- Movie Rating -

Noah (2014)

| March 28, 2014 | 0 Comments

There are a lot of things to admire about Darren Aronofsky’s Noah , most refreshing is the fact that, for once, a biblical epic is being helmed by a competent director.  After the recent short shrift given to Jesus in Son of God and the torpid Christian pep-rally of God’s Not Dead, it is nice to finally come to a Hollywood biblical epic that’s infused with a great director’s steady hand.  Although it is easy to lose confidence amid the multi-million dollar special effects, what Aronofsky brings to the story of Noah is a refreshing sense that we’re dealing with human beings at a critical moment in our humanity – when the world became so wicked that God simply decided to wiped the slate clean and start all over again.  He never loses sight of the fact that The Bible is, and always has been, a book about the soul of humanity.

That being said, let’s speak for a moment about the controversy.  Some have suggested that Aronofsky is in error for extending Noah’s story to include elements that weren’t part of the biblical text.  Yet, if you go back to the scripture, you’ll note that Noah’s story only occupied a tiny space in Genesis.  Noah’s story is – in terms of epic storytelling – pretty thin soup.  If Aronofsky had chosen to stick with the source, he might have ended up with a short subject.  Is he in wrong for padding it?  I say no.  An artist has the freedom of dramatic license, even when it comes to The Bible.  In his defense, he’s drawing inspiration from other sources including The Hebrew Bible, from other religions, mythologies and pre-Christian traditions.  Yet, the film’s heart remains with the story that we heard as children in Sunday School.  It’s here, even if you have to get past walking rock-monsters to see it.

Even with his expansion, Aronofsky has created a worthwhile piece of filmmaking that is more than just digital imagery.  His great achievement, I think, comes in the landscapes that he creates.  Thanks to some helpful opening narration, we understand clearly where the world stands in relation to the biblical text.  The story stands firmly upon the ground of Adam and Eve’s expulsion from paradise, and the wickedness of the world is directly inherited from Cain’s murder of his brother Able.  The landscapes of the world look dry and dead, as man has lost his heart and become a foul, greedy and cruel creature more apt to burn the world down then the build it up.

It isn’t just the landscape, but the little touches.  Aronofsky gives us pieces of information, the best shows us how Noah managed to keep so many animals aboard the ark (he put them into hibernation).  Another is a brilliant he uses digital animation to show us a time-lapse of the formation of the universe.  And later, as Noah tells his children the story of the legend of Cain and Able, we see a silhouette of men throughout history, in various military uniforms, killing one another in the past, the present and the future.  It’s dazzling and brilliantly effective.

As the story opens, we meet Noah (Russell Crowe in his best performance in years), a good-hearted family man who teaches his sons Shem, Ham and Japheth to respect God’s creation.  This is God’s creation, he tells them, never forget that.  He is also very aware of the dangers around him, and he begins to have visions that lead him to believe that God is about the wash the wicked from the world by means of a great flood.  God does not appear in this film either as a booming voice or by a twinkly-eyed actor – no George Burns or Morgan Freeman here.  God remains omniscient and distant but his presence is felt.  That’s smart because it leaves us to believe that Noah’s faith in God is just that – faith.  He believes that the visions he sees in dreams are portents of things to come, of scary visions of people dying in a great flood.  Build an ark, he draws from this and you’ll be spared.

Therein lies the most curious (some would say laughable) addition to this story, a race of molten rock people called The Watchers, fallen angels who were punished by God for aiding man after the expulsion from Eden.  They walk the earth as hideous, spidery golems with sad faces and gravel voices (no pun intended).  After some tense negotiations Noah curries their favor and they agree to help his build his ark.

The opposing forces in the world, we learn, are men who have turned tribal.  They are led by a particularly nasty snort named Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), a descendant of the original Cain who – if I understood this correctly – wants to rule the world.  He becomes the opposing force to Noah.  Actually, having seen the entire scope of the film, Tubal-Cain’s role in the story is more or less superfluous.  Winstone’s role here is really no more important than the one he played in the last Indiana Jones movie.  Take him out of the story and you lose nothing.

The real meat of the story takes after the family embarks on the 40 day journey.  The waters rise, the wicked are smighted (smoted?  smitten?).  Anyway, killed.  The scenes of the family forced to listen to the wicked dying outside is scary, especially in Noah’s indifference.  Once inside the Ark, a problem arises with their adopted daughter, a young woman named Ila (Emma Watson), presents Noah with information that he feels is in direct contradiction with God’s plan.  Noah makes a controversial choice that even his otherwise supportive wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) cannot believe.

I’ve left information about this part of the story vague for a reason.  This story is really the heart of the film, for me.  It thrusts upon Noah a moral and ethical decision that will not only twist his own soul but – he believes – with affect the fate of all mankind.  The less said about this, the better.

Darren Aronofsky has always been a filmmaker who expertly bends the supernatural into the natural.  He did this to great effect in The Fountain, Black Swan, and Pi.  His films are always about more than just the surface.  Here, he’s trying with all his might to create a film that speaks to the origins of the downfall of man, of the corruption of man’s free will.  It may not be a perfect film but he has something to say about humanity through this story that man’s free will often conflicts with the fundamentalist who are dead-set on keeping things inside the word of God.  By the end, Noah is a man of deep contradiction, who has done God’s bidding, but has made a moral choice that he thinks man will have to do penance for.  Yes, there’s a rainbow, but there’s also a dark cloud just behind it.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.