Is It Cool?: Excellence in Filmmaking
Noah, the latest from writer/director Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Fountain) is a creative interpretation of the story of Noah found in the book of Genesis. It also borrows a bit from Jewish writings in the Talmud as well as the book of Enoch to deliver a story that is arguably faith(s)-based.
Walking in to the theater, I felt the two biggest hurdles that this production had to overcome would be the sweeping familiarity that the audience has with the original story and the epic scope of visual effects required.
The first hurdle, in my opinion, was missed entirely. Even many people who have never been part of the Christian or Jewish faiths know the story of Noah’s Ark. Therefore, the challenge was finding the right balance to not offend and alienate the Christian and Jewish audiences while also being relevant to a secular audience. The story was so bafflingly melodramatic and overdone that I honestly can’t decide whether it was intentionally offensive or not. Noah (Russell Crowe) is some sort of angry ninja-expert vegetarian (yes, really) who sees visions in dreams, and even once when using hallucinogenic drugs, that lead him to build the ark.
Despite the very emphatic opening scene where we listen to Noah explain how we must treat nature gently and then see him help a wounded dog, Noah callously leaves a young girl to be trampled to death and even comes perilously close to murdering his own baby granddaughters. Inconsistent, much? He is very literal and serious about what he believes the Creator is ordering him to do, but it’s to the unhealthy point of rabid scrupulosity. We are not watching a man who has a strong relationship with God when we watch this film.
I don’t want to give away too much in the way of spoilers, but there are several scenes in the movie that made me thoroughly dislike Noah. He is appalling in his treatment of Ham, for example, and again (because this cannot be overstated) he threatens violent infanticide with a knife and very nearly carries it out. Ironically, the movie is very preachy, just not about God. Speaking of which, the name of God is not used a single time in this movie. It is instead substituted with the word Creator. I found that to be interesting and wanted to note it here for you.
Another extremely awkward plot issue is Aronofsky’s take on “The Watchers.” In my continued effort to avoid too many spoilers, I will simply say this: God — er, sorry… The Creator — apparently punished some angels for helping humans and turned them into high tech Claymation rock monster spider things.
To further muddle the story, Noah’s family dynamic is by turns flat and awkward which is certainly unexpected given the talents of both Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson. Russell Crowe acts his part powerfully, it is just not a very likeable or relatable part. The only characters with whom I truly empathized were Ila (Emma Watson) who has the most powerfully acted scene in the film and Ham, because his father was horrible to him. I will not delve further into the Biblical inconsistencies because the longer the movie played, the more it seemed to me that Aronofsky’s Noah is so loosely tied to the Bible story of the same name that it all but fell off. Overall, the movie is about 45 minutes too long and you feel every single second of those minutes as you watch the film.
Noah does, however, clear the second hurdle of epic visual effects with all of the grace we have come to expect from the masters at Industrial Light & Magic. There are some truly gorgeous effects and even when the visuals are disturbing and dark, they are still expertly rendered.
What’s it Saying?: Message of the Movie
I think that if Aronofsky and the studio had called the movie something other than Noah, changed the ark to some other large ship, and renamed the characters, they could have marketed this as “the next water world” and the critics would have fawned over it. Instead, the studio signed off on allowing Aronofsky to make a Bible movie that completely removes God from the story, portrays God as vengeful and petty, and removed any trace of hope and goodness from the story at all. This adaptation of Noah is essentially the anti-Bible story in every way possible.
Was I expecting sunshine and rainbows? Well, no. I do think there is a place for dialogue about the darker and grittier parts of the Bible and our history. I think that somewhere out there, a great Noah movie is just waiting to be made. I regret that in the meantime, we are stuck with this one.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Morality in the Movie
There is a lot of dark violence and emotional manipulation in this movie. We see animals and children being hurt in graphic ways. There is some passionate kissing with a little skin shown, but no sexual content.
That's Right. I Said It: Reviewer Comments
If I hadn’t been at the theater to review this movie for the blog, I would probably have left early. Yes, it was that bad.
The character of Noah in this movie is a psychopath.
The Watchers are a total rip off of the Lord of the Rings Trees. I think they even hired the same voice actors. No, really.
Why is there a big warlike fight scene happening? And where the heck did all of these people supposedly come from?
Noah is so mean to Ham, I kinda don’t blame him for “going to the dark side.”
Emma Watson, why did you agree to this role?! But to be fair, your scene with the babies where you sing is amazing.
Please, please, please don’t let this movie be successful in the box office. Please! I’m terrified they might let Aronofsky make more things like this, and the world does not need that to happen.
Either Aronofsky bit off way more than he could chew with this story and that’s why it was so bad, or he intentionally made this stinker as a giant middle finger to the Christians who would come to see it.
Seriously, this is like the Syfy channel and the movie Water World had a horrible, HORRIBLE baby. Make it stop.
DISCUSS: Go read Genesis 5-9. You probably haven’t read it since you were a kid in Vacation Bible School. Ask yourself some hard questions. Did the story really happen the way it is described in the Bible? How would it feel to be Noah? How would it feel to be the other members of his family? What are the overall messages of the story? What does God teach us by telling us this? Study it for yourselves. THAT is how we can start meaningful dialogue about Noah and this important Bible story. Not, as some well known pastors and clergy would have you believe, by embracing this piece of Hollywood flash and trash.