From The Desk Of

Noah in the 21st century

How does a story from tenth century BC become so pertinent to our 21st century reality? The simple story of the world drowning in wickedness, which needs to be cleansed and rebooted as it were, so that it can start afresh and hope that the selfish, self-consumed human being will decide to follow the path of righteousness. I was amazed at how relevant this simple story can be to our modern reality. I wasn’t able to find a similar human to Noah, who would be tasked to save the world by building an arc. However, it didn’t take too much persuading to agree that the wickedness in the world needs some heavy duty cleaning. 

On the one side we have Noah, who has been chosen by creation to cleanse humanity’s sins and the other side we have Tubal-cain, the self-proclaimed king of humans, who believes in the right of human beings to subjugate all beasts, believing that the creator created humans in his image and thus meant to rule the world. These two men stand opposite to each other as the models of good and evil; very typical of most religious tales. Additionally Noah asks us our existential question pretty directly, what are we doing to this world and do we deserve to live on without any consequences? The obvious pitfalls with this story is the notion of a miniature world, where the earth (in its flat avatar) exists and nothing else. Where the creator created animals and plants and all that lives with the idea of a paradise, where all would be perfect and live in total harmony. While we may have more information of the ‘real’ world that we live in today, that the universe is indeed infinite and that the Earth is actually round, it doesn’t take away from the fact that we have done everything in our power to destroy the Earth (slowly extending our destruction to outer space) and we seem to be spiralling out of control with every passing decade/century.

While wickedness in Noah’s version of the world is greed, power, disrespect for human and other life, all of which caused the fall of man, It is extremely difficult to not see the conflict zones Syria, the Middle East, the Ukraine, Thailand, despotic rulers in Zimbabwe, Central Asia etc., basically begging for the fall of man. Simple answer: we really need an act of god! 

Visually the film is stunning, Aronofsky captures Iceland and its rawness masterfully on camera. The ark is grand and while the animals who made their way into the ark some few and far between, the film did create a visually engaging story. For someone not versed with Judaeo-Christian history and had some fleeting knowledge of the story of Noah, Aronofsky’s twist to the story was very interesting and extremely appropriate to make it relevant to our modernity. Had the film stuck to its original narrative and stayed true to its biblical version, I am not sure the film would have accomplished much. The mark of Aronofsky’s craft meant that Noah became a question that I asked myself. Both Russell Crowe as Noah and Jennifer Connelly as his wife Naameh play their parts perfectly, while Anthony Hopkins as Noah’s father Methuselah is simply brilliant. 

Outside the scope of the film, I don’t see Noah’s story as an answer to our ills. How many arks will we build, how many Noah’s will there need to be for us to just find some basic human commonality in all of us: our humanity? The embarrassing thing is that even a make believe, part religious, part fictional story from over thirty centuries ago makes me feel ashamed of the world we have created for ourselves. This goes to validate what Noah says in the film, 'Till the humans came, the world lived in complete harmony and it was paradise.' Sheer truth! 

Image source: collider.com 

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Mongol: the rise of Genghis Khan (dir: Sergey Bodrov) the landscape, the endless meadows with horses galloping on vast stretches of grasslands, the nomadic, pastoral living of peoples in 12th century Mongolia. The film traces the life of young Genghis Khan as he rose from a nobody, a slave, to become one of the greatest conquerors the world has ever seen. The film doesn’t seem grand in scale, however is visually stunning and gives you a sense of grandeur in every frame. Following Genghis Khan’s early years, when he moved from slavery to captivity and then back to slavery, before he finally broke free and gathered his own army, the film portrays Genghis as a quiet and melancholy warrior, deeply influenced by his father’s sense of right and wrong and the heart of the Mongol culture. Throughout his journey’s he attempts to emulate the life of his father in every way possible. Another gift that his father gave him was the choice of a good wife, someone who stood by him through all his disappearances and his subsequent campaigns across the Mongolian steppes to bring together hundreds of warring tribes that forms the modern nation of Mongolia (though Genghis’ victories spread far beyond the Mongol border). 

Tadanobu Asano plays the lead brilliantly and subtly, supported with quiet strength by Khulan Chullun, who plays the wife Borte to the great warrior. 

Asano is both strong on screen and compliments the Mongolian landscape with his stoic and firm presence. Not just is the film a visual treat, but its slow rendering narrative allows you to become part of this era that marked human history so remarkably.

Barring some history lessons on Mongolia, my unfamiliarity with the period and its events allowed me to enjoy the film greatly. A subtle, well made film, on a subject matter that is not as frequently spoken of. 

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When I encountered Tolstoy’s Confessions recently, I was made privy to the great writer’s disclosures on faith, his spiritual questioning and the existential conflict he suffered when he turned 50. A few days after I was done reading through his thoughts, I stumbled upon ‘The Last Station’, a film by Michael Hoffman made in 2009, which traces Tolstoy’s last years and  struggles with balancing his marital/worldly life and his spiritual inclinations. 

The Last Station is not just brilliant for Helen Mirren’s acting (playing Tolstoy’s materialistic troublemaker wife of 48 years, Countess Sofya) and Christopher Plummer as Lev Tolstoy, its also brilliant for looking at this world renowned author’s life at a very crucial juncture of his life. This man, who is known to be the greatest writer’s of all time, was at an interesting cross-roads during the latter part of his life. He was not only questioning the why’s and what’s of our human existence, he was also trying to lead by example by leaving behind the materialism of life for a more spiritual and humble existence. 

The film superbly crafts the life that Tolstoy and Sofya lived, as he had given up his novel writing and focussing all his energies to his Tolstonian beliefs and spiritual message. The pacifist that Tolstoy became in those years, was at the heart of all his teachings and sense of being. The film brings to us his thoughts, his eccentricities, his convictions and his conflict with his wife, who is not willing to part with all of his life’s work and jeopardize her family’s inheritance for Tolstoy’s new found pacifist generosity, which would leave everything behind to the Russian people.

Sofya is feisty, melodramatic, whiny, desperate at times and trying to persuade Tolstoy to not give away all of his work to the world for free. While Lev Tolstoy is taken by his beliefs and barring the responsibility he feels towards Sofya, wants to run away to a place of peace, where he can sit and work for the rest of his days. 

Helen Mirren brings something so unique to the role of Sofya, that being the only impediment to Tolstoy’s spiritual beliefs, she remains the symbol of social, religious and normative rules that Tolstoy is fighting against. Her desire to continue to benefit, indefinitely, from Tolstoy’s inherited and acquired wealth finds disappointment and sometimes disdain from the genius writer. The film is both an emotional depiction of the Tolstoy Sofya relationship and also the portrayal of how an artist oftentimes struggles to choose between their work and their worldly life. 

The Last Station is about the juncture where the world’s greatest writer faced the certainty of his end, but didn’t succumb to the pressures of his mortality and what comes with it. 

image source: fanpop.com

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I hand it to these two vampires to tell the ‘real’ world living in broad daylight of how we are constantly destroying our world, through conflict and lovelessness and selfish living.

The two vampires (played brilliantly by Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston) are not ordinary by any standards, as they have worked and influenced great writers, philosophers and musicians across hundreds of years, and have come to the conclusion that all of us humans are zombies and that the way things are going humanity is doomed.

Its hard to disagree!

Brilliant in all aspects of narrative, cinematography, music and acting, Only Lovers Left Alive is a must must see.

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