Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

4/12/2014 (8 months ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The inherent challenge of an artist addressing the Absolute is convincing his audience of three things: first, that he is sincere; second, that he has a genuine insight; and third, the skill to communicate it through his work.

The recent debate over the virtues and vices of Darren Aronofsky's film, Noah, raises more important, and fundamental, questions: How does the artist address the Absolute? What is required of an artist, whether in film, painting, or a novel to meet the specific challenges of portraying the need and longing of our human nature for the Creator?

John Wayne's Ethan Edwards sets out on a prolonged search for his niece, Debbie, played by a young Natalie Wood.

John Wayne's Ethan Edwards sets out on a prolonged search for his niece, Debbie, played by a young Natalie Wood.

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

4/12/2014 (8 months ago)

Published in Movies

Keywords: culture, art, film, movies, beauty, absolute, Deal W. Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - The recent debate over the virtues and vices of Darren Aronofsky's film, Noah, raises more important, and fundamental, questions: How does the artist address the Absolute? What is required of an artist, whether in film, painting, or a novel to meet the specific challenges of portraying the need and longing of our human nature for the Creator?

In Aronofsky's film, for example, there are several scenes in which Noah, played by Russell Crowe, looks into the sky and asks why God is "silent." Most film lovers will instantly recall when the silence of God was addressed in films such as Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light (1962) and Robert Bresson's The Diary of a Country Priest (1955).  In these films, the effect on the viewer is overwhelming, the sense of the character's isolation, his suffering, and despair are felt as genuine.

In Noah, these scenes fall flat, and lead me to conclude that Aronofsky did not know how to achieve an effect befitting the question he dared to ask.  Aronofsky seems to think all that is necessary is for Russell Crowe to bellow the question into the dark sky and let the camera linger on the clouds until the viewer feels the profundity of the moment.  It just doesn't happen.  Aronofsky fails to prepare the viewer to venture onto that "darkling plain," to use Matthew Arnold's words.

Noah's previous encounters with God through his dreams and his drug-induced vision are much more convincing. Up to that point, the film has not descended into the silliness of its angelic Transformers or the deus ex machina of the fire wall saving the ark from capture by the tribes of Cain. Introducing an Ingmar Bergman moment after feeding his adolescent viewers their necessary repast of CGIs (computer graphic images) is, well, like expecting the finale of Beethoven's 9th Symphony to miraculously arise out of a Herman's Hermits medley.

This is not to say that an artist cannot mix popular and classical mediums in a work about serious moral or religious concerns - Stanley Kubrick's Clockwork Orange (1971) is an example of a masterful mixing of high and low elements. Of course, much of that work was already done by Anthony Burgess in his novel ten years earlier.

It's too bad that Aronofsky didn't take the source of his film's central allusions more seriously; not only Bergman's film trilogy about the silence of God but also his use of John Ford's The Searchers (1956).  In that film, John Wayne's Ethan Edwards sets out on a prolonged search for his niece, Debbie, played by a young Natalie Wood.  He's accompanied by his nephew Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter) who realizes only at the last minute that Ethan plans to kill Debbie who was kidnapped by Chief Scar as a young child. Ethan views Debbie as having become an "injun" by nurture and, thus, is better off dead than to live on as a savage.  Like Aronofsky's Noah, Ford's Ethan Edwards wrestles with the inner compulsion to put a family member to death. 

This parallel leads Aronofsky to use the most iconic moment in The Searchers: Ethan Edwards is framed by camera in the door of the Jorgensen cabin with the desert behind him after saving Debbie and not taking her life. John Ford achieves a moment of cinematic grandeur, the warrior whose love has overcome his hatred, but only after his heroic strength and courage had been fully displayed and his mission accomplished. When Russell Crowe is seen in his Searcher's pose, the camera looking through the dark interior of the arc, catching him at the front door with the crashing sea behind, we see his isolation, the gravity of his task, but without any heroic grandeur. Noah just comes off as a tough guy with an iron will who is going to get his "job" done come hell or high water, literally!

The inherent challenge of an artist addressing the Absolute is convincing his audience of three things: first, that he is sincere; second, that he has a genuine insight; and third, the skill to communicate it through his work.  In the best book that has ever been written on the artist and the sacred, Art and Scholasticism (1921), Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), the French Thomistic philosopher, used the phrase "religious art" to categorize those works who fail the test.  What Maritain had in mind was the kind of Catholic kitsch that has been addressed in previous columns - simplistic, overly pious, one-dimensional art, possessing an unmistakable lesson or doctrinal statement. 

Such overt preaching ruins art, argued Maritain, and Aronofsky for all his professed religious skepticism, did not avoid preaching his lessons of a cruel God, unjustly punished angels, and a human race whose "dominion" over creation had been turned into the consumption of creation.

Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


© 2014 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2014
Christmas, hope for humanity:
That the birth of the Redeemer may bring peace and hope to all people of good will.
Parents: That parents may be true evangelizers, passing on to their children the precious gift of faith.



Comments


More Movies

KOWTOWING TO NORTH KOREA: Sony cancels theatrical distribution for 'The Interview' Watch

Image of

By Troy Dredge, Catholic Online

It is the most disgraceful bit of news to come from the film industry in many years - and it's not over the scandalous behavior on the part of actors, directors and other creative personnel . Sony Pictures says it's pulling the theatrical release of the film ... continue reading


'The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies' rakes in $125 million overseas before U.S. debut Watch

Image of A debut at around $70 million, however, would put

By Troy Dredge, Catholic Online

"The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," the concluding chapter of director Peter Jackson's version of the Tolkien tale will open in the U.S. today. The final installment should earn between $70 million and $75 million for the five days, according to ... continue reading


'Transformers 4: Age of Extinction' tops list of films imported to China Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Snooty American film critics may have turned their noses up at it - but China got their Transformers on with "Transformers 4: Age of Extinction. The U.S. film sequel, based on a series of popular toys in the 1980s, was China's biggest grossing foreign film this ... continue reading


Tim Burton, Michael Keaton may reunited for 'Beetlejuice 2' - maybe Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Among the most unsteady and unreliable of all worlds is the world of the Hollywood sequel or remake. Director Tim Burton, currently promoting "Big Eyes" and actor Michael Keaton are busy these days, but there is a chance that the duo may reunite to do a sequel ... continue reading


Actor Harrison Ford reported 'on board' for 'Blade Runner' sequel Watch

Image of In the original

By Troy Dredge, Catholic Online

"Blade Runner," based on Phillip K. Dick's "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" was released to confusion and indifference when it was first released in 1982. Audiences found it too slow and too dream-like, accustomed to they were to the slam-bang space ... continue reading


Move over Hollywood - CHINA set to eclipse Hollywood as world's largest film and media giant Watch

Image of China's film industry is now the largest in the world.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Perhaps lured by the heady success surrounding show business, Tembusu Partners, a private firm based in Singapore has sunk a $100 million investment into China's media and entertainment industry. The agreement has teamed up media magnate Calvin Cheng as well as the ... continue reading


Actress Catherine Deneuve accepts lifetime achievement award - with lethal wit Watch

Image of At 70, actress Catherine Deneuve is still very much active in films.

By Troy Dredge, Catholic Online

Internationally renowned for her timeless beauty and contributions to classic films for nearly half a century, actress Catherine Deneuve. Receiving a lifetime achievement award in Berlin at the European film awards, Deneuve accepted her award with some biting wit. ... continue reading


Footage of Walt Disney's first cartoon star, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit turns up near Arctic Circle Watch

Image of After losing control to the Oswald character to Universal Studios, both Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks created the far more popular Mickey Mouse in retaliation.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Sooner or later, everything that is lost is found again. Walt Disney's first animated hero, Oswald, the Lucky rabbit predated Mickey Mouse and was created by Disney partner Ub Iwerks. Very little, if any footage of Oswald had survived - until a short subject ... continue reading


Honoring best in TV, movies, Golden Globe nominations for 2015 announced Watch

Image of There was good news for Meryl Streep, who gained praise for her role in

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Celebrating the very best in film and television, the nominees for the 72nd annual Golden Globe Awards have been announced. There were some surprising nominations, along with some surprise snubs in the list of nominations. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The ... continue reading


Budgeted at $300 MILLION, new James Bond production advised to 'use less trains' Watch

Image of Super spy James Bond lights up the screen once again in the forthcoming sequel

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Seeing as the previous entry in the James Bond movie franchise, "Skyfall" raked in over a billion dollars, the budget for the next film in the series, "Spectre" is set at a staggering $300 million. The producers are showing some restraint: the latest directive ... continue reading


All Movies News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Judges 13:2-7, 24-25
2 There was a man of Zorah of the tribe of Dan, ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 71:3-4, 5-6, 16-17
3 Be a sheltering rock for me, always accessible; you ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 1:5-25
5 In the days of King Herod of Judaea there lived a ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for December 19th, 2014 Image

St. Nemesius
December 19: Martyr of Egypt. He was burned alive in Alexandria, Egypt, ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter