Not Quite the Bible
“Noah” is Darren Aronofsky’s “uneven but undeniably bold, personal, visually extravagant take on the Old Testament tale will surely polarize critics and audiences”. The story of Noah is one that is steeped in tradition and fantasy. The film respects the Biblical story but it also takes liberties with it by adding to the basic foundation found in the Hebrew Bible and creates both a world and a scenario that add to the basic tale and this causes the story of Noah and the flood to be a distinct tale that sets it apart from the narrative of the Book of Genesis—for a religious person the message of the original is here and for the non-religious, there is still a story to relate to.
Aronofsky who both directed and co-wrote the screenplay imagines the story as theater with beautiful tableaux and the backdrop of sky in bold colors. At first, everything is representational and then the scenes expand—the six creations are told to us orally and visually and then we move from darkness to the earth that is represented as a molten mass. The days are actually millions of years and we see the creatures enter the picture in time-lapse sequences. Humans appear in a golden glow in Eden, a paradise. We see Cain kill Abel and the soldiers killing each other throughout history. Noah (Russell Crow) tells us his vision from the Creator of an earth under water and then Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), his wife appears. We see them as ancestors, as shadows against a dark sky and science and religion, history and legend are blended as the lines between them are blurred. The story begins.
We see Noah as a young man standing alone; the last in the line of Adam and Eve; he is the son of Seth and he was witness to Cain’s tribe that was responsible for killing of his father. The conflict between the tribes continues and it is the descendants of Cain who believe that humankind should hold dominion over the Earth and its resources. The line of Seth believes they are stewards of creation. The progeny of Cain, fueled by a mineral that emits energy, has overtaken the globe in a collection of industrial cities.
As an adult, Noah is the father of three sons and his vision is to seek out his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) to discover the meaning of the world. The answer to the riddle of the submerged earth is a massive ark to hold two of each species of animal in the world, restarting the natural course of Earth while human being perish in a great flood. Here Aronofsky adds to the story with a group of fallen angels who are known as “Watchers” and it is their duty to come to earth and protect humanity after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
“They are giants composed of rock and mud, with four arms and faces contorted into a gnarled version of the tragedy mask—a visage of perpetual sadness for those with no place in the Creator’s universe. They may appear out of place, but there’s a biblical basis for these creatures. They answer the question of how Noah and his small family construct a gigantic ark and also serve as the family’s guardians”.
One of the problems in understanding the Noah story is if there is to be a watery apocalypse intended to wash away all of humanity, surely there would be other humans determined to survive. They arrive led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), the king of the great cities of Cain’s descendants, and want their place on the ark before the rains begin to fall and geysers of water erupt from the ground. Within the family, there are divides, primarily on the part Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman), who is jealous of his brother Shem’s (Douglas Booth) romance with Ila (Emma Watson) and resentful of his father’s apprehension in finding a wife for his middle son.
Aronofsky’s film is an ambitious, brave and visually stunning adaptation that offers a grandiose reinterpretation of Noah’s fabled salvation and the regular Bible reading. We know the story of Noah—God (or “The Creator” as he is referred to in the film) is angry at what his world has become and intends to wipe out all of humanity in order to start anew. His wrath is communicated to Noah who soon finds himself with the monumental task of not only building an ark so that he and his family can survive, but also gathering two of every animal so that the futures of entire species are assured.
Of course, the ark is built, the flood arrives and the dove flies in at the end with the olive branch in its mouth. The basic elements of the story are all here. It’s what Aronofsky does in between and around the core story, however, that gives Noah its unique and intriguing identity. I do not want to spoil the story for anyone so I am going to write anymore about the plot but it is important to remember that this is not a simple retelling of the Bible. It’s a dark, gritty and fantastical adaptation that pulls no punches and presents a portrait of Noah that we’ve never seen before. What Aronofsky gives us will probably offend Biblical purists but with that said, the film is fascinating in every aspect. “Instead of writing Noah as a righteous, honest and upstanding man, the director gives us a complex character study of an almost obsessive follower of God, a zealot, who finds himself at the crossroads between serving a higher power and doing what he thinks is right”. Crowe is excellent but the screenplay by Aronofsky and Ari Handel is what makes the character so interesting. Noah is a man driven by faith and his duty to God. Above all else, he wants to serve God, and he’s willing to do almost anything to complete His will. And when I say anything, I do mean anything. When things get dark, the film ventures into very questionable moral territory.
What makes Noah, the character, so interesting is the dichotomy between his actions and beliefs, and the constant struggle between blindly following his faith and doing what he believes is just. We ask these questions ––Is Noah simply carrying out God’s will? How can a mere mortal stand up to the Creator? Isn’t the very foundation of religion based around obeying what God says? Is it wrong if it’s what God commands? The film asks many tough about how far man can be driven by faith, and as a commentary on religious fanaticism; “Noah” is an extremely interesting piece of work. It leaves the viewer with so much to think about that we will have it in our minds for days after seeing it.
Aronofsky’s film comes to us in five clear and distinct acts and each has its own special tone and feel. The special effects of the flood are spectacular (as we all thought that they would be). There is a battle sequence that is amazing and the acting is superior throughout the film. Soon after the battle, “Noah” becomes a whole other film entirely. “On the ark, it steps down in scale to examine morality, faith, religious fanaticism, family dynamics and pressure so great that it can sever life-long bonds between loved ones”. Because of excellent direction, the transition is smooth and natural.
The film is more than just a film— it is a powerful but complicated experience that’s deeply fascinating in the way it subverts expectations. “It will crash over you like the flood itself, knocking you back, allowing you to take in awe-inspiring visuals but also forcing you to contemplate complex questions. As an absorbing character study and an action epic all at once, it is wonderful.
The arrival of the animals, which appear to self-organize by phylum, is a similarly marvelous sight. This followed by the storm that is amazing in its beauty and it will difficult to forget “the image of humanity’s last dregs clambering for a foothold on a lone rocky outcropping as it, too, is finally swallowed by the sea”.
After the tide has ebbed and a new day has dawned, the film finds its purpose— Noah, the man is an exhausted hero who can’t understand why, if all mankind was meant to perish, he and his family should be saved. Noah has no one to ask. Russell Crowe lets us feel his torment and then the film leaves us with the image of a man who feels adrift when he is finally standing on dry land — and all of us immediately relate to what we see on the screen.