Noah has been the subject of controversy ever since it became a project. Taking a well known biblical story and putting into the highly artistic and disturbing hands of director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) will do that. Christian and Jewish audiences are terrified that it is an irreverent twisted fairy tale the pushes an agenda. Secular audiences are terrified that Aronofsky has been forced to water down his vision to appease the studio and religious audiences and that it will be a big budget generic Bible story. The final product is going to fail to appease the majority of both groups.
From the beginning, it is obvious that this will not be the Noah (Russel Crowe) that most people picture. Instead of the white haired saint who preserves his family, and perhaps even tries to save the rest of humanity, while majestically standing in a Titanic pose between two giraffes, we get a man on the run, hiding from ruinous humanity, trying to scrounge a life on a decimated Earth. Apparently the only man left who remembers the charge of The Creator (“God” is never actually mentioned in the entire 139 minutes) to be a caretaker of the Earth, he watches as civilization kills off the planet in an industrialized world far beyond the typical pre-flood picture. Defending his family against marauders of the land, he is anything but passive – a righteous warrior.
When a vision of watery death comes to him, Noah is need of advice. He journeys to his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) who apparently posses some magical properties that are never quite explained. Perhaps he represents the last human to have a close spiritual relationship with God, or perhaps Aronofsky liked the idea of a mystical old man on a mountain. He is not afraid to embrace the mystical elements of the story, incorporating miracles and a wildly different interpretation of fallen angels “The Watchers,” into his version of events. Think Rockbiter from The Neverending Story. The whole thing plays out more like The Lord of the Rings then The Greatest Story ever Told or even The Ten Commandments.
The much discussed environmental aspect of the film is quite obvious as the wickedness of man is shown most often by example of how he has destroyed creation rather than sins against one another. Plenty of people are killed and raped, those acts just seem secondary to the destruction and disrespect of creation. It’s an aspect that will surely make some believers uncomfortable as environmental tendencies tend to be associated with a more liberal bend. Personally I always pictured a nihilistic, passive, and hedonistic society as the evil that was to be wiped from the Earth. Instead, we are presented a society that could easily be confused with Saruman’s dirty Orc empire. It is definitely an interesting take. Taking what we know of human nature, much is extrapolated about the evils of the world, Noah’s internal and external struggles, and just what it was like to bear the burden of giving the Earth a fresh start.
Despite the embellishments, the story unfolds in a manner that, for the most part, reflects the Biblical account. Noah comes to understand that he and his family – Jennifer Connelly as his wife, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, and Leo McHugh Carrol as his sons, along with his adopted daughter/Shem’s (Booth) wife, Emma Watson – have been chosen to survive the coming flood that will wipe out humanity, tasked with preserving life. A massive ark is built, animals are stowed, and angry townspeople are faced as they first mock the efforts and then decide to take Noah’s resources for themselves. Noah’s faith is tested multiple times and he remains convinced of what must be done. And then the flood comes, which is where things start to veer off course.
Up until this point, Aronofsky does an incredible job of blending Biblical accounts with realistic portrayals, applying logic in order to give us a version of events that feels both miraculous and believable. The scene where the materials for the Ark is provided, along with the arrival of the animals, is simply beautiful. And then, as the flood waters rise, the need for logic drops as Aronofsky carries his themes too far, into the realm of absurdity and even story telling cliche, though not in the typical Biblical sense. Surprisingly enough, to delve deeper into what this means would be to go into spoiler territory, which should give you an idea of how far thing stray from the source material of one of the best known stories from the Bible.
I went into this film expecting the more mystical elements to be what threw me off, but it was ultimately Aronofsky’s push to drive home a point, and the needlessly tortured aspect of Noah that felt out of place – both from the perspective of staying true to the Bible, and in staying true to the film’s character and logic. It became jarring and contrived, souring an otherwise insightful film. Most of the changes feel right, in the context of the story being told, and the film looks great, despite some slightly sketchy digital effects at times. But it’s a simple thing like not resolving Noah’s daughters in law situation for the sake of creating tension, and allowing for Noah to become obsessed with the idea that all humanity – including his family – is not worthy to inhabit the Earth that just doesn’t work. Once again, it is difficult to discuss further without spoilers.
This film is certainly going to be no less polarizing now that it is out than when it was just speculation and hearsay. I look at it as an insightful work of art molded from truth. Like any work of art, it has beauty to it, and meaning. It is not a photograph, but an interpretive painting that can serve to inspire and drive thought, perhaps provoking a perspective not thought about before. Not being held to a strictly dictated depiction, Aronofsky’s brush strokes are wildly interesting at times. Despite deviations from the Biblical story of Noah, I would be very hesitant to label it sacrilegious, though I am sure there are plenty who would find reason to disagree with me, and their points may very well be valid. Is that a reason not to see this film? I don’t think so. There is still value to be gleaned here. Despite the stark turn it takes there is a positive message of grace and one thing is for sure, you will never think about Noah in the same way again.
Mrs. Hamster says:
“I liked the direction it was going until they got on the Ark.”
My rating: Four out of five hats
Noah floods into 3,567 theaters, including IMAX, March 28