Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky calls his film “the least biblical, biblical movie ever made.” With that said, ‘Noah’ is a mixed blessing. In Hollywood, it’s common for directors to take artistic license with classical stories. It’s especially true with movies based on history. My opinion is that if you want the factual account of a story, read a book. Movies are an entirely different animal that use dramatic effect to fill seats at a movie theater. The actual story of Noah in the Bible is short on details and Aronofsky boldly fills in the gaps with conjecture. Christian groups have every right to admonish the film for its inaccuracies but they should also embrace this trend too. Hollywood sees a value in Christian audiences and as a result is making more faith-based movies.
No doubt about it, ‘Noah’ is a controversial film. In defense of Aronofsky, if you look back at his body of work in such films as ‘Requiem for a Dream,’ ‘Black Swan,’ and his debut film ‘Pi,’ he takes his characters to some really dark places. Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ played by Russell Crowe is a brooding, humorless figure. Before burning the director to the stake, let’s take a look at his version of the story. Noah is a vegan and environmentalist… no kidding. In the opening scenes, we see Noah and his family gathering berries and other plants for food. When his son wants to collect a flower, Noah admonishes him, “we collect only what we need.” This message is tested when Noah tries to save a mortally-wounded animal. He explains to his kids that some people eat meat for strength and then proceeds to beat up the meat-eating hunters looking for their prey. The vegan Noah proves he’s stronger than these barbaric meat-eaters.
The story includes a flashback to Adam and Eve and that unmistakable chomp of an apple and the hissing of a CGI serpent. According to the book of Genesis, Cain slays Abel. Aronofsky never desecrates the original story in the Bible. He simply, for better or worse, fills in the gaps for melodrama and suspense. Noah’s foe is Tubal-Cain, a real scumbag played by Ray Winstone. Tubal-Cain is rebelling against God because he believes he abandoned humankind. “No one’s heard from the Creator since he marked Cain,” he continues, “We are orphan children.” Throughout the script, God is always referred to as the Creator. Noah is plagued by visions of a flood in his dreams and is convinced that God instructs him to be the salvation of the animal kingdom and the destruction of mankind. When Noah visits his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) and after drinking a cup of doped up tea, he clearly sees what he must do. God gives Noah detailed instructions to make an ark in order to save himself, his family and the animals from the flood.
It’s the second half of ‘Noah’ that gets a bit problematic. Noah has three sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japeth (Leo Carroll). Here’s where the story deviates. Noah is convinced God’s message to him is to ensure wiping out the human race. To Ham’s consternation, Noah refuses to save a girl he wants to bring on the ark. Shem falls in love with Ila (Emma Watson) who is barren at first and then miraculously gives birth to twins. The youngest child Japeth is too young to marry so no worries there. When Noah gets word of the arrival of two unexpected granddaughters, this is where the story veers way off for dramatic effect. It actually works well and gives the actors the opportunity to show off their skills. In particular, Noah’s wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) is outstanding. She’s worked with Aronofsky on 2000’s ‘Requiem for a Dream’ and she gives her character depth. Watson as Ila is also equally delicious in the role of Noah’s stepdaughter even though this part of the story is fabricated.
Is ‘Noah’ a masterpiece? Not by a long shot but if you can overlook the flaws, it is entertaining. The fact remains that Aronofsky is a talented visual stylist. There are many aspects to his film to admire. Russell Crowe embodies the role of Noah. There are spectacular performances from the entire cast. The narrative is never boring although the film is a bit long, it’s engrossing. What about the CGI stone monsters known as the Watchers? Visual effects creator Ray Harryhausen would be proud. These creatures do most of the heavy lifting in building the ark. It gives the film an offbeat, prehistoric look to it.
Although Aronofsky’s visionary art film 'Noah' might not get the story exactly right, Christians should be happy that they have gotten Hollywood’s attention. Faith-based movies sell and by supporting them at movie theaters, the film industry will make more of them. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/_OSaJE2rqxU.