NOTE: MILD SPOILERAGE IN PARAGRAPH 5, IF YOU WORRY ABOUT THAT.
Noah came out yesterday, and it is a notable break in the typical cinematic dry spell of spring. It is also one of the more controversial movies to come out for a while, with many people claiming that it is disrespectful, if not sacrilegious. I will say that while it certainly isn't the Noah movie you would have made yourself, it is not the flat out Roland Emmerich-style disaster flic or ground-up or cynical deconstruction you thought it might be, either.
The story is what is in the Bible: Noah (Russell Crowe) is told by the Creator (as God is called in the movie) to build an ark for his family and all the animals in advent of the destruction of the world. Non-believers led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) find out and aren't happy, and there is the ensuing drowning-related drama one would expect.
A chief point of controversy is that the film was co-written, co-produced, and directed by Darren Aronofsky, an atheist who makes (putting it mildly) pretty weird stuff. His approach here seems to be the same approach any of us might take when looking at Hercules or Gilgamesh: that of somebody else's foundational myth. He delves into extra-canonical legends and fabricates stuff to fill out the brief Biblical account. And, generally, his telling works, so long as you aren't expecting authoritative doctrinal exposition. I think the same rule applies here as it does to any adaptation: IT WILL BE DIFFERENT.
That said, it is no soulless action movie. There are certainly sequences of rain-soaked, Peter Jackson-esque heroics, but much more of the film is a study of faith versus reality. It somehow takes the complicated role of both criticizing faith and being in awe of it. The scenes detailing miracles or the creation are actually pretty awe-inspiring, and can probably fit within your own theological framework. On the other hand, it doesn't ignore the fact that Noah, because of his faith, will effectively kill lots of people by not letting them on the ark with him. It also takes into account the times when God seems silent and one is left alone to choose.
Actually, I think Mr Aronofsky is here criticizing religious fanaticism rather than faith generally. Every time faith is shown by a character it is an inspiring moment, even in its mythological terms. The rub comes when the line between obedience and zealotry becomes vague. The non-believers have their own bloodthirsty, cultish beliefs which, as juxtaposed with Noah's decisions, make his righteousness seem almost as barbaric. It is here that a subplot is introduced involving Noah's belief that there is to be no more mankind after his family's eventual death, that the Creator is purging all humanity and only needed Noah to save the animals. This leads him to want to kill his gestating grandchild, which is understandably disliked by his family. I suspect that this, more than anything else, is where most of the controversy actually stems. And, I'm not sure it really even fits in the story Mr Aronofsky is telling. It seems pretty forced, something to give us drama after the waters recede and all the baddies have drowned, and it kind of derails the last third of the movie. Make of it what you will.
Technically speaking, the film is pretty good. The color palette feels somehow pre-historic: it gives the impression that it takes place on an Earth we don't have access to anymore, something still freshly post-Eden. The script is often the weak element in any given scene: the ideas it contains and meditates on are cool, but the dialogue is rarely more than functional. One final note: there is a continuous shot of the creation of the world as told by Noah, following the formation of the universe through the the appearance of man that is super awesome. If you don't want to see the movie, check out the clip below.
Overall, I think much of the brew-ha-ha isn't entirely warranted. For all its departures, the film does tell the complete story of Noah. On the other hand, it is in the departures that contemporary concerns like environmentalism and religion are considered. So I say, check it out if you can separate it from Sunday school, but if you like your Noah the way you know him, it won't be a major loss.
Noah features Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone, and Anthony Hopkins, and is rated PG-13 for violent stuff.
Writers: Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel
Director: Darren Aronofsky
by Chase Harrison