Redeeming the Heart of Aronofsky’s Noah

It’s been a month since the release of Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah, and just this week it fell out of the top 10 for box office sales. Given the sad shape of the competition (The Lego Movie not withstanding), that’s disappointing news, particularly since much of its core audience, professing Christians, didn’t bother to give it a fair shake.

For an art film, I’ve been surprised to see so little critical engagement with the film. Christians reviewers were, for the most part, dismissive (or downright laughable), while others have damned the film with feint praise. The most in-depth discussion of the film, released in early April, turns out to be almost completely wrong, even though its thorough demolition alerted me to the insightful and penetrating critic Peter T. Chattaway, whose reviews and blog posts are well worth reading. Continue reading “Redeeming the Heart of Aronofsky’s Noah”

Editing and Eternal Life

Few scenes in the gamut of film history bring together the importance of scholarly editing and our intimations of eternal life as tightly or as movingly as the following scene from Wit, a play by Margaret Edson that was adapted for the small screen by the incomparable Mike Leigh.

Its main character, Vivian Bearing, is a professor of 17th-century British literature, specializing in the holy sonnets of John Donne. At the start of the play, she receives a diagnosis of advanced ovarian cancer and consents to an aggressive course of chemotherapy. The “full dose” of an experimental chemotherapy plays against the “uncompromising” scholarly rigor that Vivian applies to her study and teaching of Donne’s intricate puzzles. Both efforts are justified for making a “significant contribution to knowledge.”

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Piecing Together the Symbolic Fragments of “Mud”

The new film Mud, written and directed by Jeff Nichols, is without question a stand-out film for 2013, and it deserves all the critical praise that it has received to date. Most critics have focused on the film’s plot and characterization, both of which are superb, as well as powerful performances by Tye Sheridan (Ellis), Matthew McConaughey (Mud), Sam Shepard (Tom Blankenship), and Reese Witherspoon (Juniper). See, for starter’s, David Denby’s review at The New Yorker; the trailer can be viewed here.

The film is a classic coming-of-age story, but it also about life in rural Arkansas, broken families and their surrogates, and the frustrations and disappointments of romantic love.

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Getting Gatsby Wrong

The reviews are in, and it looks as if Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is something of a disappointment. As a friend at church this morning explained, it’s really a cartoon. The characters and their environs are animated and exaggerated well beyond the proportions of the book. Is this, a la Moulin Rouge, a fantasia on a theme of Fitzgerald’s?

My interest today is not really in the film. But I’ve been impressed with recent efforts to reengage with the book itself, to examine its place within American literature (an effort, I should add, that now seems rather quaint after being disparaged or simply neglected by the academy). NPR’s Studio 360, for instance, devoted an entire episode to the book in its “American Icons” series. It is well worth a listen.

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The Tree of Life

Screen shot 2013-05-15 at 8.54.08 PMThe naturalistic conventions of moviemaking are so second-nature to us that we often readily forget that they weren’t always so. Just watching a Jimmy Stewart picture from the 1950s will easily cure us of that notion. But even directors in our own day occasionally try to subvert those conventions to show us something bigger than those conventions will allow. Nowhere is this more apparent than in The Tree of Life, directed by Terrence Malick.

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