What a lot of twitter, mutter and blog there’s been about “Noah”. After all, it’s a long way from the fifteenth century Chester Mystery Cycle of plays and even further from the Britten opera in which I was once cast, improbably, as the Voice of God. Church leaders have been sounding off about extra-biblical Nephilim, flawed angelology and Big Bang pastiches about Creation. People taking liberties with the historical Tubal-Cain, mangy, lizard-eating stowaway as he is portrayed – Ray Winstone’s South London gangster accent and all – and all kinds of incestuously lascivious unspoken backstories about Noah’s sons’ wives – or lack of them.
The Ark looks like a gigantic floating wardrobe, as improbably buoyant as this Seine river boat, into which the pachyderms and reptiles lumber, swarm and slither in their multitudes, settling into their prearranged spaces as if by orchestral direction, obediently sleeping, anesthetized with a smoke-wreathed censer, as birds swirl satisfyingly inwards.
Aronofsky’s Noah seems to have become disturbed, apparently by the depravity of the rest of his species, so much so that he obsesses on the idea that humanity should not survive. This isn’t the first time he’s gotten away with stellar portrayals of tortured souls – ‘The Wrestler’ (2010) almost brought Mickey Rourke back from the dead. In this new incarnation, Noah believes that the Creator must be using his family just to save the animal kingdom and then mankind will simply fade into extinction – a rather second-rate Day Six attempt at the best of the best. If his son’s wife has a baby girl, Noah announces that he will take that life to prevent the human race from continuing. Later, with Noah’s knife raised over twin daughters, suddenly the myths get busted and there are two of them, Noah and Abraham, conflicted and close to losing reason. No wonder he turned to drink.
It’s fictional. It’s a movie. References to Gnostic thinking, whispers of Kabbala notwithstanding, it’s just Hollywood and it will no more bring people closer to God than the next incarnation of X-men. The Icelandic landscapes are satisfyingly primitive and the special effects remarkable. We briefly wonder where all the wood is going to come from in a barren volcanic wasteland until the miraculous growth of a forest, the “fountains of the great deep” explosively funnel water upwards as the deluge pours down, but the best
characterization is a wily old Anthony Hopkins, suitably wizened by great age, as Noah’s grandfather Methuselah, with magical powers, a fondness for berries and a nice touch in fertility. Six (or maybe even seven) out of ten.
|Illustration from ‘The Man Who Gave Too Much’
Even or perhaps especially in churches, there are rituals. They have no material significance, mostly, except for the fact that we all dutifully follow them. One such is the insistence of my local chaplaincy to use the word “trespasses” instead of “sins” in the Lord’s Prayer.
When I was a child, trespassing meant hopping over the gate on to Farmer So-and-So’s land and shooting his birds and was vastly different to sins. You went to hell for those. Or so my imagination told me.
Childhood. What marvellous, fertile ground in which thorns, briars and good seed have an equal chance of successful germination. A friend whom I have never met, but I know, has written a book, one of several as it happens but this one is for children. She is an Oxford English graduate – not one of those whose faces have been screwed and desiccated by criticism of others – instead her use of words is honest, wide-eyed and lyrical, sometimes breathtakingly so. Which is why I say I know her, meaning I respond to her writing with delight as one curious human being to another, almost as a child might.
Which is fortunate, since Anita Mathias‘ new book “Francesco, Artist of Florence” or ‘The Man Who Gave Too Much’ is a small, poignant testament to goodness. It is “good seed”. It takes good people to create other good people and Francesco the Florentine, always selling his beautifully inlaid work at ridiculously low prices, is a good, good man. He has no head for business, he justifies his knockdown prices by all kinds of emotional acrobatics, and worries that his wife will scold him for not making enough money. This little book is about forgiveness, not least in learning how to forgive ourselves. For this reason, children of a certain age, full of misdemeanor and transgression, unless their fundamental goodness is established early and they learn that “forgiveness of trespasses” carries with it a completeness and totality that extends even to their own follies and mistakes, often fail later to practise the delicate but necessary art of forgiving themselves.
This book is a small, beautifully illustrated tool in the hands of an artful, imaginative parent. It should be read aloud to children, talked about, prayed with.
Anita is a master of awe and wonder. The illustrations perfectly complement a little story with the same captivating prose as “The Little Prince” and will be the kind of book that will remain on a child’s shelf, like a favorite stuffed toy, and when they are grown , they will read it again to a new, wide-eyed and curious little person.