When the opening credits rolled for Noah, a woman in attendance with me yelled “praise the Lord!”, which was then inexplicably followed by cheers from the crowd. It was obvious that a church group of some sort was in the theatre with me, made up of people likely unaware of the abstract moral complexity that is typically a characteristic of a Darren Aronofsky film. I suppose the presence of Godly folk should be expected whenever one sees a movie based on a Bible story. Luckily for this congregation, they picked a relatively safe Aronofsky film to see, one that shies away from philosophizing about the backwards ethics at the heart of this Biblical end-of-the-world myth.
Aronofsky succeeds in telling the story of the Great Flood in a way which exposes its glorious absurdity. But he ultimately pulls his punches, seemingly out of fear of offending the Christian masses who will lead Noah to box office success. Inevitably, some of the faithful are going to be offended by what they see here regardless, but if the theatre I was in is any indication of how the public will react, many of the God-fearing are going to feel vindicated by this holy adaptation.
This is the story of Noah’s Ark on the silver screen as you’ve never seen it before. Yet, all artistic liberties aside, it’s still a relatively faithful re-telling. Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel reveal themselves to be scholars, borrowing from various sources of Judeo-Christian mythology and combining them into a single updated re-imagining.
At its core, Noah is a traditional fantasy film, featuring heroes, villains, epic battles, and even rock monsters, all of which are given an appropriate theological explanation. Turning Christian myths into film epics works very well, requiring the same suspension of disbelief one would need in order to enjoy a movie about the gods from Ancient Greece. Watching droves of animals walk to the Ark and take a magical nap worked for me, because the events on screen were being presented as complete fiction.
However, there are those who take this story literally, aren’t there? I was reminded of that fact even while watching the film, largely because Noah seemed to constantly apologize for itself, especially in its ridiculous final moments. Aronofsky shows the brutality of not only man, but God in a way which commands an enraged reaction. I watched as a band of evil men tortured and brutalized animals, women, and children, all of whom cried and screamed for mercy from a God who abandoned them. As the Ark began to float on the water, the last pleas for help haunted me to great effect; I hated this evil deity for what he was doing to all the innocent people of this world, and I think Aronofsky wanted me to feel that way.
Yet, the movie repents for its judgment, and inevitably leaves this horrific destruction unexamined in the end. To me, that’s the biggest sin of all, since it means I have no choice but to have unresolved issues with Noah as a whole.
On a technical level, the film is a monumental achievement, with special effects that mix stop-motion charm with modern CGI to positive result. Some of the most beautiful scenes you’ll see in 2014 are found right here. One sequence that reveals the story of creation left me in a state of awe. In a moment of animated bliss, I watched as life spawned from nothing and evolved into modern man – it was brilliant to behold.
Noah is full of beautiful, memorable moments like these, but sadly they are surrounded by stretches of the boring and the bland. The end result is a film that sometimes looks as disjointed as its thematic narrative feels. I’m very glad I saw Noah, but it’s hard for me to get a grasp of what exactly I took away from it.
It’s clear that Aronofsky is a true artist of immense talent, but I can’t help feeling like he made a movie that is as emotionally uneven as the genocidal Old Testament God. Noah is brave enough to question the Lord, but then it seems content with whipping itself for its insolence. By doing so, the film undermines its chance to make a unique statement about the fictional nature of Biblical myths. I’d be curious to know what influence the movie studio had here, because I often felt like I was watching something with two voices – and regrettably, one of those voices seemed concerned solely with selling tickets to those who walk with Christ.[amazon template=iframe image&chan=default&asin=1783292563,B00J2CAQQU,B00IPGGEVU]