Back when this section of the blog used to be known as the Sunday Post-Apocalyptic film corner or something similar (It was a long time ago), there was one post apocalyptic film I had heard that existed, but couldn’t seem to find a copy of to watch, such was its rarity within the viewing of the general public.
The film in question was THE NOAH, a film that starred the last performance of 1960s movie actor Robert Strauss. It was made in 1968 in Puerto Rico, but was not shown until 1975. However it never received a general distribution and was not seen by the general public until years later, when it was first shown on New York cable TV. This prompted the movie site Film Threat to investigate the film and it’s director, causing its eventual release on DVD in 2006. Such was its position as one of the most obscure and rarely seen movies of all time, it has achieved uber-cult status among cine-files. And now YOU can see it in all it’s glory.
The plot of the film is fairly simple. Strauss stars as the Noah of the film’s title, and old soldier who appears to be the last remaining survivor of a nuclear holocaust. rowing up onto an island somewhere off the coast of China, he whiles away his time with daily chores and routines borne of his army discipline. But such is his loneliness, he ends up creating an imaginary friend called Friday. As the relationship deepens between him and Friday, an imaginary companion for Friday suddenly appears. As the film progressed more and more characters come into play until eventually Noah creates a whole society wholly within the confines of his own mind.
As with other post-apocalyptic movies, such as ‘The Quiet Earth, ‘On The Beach,” and ‘Z for Zachariah,’ the real horror of THE NOAH is not gangs of cannibal rednecks, or rampaging hordes of mutant zombies, but the prospect that comes from the fact that not only are you the last speck of humanity, but that you are almost certainly from the cause of the apocalypse. I mean, how would you actually begin to process that? Do you try to carry on with life as if nothing has happened, or would you just simply end it all and take your own life, as once you’re gone then that’s it, no more humanity. But THE NOAH looks to try to take this precis a few steps further than most films by showing the actual process of mental decay by dealing with a situation that you have no control over.
The bleakness of Noah’s predicament is portrayed in the film in any subtle ways. Shot in black and white, it gives the film an Ingmar Bergman starkness and sparsity to the world of Noah. The soundtrack is awash with the sounds of non human noise, the bristling of palm leaves, the bubble and roar of the ocean. Indeed his actual environment, with its blue oceans, palms trees and white sandy beaches, seem at odds with the purgatory that Noah has found himself in.
The camerawork is inventive in its portrayal of the inner world of Noah. As it moves from a 3rd person viewpoint of showing Noah working in his surroundings, it settles on a POV angle that gives flesh and a position to the voices becoming the second characters in the movie. Noah’s eyes follow the camera as it moves, as if it were an actual person. At times when the voices speak with each other, the camera actually moves its gaze away and ignores what Noah is actually doing and we too find ourselves ignoring Noah and concentrating on the rest of this world has to say.
One thing you certainly wouldn’t call this film is action packed. At nearly 2 hours, it moves at a sedate pace, where long scenes are taken up with the daily routines..But that’s the point. This is not an action film or tense thriller. It is a film of quiet contemplation what we are asked to ponder when watching the Noah is how gradual the whole process of his mental deterioration happens. for example, the period from when Noah starts talking to the camera till the first mutterings from Friday occur over several takes. In fact as time moves on you notice that Noah starts to sport a long beard noting the passage of time in which he creates the society within his head. Indeed when the climax of the film arrives, there are no histrionics, explosions or shouting, just the quiet acceptance by Noah of his fate. It’s actually a really sad ending to the film.
Of course a near two-hour film where nothing much happens could be a pain to watch, but fortunately we have a brilliant performance from Robert Strauss as Noah to fall on. An actor with roles in films such as ‘Attack!.’ and ‘Stalag 17,’ he never achieved starring role status in his lifetime, he chews us the scenery with relish, showing the wild moods swings of Noah. At times he is guff and stern, sometimes kind and attentive. Some moments, he exudes monomania accepting the adulation of his imaginary subjects, like and emperor. Other times we see his human failings, as he simmers with jealousy at the growing relationship between Friday and his girlfriend, that eventually erupts into impetuous fury. At the end of the film we see him descend into madness as his inability to control himself sees the fictitious society he has created start to fall apart. During a vicious thunderstorm, we see him firing a machine gun into the empty darkness, before crying into the abyss as he finally realises the horror of his predicament, “I don’t want to be alone.”
THE NOAH is a touching, poignant film that posits several questions about the nature of our existence when we become a universe of one. It does require patience, but rewards you with some fine acting and real intelligence and filmmaking craft.