue. When Shem’s wife Ila (Emma Watson) gets miraculously pregnant, Noah threatens to murder the child in order to prevent humanity from continuing. Seriously, I am not making this up. In the end, Noah “disobeys” the Creator by not killing babies and learns to have mercy. (I’ll unpack this more later.)

This part of the plot is incredibly dramatic and acted out with screams and tears. If drama was the goal, then it was achieved tenfold.

Rhetorically, this is an interesting and strategic move.
Noah becomes a man whose fragile and tenuous interpretation of “the Creator’s will” leads him to make murderous choices. You want to scream at him, “it’s not God’s will for you to kill babies, you idiot! You’re misinterpreting! You’re taking your own ideas and calling it God’s will!” – and perhaps, this is exactly what Darren Aronofsky wants us to think.

I often hear the objection to Christianity made by atheists, “how do you know what God’s will is?” This is a valid question. Throughout history there are people who have done both wonderful and terrible things in the name of “God’s will.” What if we’re just deceiving ourselvse? How do we know we aren’t just a madman with a knife about to kill babies? This question is embodied in Noah, who has two bizarre visions and must interpret God’s will from that alone.

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The major problem with this idea is: God does not leave us alone and without instruction.

In Genesis, God gives Noah explicit instructions on what to do and why he is doing it.

Immediately after God tells Noah about the flood, he says “But I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.” God promises to save Noah and his family from the very beginning. No question of wives, genocide, or baby killing. No crazed lunatic with a knife. Most importantly: no ambiguity. We see both God’s judgment and mercy from the beginning.

Second, God has not left Christians without instruction or direction. We have the Bible, which is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2nd Timothy 3:16-17). We also have the Holy Spirit, which convicts and guides us, leading his followers “into all truth”. Jesus says the Holy Spirit is an “Advocate who will never leave you” (John 14:16-18).

Yes, sometimes discerning God’s will is a difficult thing to do. Sometimes we feel like Noah, screaming up into the sky for answers. But God has not abandoned us, nor has he left us without guide or instruction.

Noah's Ark 2014

2. “Noah” is more Gnostic and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) than it is Biblical.

This movie is about Noah and Creation, but not the Biblical version. When Aronofsky says “Noah is probably the least Biblical movie ever made” he’s not talking artistic changes he made, he’s saying that he used texts and traditions outside the Bible. For an excellent article on this, see this post by Dr. Brian Mattson, and his response video at the bottom.

Again, this doesn’t mean Christians shouldn’t see the movie, or shouldn’t enjoy certain aspects of it (I listed things about it that I really enjoyed.) But this knowledge should completely change our expectations and the way we view the film. It definitely means that we should stop calling it a “Bible movie.” It is not another “Hollywood adaptation of a Bible movie” that gets a few details wrong. Darren Aronofsky from the beginning set out to tell a very different story than what we read in Genesis 6-9.

Let’s examine what this film is saying about humanity and God.

Gnosticism believes that all spirit is good and all flesh is evil. We see these Gnostic ideas repeatedly in the film. Before sinning, Adam and Eve were ethereal, bodiless beings. “The Watchers” (rock monsters) were angels trapped in physical bodies, and upon sacrificing themselves they returned to their spiritual form. Noah also explains his veganism, “strength doesn’t come from eating meat, it comes from The Creator.” The snakeskin of the Serpent/Devil also shows up repeatedly and is a Gnostic symbol of wisdom. By embracing the snakeskin, Noah is embracing a “wisdom” that comes from a source other than The Creator. (If you’re not convinced and think this sounds too much like a crazy ‘conspiracy theory’, read Mattson’s article.)

noah serpent

It gets more disturbing. In the Gnostic view, “The Creator” is not all good, all knowing, or all powerful. He is imperfect and immature, and the flood is a “violent phase” in the character development of this god becoming a higher deity. This trajectory is clearly seen in Aronofsky’s film, as The Creator starts out with a very active and purposeful role in bringing judgment. But as the film continues, god becomes passive and unreachable. Both Noah and Tubal-Cain cry out to god for direction, but The Creator is silent. The Creator never intervenes in Noah’s crazed baby-killing because “the choice is up to Noah.” (‘Kill your family, don’t kill them, whatever, it’s up to you Noah.’) The rainbow that appears in the end of the film is not a sign of a new Covenant, but blesses the idea that “love conquers all” as Noah accepts his grandbabies instead of killing them.

As a Christian who assumed this was based on the Biblical story, I understood Noah’s homicidal actions as misinterpreting God’s will. To someone simply watching the movie: God is completely passive unless it’s time to kill people. Furthermore, human love teaches God something about mercy and grace.

“The Creator” we witness in Darren Aronofsky’s film isn’t an interpretation of the Christian God; it is a flawed, distant, Gnostic deity.

Does that mean there’s no redeeming factors in the film at all? Of course not. I listed a number of thinks I really liked and appreciated about the film. But we must identify what we’re watching, the worldview of the writer/director, and how it relates to our Christian worldview.

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3. How inconsistent the third act is with the rest of the film.

I loved the film up until Noah is convicted that humanity must die out and threatens to murder babies. Its a brilliant move for the sake of drama, but it starts feeling like a soap opera meets religious commentary. The absurdity ruined the entire film for me. There were so many ways that problem could have been resolved. Emma Watson’s character could have said “The Creator healed my womb and I conceived, therefore it must be The Creator’s will that I bear children.” Noah says “oh gee, why didn’t I think of that?” Crisis averted everyone, let’s make babies.

Conclusion and Rating:
Aesthetically, Noah boasts a talented cast and amazing visuals. Steeped in mystic lore, it plays out more like Conan the Barbarian than The Ten Commandments. But please, whatever you do, stop calling it a “Bible movie”. Many religions have their own version of the Creation and Flood stories, and aside from some parts I noted, this film has little to do with the Bible’s account. It is Gnostic and mystic, not Biblical. Even though it had powerful performances and strong visuals, the absurdity of the final act ruined the film for me.
Aesthetics = 4/5

Story and theology = 1/5

Final verdict: 2.5 out of 5 Zipped Lips.

 

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A_long_time_ago

I am a huge Star Wars fan. One of my earliest memories is of watching Luke Skywalker fight the Rancor in Return of the Jedi. I spent years collecting Star Wars ships, fighting with plastic lightsabers, and reading the “Expanded Universe” books. I remember when my friend Mike and I sewed our very own Jedi cloaks to wear to the midnight release of Revenge of the Sith. I even downloaded the Star Wars: Holiday Special and watched it with my friends. In one particularly ambitious year of middle school, my friend Brandon and I decided to make our very own stop-action Star Wars movie. (Not my proudest moment, I assure you.)

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When a sequel Star Wars trilogy was announced, many fans hoped J.J. Abrams would base them on the massively successful Thrawn trilogy, or my personal favorite, the Jedi Academy trilogy. (Pictured above)

star wars original cast

I saw a major problem with this from the beginning. These books take place only six years after Return of the Jedi, but the actors have aged 30 years since then. Too much time has passed for a convincing story about Han and Leia trying to raise three boisterous kids and Luke Skywalker recruiting new Jedi Knights. We needed some fresh ideas.

J.J. Abrams announced that Star Wars VII would be a completely original story, but until now he has given very few details.

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Interview copy and pasted below:

I: Tell me about the biggest challenge your team faces in making a new Star Wars trilogy.

Abrams: There’s been a lot of challenges. I think the biggest one is making Star Wars accessible and exciting for new people that’ve never seen it before. I’m really excited about Harrison, Carrie, and Mark coming back to do this again. I have a hunger for what I love about Star Wars and want to see, and I bet a lot of other people my age feel the same way. But after having talks with Disney, I’ve realized that we have to reach a whole new generation of kids that didn’t grow up with Star Wars. To them its something old and outdated that their parents watch.

I: Really? I thought kids loved Star Wars.

Abrams: Well, the prequels tried to appeal to kids and failed miserably. Just terribly. They used cheap tricks like Jar Jar Binks and went after little kids instead of grabbing teenagers. Disney has done a ton of research on this. If you want a movie to have mass appeal, go after teenagers.

I: Isn’t that kind of… gimmicky?

Abrams: Sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be. Its about building an excitement around something new that will grab young adults and give them the same thrill I had when Empire Strikes Back came out in the 80’s. Most of my work has been for television or PG-13 films, and it proves that you can reach a lot of people by keeping things appropriate for teenagers.

I: So how has targeting teenagers changed your approach?

Abrams: It means building an excitement around new questions and interests. The questions of identity and destiny as still there, of course, but there’s more drama around romance and loyalty. That’s a big change. In the original trilogy, loyalty was completely assumed. You were loyal to your family and obligated to fight in the battle of good vs. evil. It was Luke’s loyalty that eventually redeemed his father, Darth Vader. In our new culture, loyalty is something you choose to have, it isn’t given to you, so to speak… its not an obligation.

I: How will that concept of loyalty play out in Star Wars VII? Will Luke’s loyalty carry on?

Abrams: Luke definitely has a role to play, but he is passing off the torch to a new generation. Its about Luke’s kids and Chewbacca’s kids finding their identity and loyalty in the new crisis.

Its unclear as to whether or not Waroo will be a Jedi (- Isaac)

Its unclear as to whether or not Waroo will be a Jedi (- Isaac)

I: Chewbacca has kids?

Abrams: Oh yeah. (laughs) Even though we’re creating an entirely new story, we got ideas from the Expanded Universe books, and even the infamous Star Wars: Holiday Special. I liked the idea of Chewbacca having a son. Luke has a daughter, Reina Skywalker, whose this new Jedi Knight trying to prove herself. And her best friend is Waroo, who is a half-wookiee.

I: Wait, a half-wookiee? I didn’t know those existed!

Abrams: Its Star Wars, anything can happen. (laughs)

I: What happens with these two?

Abrams: So Luke has established a small order of Jedi Knights, and they get into a fight with a new alien race, the Chiss. Leia and Han and Luke go to the Chiss homeworld in hopes of stopping a war, and that’s really what kicks off the new trilogy. The adults are trying to prevent another war like the one they had to fight, but their kids realize that there’s something darker going on at the Chiss homeworld.

I: What excites you about this story-line?

Abrams: I like the ambiguity behind the characters. They really struggle with their identity and loyalty. Reina is this brand new Jedi Knight trying to fill some pretty big shoes left behind by her dad, Luke Skywalker. Then she has this romance with Waroo, who is caught between being a human and a wookiee. They have so much in common, but there’s a tension there too. Especially when they get caught behind enemy lines and meet Jaylen.

I: Who is Jaylen?

Abrams: I probably shouldn’t say… Well, the first trailer will reveal it anyway. (laughs) Jaylen is a loner on the planet Chiss who turns out to be a teenage clone of Darth Maul.

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I: Like from Episode I? Why did you decide to bring him back as a villain?

Abrams: Oh, he’s not really a villain. I know it sounds quirky, but he’s the perfect fit. We needed a character who brought ancient darkness to the screen and tied us back to the Sith from the previous series. When the Emperor and Darth Vader died at the end of Return of the Jedi, there were no more Sith. They were gone, and we needed a way to bring them back. We also realized that despite having millions of them, Star Wars never really dealt with a clone as a serious character. Jaylen knows he’s a clone of this incredibly dark and evil Sith Lord, but does that mean he’s destined to kill Jedi? Does he have a choice in his own fate? What if he decides to join Reina instead?

I: So is that the question of destiny you were talking about?

Abrams: That’s what this movie is about: destiny and freewill. Its about having to trust someone and give them the freedom to make their own destiny, even though there’s a chance they might try to kill you later. (laughs) Both Anakin and Luke had to deal with the question “am I destined to join the dark side?” Jaylen is a very dark and conflicted character, I think he will add a lot to the saga.

I: Do you think this take will appeal to new fans?

Abrams: Absolutely. People love tension and relationship triangles. The original series had Luke, Han, and Leia. Here we have a very strong half-wookiee who trusts his warrior instincts, a darker and edgier clone who is questioning his destiny, and a Jedi Knight who loves them both. It forces Reina to decide between Waroo and Jaylen. In a sense its a much more ambiguous and muddy choice between light and dark, she doesn’t know where it will lead.

I: Wait, are you saying this is a love triangle between Luke’s daughter, a half-wookiee, and a Sith clone?

Abrams: Its not really a love triangle. At least, not right away. The plot is racing along, and it builds to a point where Reina has to choose a side. She can either go with Waroo and the life she’s grown up with, or she can trust Jaylen’s insight into solving the conspiracy and hope he doesn’t become a Sith.

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I: Have you auditioned anyone?

Abrams: Oh, I’ve seen hundreds of auditions. Hundreds. (laughs) We auditioned Saoirse Ronan for Reina Skywalker and she was fantastic. I’m really excited about working with her on the project.

I: Okay, last question, what are you most excited about?

Abrams: Working with John Williams.

End interview, link to entire article here.

What do you think? Can J.J. Abrams pull this off?