Noah

Year of Release: 2014.  Directed by Darren Aronofsky.   Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman, Emma Watson, Anthony Hopkins, and Ray Winstone.

There is not much I can add to the excellent pieces that Steven D. Greydanus and Peter T. Chattaway have written about this film. But since there seems to be much misinformation circulating about Noah, I figured I would put my review out there.  You never know where a Google search might land someone.

As a warning: I tried my best to avoid spoilers, but I do vaguely hint at a couple important plot points.

Darren Aronofsky makes dark brooding films about morally compromised characters that are not everyone’s cup of tea. Noah is most emphatically a Darren Aronofsky movie, and I would not hold disliking it against anyone.

However, I thought it was grand and poetic, visually stunning, and it preserved the essence of the Bible story while introducing new twists, a couple which stretch its fidelity as a Biblical adaptation and a couple which strengthen that fidelity. Regardless of how one feels about the changes, it is clear that Aronofsky has a deep affinity for the story of Noah and wishes to tell it in a serious and thoughtful manner, and his film deserves an equally thoughtful response.

Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel have said that they wanted to portray Noah (Russell Crowe) as a character initially obsessed with detached, cold-hearted justice who gradually comes to understand the will of the Creator involves justice with mercy and love. While Noah’s transformation is believable, especially the plot elements that serve as catalysts for his transformation, Noah’s change of heart does occur a little too quickly.

What might concern more pious Christians is Noah’s severe misunderstanding of the Creator’s will, which preoccupies his notion of justice. That misunderstanding relates to another Bible story, albeit one that would not occur until hundreds of years later. That second Bible story also reveals more knowledge about God, knowledge that Noah in no way could have had privilege to. Along with his misunderstanding of his calling, Noah also omits a crucial detail of the creation narrative, which makes dramatic sense given his limited understanding of the Creator as well as his state of mind at the time; however, Noah’s transformation would have been even stronger had that omission been corrected. Noah’s dark preoccupation works for me, mostly because it plays very well into the film’s main theme of justice and mercy, epitomizing the dangers of cold-hearted, emotionless justice and showing why mercy must be mingled with justice for true righteousness.

To those saying the film defends Noah’s horrific idea: the end of the film clearly shows that God never desired such an act; He withholds His blessing until Noah understands the first mandate that God gave to Adam and Eve: be fruitful and multiply. That mandate is strongly affirmed by both the film’s ending and the miracle pregnancy of Shem’s (Douglas Booth) sterile wife Ila (Emma Watson).

Another change that could upset more pious viewers is an additional presence on board the ark, which is not outside the realm of possibilities given the little information that scripture provides, but it is a significant re-imagining of the traditional Noah story. Although the change should have made for good drama – the conflict between Noah and the additional character would have been cut short had that character died in the deluge – the film does not use the character other than to aggravate Ham’s (Logan Lerman) inner conflict, which is a good idea, but the execution could have been slightly less predictable. However, I don’t think the change is extra-Biblical enough to be of that much concern, and it provides a reasonable setup for an event often glossed over in other retellings of the Genesis narrative.

Much has been made of the angels who came to earth after the Fall to help mankind learn how to live. The Watchers (or Rock People, as some of the more disappointed critics have referred to them) are definitely reminiscent of the Ents from Jackson’s Lord of the Rings, and the scene of them defending the ark from the wicked descendents of Cain reminded me of the storming of Isengard. Aronofsky’s sweeping camera movements during that battle, notably the 360 degree pans, allow the stunning visual effects to be fully appreciated, and the action is thrillingly choreographed, especially the incorporation of the rain and geysers into the fight. To be honest, the last time I saw a fantasy action sequence that thrillingly staged was when I first saw Return of the King in theatres as a teenager, or possibly when I watched a CGI Andy Serkis battle three T-Rexes.

There are multiple interpretations of the Nephilim (Watchers) in Genesis 6; in Noah they fall from Heaven and become one with the earth, which the film very literally depicts. The story arc for the Watchers also concerns justice and mercy, and like Noah, the Watchers struggle to follow the Creator’s will. Unlike Noah, who is confused about what he is supposed to do, the Watchers disobeyed a clear command. However, through that disobedience the Creator brought good: the Watchers were able to help Noah build the ark and fulfill their initial purpose. And after their lengthy penance, the film reveals a merciful God who still offers them a chance for redemption, which also involves a display of colored lights.

I loved the quick cuts to the garden of Eden; they created a dreamlike recollection of a lost world that functions as it was intended. Traces of that world saturate the first half of the film before the flood.  Clint Mansell’s score is, although it is a bit heavy-handed in places, is appropriately solemn, and it has some very nice flourishes; I really liked the opening sections which had some similarities with The Rite of Spring.

Finally, I loved the chronological shifting of the rainbow. I don’t care that it changes the time of the rainbow’s appearance from the Biblical narrative. The new location that Aronofsky gave it perfectly underscores the themes the film explores, and it brilliantly reinforces the Creator’s love for mankind.

 

Content Advisory: Some mildly questionable theology which might offend some, intense disaster and battle violence, implied depiction of atrocities, fleeting suggestive content, and brief rear nudity.         MPAA rating: PG-13

Suggested Audience: Teens and up with discernment.

Personal Recommendation: A-

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  1. 2014 Top Ten | Catholic Cinephile

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