Tag Archives: Noah

Favorite Films of 2014

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Because synchronicity has been on my mind recently, I wondered while considering my favorite films of 2014 if any of them were thematically aligned, explicitly or otherwise. Turns out they are. The ten-ish films that lodged themselves into my brain this year naturally arranged themselves into pairs or groups—some odd ones, to be sure, but nevertheless interesting. I landed on four categories, some of which could easily describe many of the listed films but felt like the right headings for the films they contain. Keeping in mind the usual disclaimer that I’ve yet to see a number of 2014 films I suspect would make this list, here are the ones that made movies fun this year. (Spoilers aplenty ahead.)

LOOKING CLOSER (h/t Jeffrey Overstreet)
Boyhood
, directed by Richard Linklater
Life Itself, directed by Steve James

I preemptively connected these two films in my review of Boyhood, but time has revealed even more. Both films concern themselves with telling the unvarnished truth: in Boyhood it’s via the yearly check-ins with Mason & Co and the focus on quotidian moments over Kodak ones, and in Life Itself it’s via the camera’s unblinking view of Roger Ebert’s sad yet dignified decline. The march of time, which these two films concern themselves with greatly, is relentless and revelatory. Its power is best seen at the extremes: zoomed in to the micro, the everyday details we can see only on foot, and zoomed out to the macro, where the cosmic, birds-eye view of things looks oddly like the micro. Isn’t it funny how images from a telescope can look like something captured from a petri dish (e.g. Hubble’s picture of the Andromeda Galaxy, not-so-ironically dubbed “Pillars of Creation”). Set up a double feature, rename them The Beginning and The End, and you’ve got an amazing portrait of life, to name-check another fine movie, rendered in the spectacular now.

A RECKONING
Calvary, directed by John Michael McDonough
Ida, directed by Paweł Pawlikowski

Let loose into their outside worlds, the Catholic priest of Calvary and the novice nun of Ida encounter the hostile brokenness of laypeople who either don’t see the need for the Church or resent it outright. These ecclesiastics—one in postwar Communist Poland and the other in modern Ireland—are spurred out from their cloistered lives by a similar commission: Get your life in order. They face a reckoning with their calling, one last chance to ponder the consequences of their decisions and make things right before destiny calls. Yet despite the gravity of their pilgrimage among the people, they mostly just listen. They absorb the pain and bitterness around them while trying to reconcile their vocation with their tempestuous milieus and arrive at peace. Can it be done? Good question.

LET’S GO EXPLORING
Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan
The Lego Movie, directed by Chris Miller and Phil Lord

Multiple dimensions. New worlds. A hero destined to save mankind. Travels through black holes and time portals. An old sage with questionable tactics. Love conquering all. I wasn’t expecting two of my favorite movies of the year to have so much in common while also being essentially polar-opposite in their style and audience, and yet here we are. Who is Matthew McConaughey’s character in Interstellar if not the Master Builder reluctantly fulfilling his destiny to save the universe through ingenuity and love? And what are The Lego Movie’s Cloud Cuckoo Land and other worlds if not the mystery planets the Interstellar crew sought for salvation? Even the final twists echo each other: Interstellar’s time-hopping tesseract and The Lego Movie’s portal to human earth reveal the handiwork of an extra-dimensional Creator and redefine everything we’d seen before. Never was I in awful wonder more this year than during these two films.

MAN ON A MISSION
Locke, directed by Steven Knight
Whiplash, directed by Damien Chazelle
Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky
Snowpiercer, directed by Bong Joon-ho

What are you prepared to do? (I can’t help imagining that line being said in an intense Scottish accent.) The protagonists here have a mission and will not stop (in Locke’s case, literally) until it is accomplished. Locke’s Ivan and the Noah in Darren Aronofsky’s Biblical epic set a course and stick to it—come personal hell and high water—even while their worlds crumble around him and their decisions inflict suffering upon innocents. In Whiplash, Andrew’s steely determination to succeed as a jazz drummer draws blood and fractures his psyche. And Curtis, the reluctant leader of the train-bound proletariat uprising in Snowpiercer, forges forward for answers, making brutal personal sacrifices along the way. Is all this carnage worth it? Results vary, but all four of these films’ endings seem to have a similar answer.

JUST BECAUSE (Bonus)
They Came Together, directed by David Wain

Because this made me laugh so hard.

Dorothy Day And The Noah Way

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A passage early on in Paul Elie’s The Life You Save May Be Your Own popped out when I first read it and stuck with me as I watched Darren Aronofsky’s remarkable Noah. 

Elie’s book chronicles the intersecting lives and spiritual journeys of four influential Catholic writers: Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, and Flannery O’Connor. I’m still working my way through it, but from the get-go I was hooked by Elie’s weaving narrative of literature, faith, and pilgrimage in the lives of these four exceptional figures. The passage that stood out to me described a moment in Dorothy Day’s bohemian days in New York City as a young socialist and hard partier. She was returning home at dawn from another booze-soaked bacchanalia when she felt inspired to stop at St. Joseph’s Church for the 5 a.m. Mass:

She knelt in a pew near the back and collected her thoughts. She was twenty-one years old. All her life she had been haunted by God. God was behind her. God loomed before her. Now she felt hounded toward Him, as though toward home; now she longed for an end to the wavering life in which she was caught. …

For the time being, she began to pray. “Perhaps I asked even then, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.'” Perhaps she told herself, kneeling there, that “I would have to stop to think, to question my own position: ‘What is man that Thou art mindful of him, O Lord?’ What were we here for, what were we doing, what was the meaning of our lives?”

I wonder now if Aronofsky read this book while working on Noah, because the same thoughts that haunted Day also haunt Aronofsky’s Noah. Except the God that Dorothy Day sought and implored and felt haunted by was not the same God that Noah knew. God is known in the film as The Creator, the celestial deity that everyone in this ancient time knew to be the creator of the world and everything in it. The Creator is everywhere and is in everything. (“God was behind her. God loomed before her.”) And this Creator haunts Noah: with dreams of a great flood; with preternatural visions showing the weight of sin on the world; and with an overwhelming mandate from above to carry out justice on the wicked.

How Noah and his family deal with this is one of the key threads of this film, a miracle of a movie. I call it a miracle not to discount the massive amount of creative work put in by Aronofsky and his team to get it on the screen, nor to minimize the miraculous works from scripture depicted in the film; it’s a miracle because it’s good.

Again, I’m not discrediting Aronofky’s directorial prowess. The opposite, in fact. Christian movies (rather, movies made by Christians with explicit Christian messages marketed chiefly to Christian audiences) just aren’t that good. They too often focus on the transmitting the message (or The Message) instead of making good art. But great films can do both well without sacrificing either. Films like Noah and The Tree of Life and Short Term 12 and Ikiru and Into Great Silence and Winter Light and so many others aren’t worried about whether viewers “get” the message. They are art. They are beautifully created, and they are OK with asking questions and not hearing back about them. They ought to haunt you as they are haunted, by something deeper and bigger than themselves.

I’m grateful to Aronofsky for rendering this story for the screen with such theological savvy and care for craft. Noah isn’t perfect, but neither was Noah. Yet the Creator used him anyway. And why that is haunts me.