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Ray Winstone leads the doomed human race. He is a figure from the nightmares of refined minds: a brutal working-class polluter. You just have to look at him to know he is the type who demands cheap flights and never recycles. He and his followers invite the waters to rise around them. They eat meat, turn to violence and cut down all the trees. The parallels with global warming are too obvious to labour, which does not stop Aronofsky from labouring them.

It is not just the brutality of God's punishment which makes the Noah story so repellent. Genesis inspired religious racism well into the 20th century. Noah curses Ham's descendants because Ham had seen him naked. (Hardly the worst thing a son can do to a father, but there you are.) Christians and Jews identified blacks as Ham's accursed heirs. In apartheid South Africa and the American Deep South, white churches used the story to justify white supremacy.  Aronofsky does not cast a black actor as Ham, and I suppose deserves credit for that. But his Ham is the most evil of Noah's children. He comes close to murdering his father, as well as seeing him naked, and in the end has to leave the family.

What drama there is comes from Noah, played by Russell Crowe, a former action hero who is now so podgy he looks as if he will eat the animals two by two. His tortured patriarch plans to end corrupt humanity. He assumes the species will die with his immediate family. His wife has passed childbearing age. Noah refuses to allow women onto the boat for Ham and Japheth. Shem has a girlfriend on the ark (Emily Watson). Unfortunately for her but fortunately for Noah, she is barren. Or so it appears, until miraculously her fecundity is restored, and Noah must decide whether to allow the human race to continue. He decides to kill her child if it is a girl, who might extend the line. When Emily Watson gives birth to twins —both girls —he can't do it, however. Noah looks at their innocent little smiling faces and LOVE overwhelms him.

Environmental concern, class hatred and sentimentality — a holy trinity of bourgeois motives drags Aronofsky's ark through the lapping waters until, after what feels like an age, it finally runs aground.

Islamic extremists have denounced him, for reasons that ought to have provoked more debate in the West. For years now faux-liberals have intoned that it is "provocative" for cartoonists and others to depict Muhammad because Islam prohibits depictions of the prophet. As the film censorship boards of Indonesia and Malaysia have shown, that's not the end of it. Their version of Islam bans depictions of all the prophets in the Koran including Noah and indeed Jesus. Appease that iconoclasm — and working in liberal London I see people who will appease anything — and we will have to knock out Europe's stained-glass windows and destroy the Renaissance collections in every art gallery. Religious Christmas cards wouldn't last long either.

The religious censor and Hollywood liberal seem worlds apart. Aronofsky shows that they are not so different. His Noah does not challenge religion's most brutish myths, and is as dull, preachy, ugly and inhumane as the most bigoted sermon.
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May 2nd, 2014
7:05 AM
If you are gonna tritely dismiss Ham being cursed, you might want to get it right. He was cursed because he saw a drunken Noah masturbating, and rather then 'hide his shame' he told his brothers about it to mock him. And brought them in to see the show. Hardly, merely seeing him naked. More like holding him up for public humiliation. But hey, ride your hobby horse.

john holmes
May 1st, 2014
12:05 PM
Reading Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of our Nature" at the moment. Makes same points - with less wit and at greater length. Wonder why these myths are so appealing an so appalling.

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