Monday, March 31, 2014


seen @ AMC Fresh Meadows 7, Fresh Meadows, Queens, NY

Pastor Fred Phelps is dead.

For over fifty years, the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas preached the gospel of the Bible to his congregation. In recent years, however, he and his constituents became notorious for sitting in judgment on their fellow man in a fashion numerous Americans found reprehensible.

This godless heathen believes Phelps was a small-minded, bigoted, intolerant, hypocritical sham of a human being and that the world is a vastly improved place without him.

But he was not in any way unique.

Pre-judging other people is a day-to-day habit that all of us do to one extent or another, for better or for worse, no matter how "enlightened" or "liberal" we claim to be. I'm not talking about that. It's the act of sitting in judgment on others in the name of a supreme being that concerns me, because it stems from the presumption of knowing the will of said supreme being better than anyone else - and who among us can agree on that?

The Bible may have been "divinely inspired," or what have you, but it was written by men, with their own agendas, and there's evidence to conclude that they may have drawn on the myths and legends of other cultures in the process of writing it. Down through the subsequent millennia of human civilization, what should have been a singular message from God has been splintered and reshaped by other men to fit their own needs, and in many cases, the result has been antagonism and intolerance and oppression by one group of people against another, and all in the name of something that probably doesn't even exist.(See this post by my pal and WSW regular Michelle, who knows about such things, for one contemporary example.) So how can any one person say with confidence that their interpretation of "God's will" is that much more correct than another's?

I'm not opposed to the concept of faith, but it really should be a personal, private thing that one can shape according to their own, individual needs. Most of the time, however, it's not. There's always somebody out there pushing their dogma and rhetoric on you, whether you want it or not. I see it all the time and it never fails to annoy the living crap out of me, but when it actively interferes with someone's livelihood, as we have seen with Pastor Phelps and men like him, well, that's when things go all FUBAR.

Which brings us to Noah, or at least, director/co-writer Darren Aronofsky's version of the biblical tale. The Noah story is such a familiar one, and has been for many of us for a long time. Growing up, I never questioned it as a story. I certainly never challenged its veracity, and if I had, I know I would've gotten answers steeped in blind, unquestioning faith and literalism, and not in logic. Aronofsky, to his credit, makes an attempt to address the inherent plot holes in the story, but within the story's context, again, the answers rely on faith, not logic. 

I'm not sure how much he can be blamed for this. I mean, this is a story in which the big questions are answered: God (or at least, "the Creator") exists, he created humanity, and now he's gonna destroy it because he doesn't like the way it turned out. If you believe in God, you believe that he endowed humanity with free will. Indeed, Adam and Eve, the first humans according to the theology, were given the choice to eat that apple or not eat it, and God must have known which way they might go because he put temptation, in the form of that tree, in their path.

In the tale, Noah lives in a time where what we today might call the supernatural was not unusual. We don't live in such a time. Science has answered many questions about the world and the wider universe, and for some, like myself, the rationale for a supreme being is strained at the very least. For many others, however, such as the late Pastor Phelps, the Bible remains a text they believe with their whole heart and soul, even when such belief flies in the face of reason. While I don't deny that there are ideas in the Bible of great value, given the world we live in now - one completely removed from Noah's, or Jesus', for that matter - how can one presume to take it literally?

If we accept the premise that the creation of humanity was an exercise in free will - in choosing to accept God unconditionally or not - then how could God throw the experiment in the trash by flooding the earth when it didn't go the way he wanted it to go? Looked at from another angle, if God is the father and we are his wayward children made in his image, how can he justify slaughtering his own progeny for the act of disobedience? What parent would even consider doing that to their own children?

Aronofsky's movie reminded me a great deal of Take Shelter, a movie from a few years ago that I revered. A big part of why I loved it was its ambiguity; one never knows for certain whether Michael Shannon's character is truthful about the things he says or if he's simply mad. In Noah, "The Creator" never explicitly speaks; Noah interprets his will through apocalyptic dreams of a flood, and it's taken for granted that this is the Creator's method of communication. No one in Noah's family doubts that the Creator spoke to Noah, but they do question his interpretation at various points in the story, which leads to exciting moments of conflict, which we don't see in the Bible version. Noah's response to their doubts is basically, "God will provide."

In the climax of Aronofsky's movie, Noah, in the absence of further divine guidance, is left to decide humanity's ultimate fate on his own, but we don't know for sure whether the choice really was his or if it was all part of God's plan. I like to think that it's the former, because in the end, if there is no God, then it's up to us to decide how we're gonna live on this earth - no one else. Too many people, however, are still unwilling to take that kind of responsibility. Maybe that's the real reason why we have all the problems we have.

In my initial tweet about Noah afterwards, I came down a little hard on it. I think part of me may have come into the movie wanting to hate it on some level, for the simple fact that it is a Bible story, and I may have been afraid that it would be some kind of affirmation of blind faith. In fact, Aronofsky's take is a much more humanistic one than I expected, one that doesn't take the human perspective and basic human drives for granted. The more I think about Noah, in fact, the more I think Aronofsky tried to weld the sacred and the profane, so to speak, in a way that in the end, uplifts both, somehow. That's a hell of a task.

I finally used the free small popcorn coupon I got from my botched screening of Gravity last fall. Surprisingly, the popcorn lasted longer than I thought it would. (It helped that only one trailer played in front of the movie.) Maybe if more people bought popcorn and soda in smaller portions, going to the movies wouldn't cost so much?


  1. Thanks for the shout, Rich! I haven't seen the film yet, but I will for sure. It has started a lot of discussions, and that's a great thing.

  2. You're welcome. Wasn't sure if I was even gonna link to your piece at first, but further reflection on the movie - and what I wanted to say in relation to it - changed my mind.


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