The Noah (1975)

“The Noah” (1975) is like a less exciting cross between “Cast Away” and the Old Testament of the Bible (yes, even less exciting than that). It was shot in 1968, but wasn’t screened until ’75 (the year Robert Strauss died…possibly while attempting to screen the film), and wasn’t  released on video until the DVD came out in 2006! Strauss isn’t terrible, and for being the only character ever on screen, he comes off very naturally, and his character is pretty believable under the circumstances of the film. That said, he’s no Tom Hanks, and believable doesn’t automatically mean entertaining. The film is very slow, and very labored under the weight of its metaphor.  It feels like something you’d have been forced to write a report over in a high school English class – Mrs. Dotson, if you want to grade the following critical essay, please feel free to do so in the comments section below.

The aforementioned circumstances are once again nuclear, but this time the world seems to be in relatively good condition (at least the small portion of it that we get to see). According to Noah, you could survive the bombs, but it was the radiation that would do you in – this explains the relatively intact yet completely deserted Chinese (possibly North Vietnamese… I’ll get to this later) military base that acts as the film’s setting from beginning to end (one actor and one setting – hold onto your butts!). Noah washes ashore in a survival raft wearing a US Army uniform with a 1st Cavalry Division patch, and quickly checks and clears the seaside settlement. His uniform, and the fact that he’s wielding an M-14, lead me to believe that this he is a veteran of the Korean War. The 1st Cavalry Division remained in Korea until 1965, and the film was shot in 1968, so this all fits. Noah never specifies how long it’s been since the apocalypse, but he’s clearly not a young man. He says he’s currently due to retire after a 30 year stint in the military, and if he joined around 18, that would make him around 50 – Strauss was 55 at the time the film was shot, so that fits as well. It would also make him a likely veteran of WWII, which explains the joke he makes about Germans while showering with Friday (it’s not gay if he’s imaginary). Why do you need to know any of this? You don’t… but I like figuring it out, so deal with it.

The settlement is covered in Communist symbols, pictures of Marx, and a small army of plaster busts of Mao, so my first guess for the setting was southern coastal China. This would fit if Noah took the survival raft southwest from Korea and ended up washing ashore in China. He also could’ve easily gone a bit further southwest and landed in North Vietnam (even geography is more exciting than this movie), which would’ve also been covered in Communist symbols. I say this because the flag he hoists could either be a U.S. Army Brigadier General’s flag, or a North Vietnamese flag (adopted in 1955) that he simply found at the settlement (the two flags are almost identical). I can’t see a soldier fresh off of a war with Communists raising their flag, but perhaps to Noah, routine has become more important than politics? Because the film is in black and white, I can’t be sure, but I’d put money on the fact that it’s a general’s flag belonging to the general that initially survived the apocalypse with Noah. He states that his eventual destination is the United States, where he intends to collect his army pension and live out his days on a beach in Florida.

Having nothing else, Noah lives by an extremely stringent routine involving grooming, exercise, and taking inventory of every item in the settlement (Tiki huts, check. Busts of Mao, check).  Eventually, Noah gets lonely and creates an imaginary friend he aptly names “Friday”.  Friday, like every other character in the film aside from Noah, never actually appears onscreen, but exists as a disembodied Caribbean-accented voice whose body only Noah can see.  Noah explains that he survived by hiding in a shelter with other soldiers, including a general (the possible origin of his one-star flag), but that they all died when they emerged from the shelter and were killed by a passing radiation cloud.  Thus, he explains, he is now the top ranking soldier in the entire U.S. Army… however, this is not the most prestigious position Noah will occupy in the film.

Friday is initially very one-dimensional, parroting everything Noah says, and admiring his every word and action.  As time passes, Friday’s personality develops to the point that he also expresses his desire for something more than his own latrine – namely, a companion.  Noah imagines him a woman (Friday-Anne), who quickly turns against Noah and urges Friday to strike out on his own.  Noah gets pissed, and kicks them both out of the settlement, ala Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden.

Noah, still lonely, decides to start from scratch and creates an imaginary young boy to raise as his own.  He eventually creates an entire classroom of children to collectively stroke his ego, and teaches them everything he deems important:  math, economics, and the use of condoms to avoid V.D.  The children age rapidly, and eventually graduate, and Noah sends them off into a junkyard to start their own society.  The society is the most creative thing in the film, and possibly the only part I thoroughly enjoyed.  The camera shows various decaying vehicles and machines in the junkyard while we hear stock sounds of people speaking in various languages and engaged in various everyday activities.

When Noah goes to visit their budding society, he finds that in addition to swooning women and baseball, it has also spawned crime, poverty, and war.  In an attempt to bring them back to his ideals, he writes a few familiar commandments for them, including “No sleeping with the Colonel’s wife.”  It works for a time, but war eventually engulfs his society.  Disillusioned with his failed creation and overwhelmed with his position as God, he succumbs to a war flashback and destroys his imaginary society.  The movie ends where it began – Noah sitting alone, the only survivor of an apocalypse.  At least he gets to live out his days on the beach.

“The Noah” is a very ambitious and creative film that explores man’s, and possibly God’s, necessity for companionship, and really could’ve been a character study of God himself and his role in the Old Testament.  Noah’s identity as a soldier and the post apocalyptic setting are completely superfluous to the story, and the same effect could’ve been achieved with any “man-on-deserted-island” framework.  It’s heavy, slow, and has absolutely nothing to do with the post apocalyptic genre save for using a nuclear holocaust as an explanation for Noah’s solitude.  As a film, it’s not bad, but it’s certainly not very entertaining.  Don’t watch it in one sitting, and don’t watch it alone… even if that means you have to create an imaginary friend to endure it with you.


Perfect Culinary Accompaniment: White rice!… no, that’s all. Just white rice. Sorry?

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