Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama
Director(s): Darren Aronofsky
Release Year: 2014
I dismissed Darren Aronofsky’s Noah for several reasons. One of which was that it seemed to be doing what every movie that has interpreted the Bible has done: treat the tale as either true or false. Noah does not do that, though. It fills in the blanks of a text that has never had the blanks filled in. What does a world in its death throes do when it is not going to survive? What lengths will one man go to in order to complete a task? That Noah deals with these questions is not surprising. What is surprising is how earnestly it portrays the answers, never shying away from one moment of darkness. It utilizes rationality to tell the tale of a man tasked with rebuilding the world; a world which mankind itself has ruined.
Aronofsky’s hand can be felt in the distinct visual style of Noah, with a little help from influence by the late Ray Harryhausen. Stone giants assist Noah (Russell Crowe) in the creation of his Ark, complete with stop-motion animation seamlessly mixed in with CG models. Noah is at all times beautiful beyond its animation. The constant bleak imagery that persists contributes to the sense of a destructive mankind, and a world that is doomed to be wiped clean of human life. Images of greenery and sunny vistas simply drive home the notion of both good and evil residing in everyone, regardless of how sinful they are. It is no surprise that Aronofsky uses visual cues to convey the themes of Noah, seeing as how he has always been a very visual director.
The story of Noah and his ark can be conveyed simply as God telling Noah that he is going to cleanse the world of mankind with a flood because he has made a mistake. He allows Noah and his immediate family to be the only people who survive the flood, along with a pair of every animal because they have maintained their innocence. There is only one moment where Noah takes liberties that feel strange in the context of a more grounded tale. Anthony Hopkins plays Noah’s grandfather, and his existence is the only baffling part of the film. He seems to be permanently old and incapable of dying, and is obsessed with the promise of berries. He’s endearing enough, but his actions feel opposed to the spirit of Aronofsky’s take on the tale of Noah as they tend to lean more towards the mystical than the real.
The importance of Noah is not in the fact that it feels the need to incorporate outside material to make a point, but that it does so in service of fleshing out the story. Realism is added to the world by having plot points such as Tubal Cain (Ray Winstone) being unwilling to accept that mankind has faltered enough to receive the wrath of God. That Ham (Logan Lerman) is being brought along on the Ark despite having no one to with whom to repopulate the Earth, seems utterly pointless to him and unfair. Meanwhile, Shem (Douglas Booth) has Ila (Emma Watson) to be with and help restart mankind. But Ila is barren and cannot give birth, so her role is questioned in the expedition. Every character feels pivotal to the exploration of Noah’s tale, but the two most important ones seem to be Ham, and Noah himself.
Lerman gives an incredible performance as Noah’s son that has a crisis of faith. His inability to fully comprehend Noah’s task is what makes him extremely interesting. Ham sees mankind under a different light than his father, as he is not fully devoted to the notion of a Creator. Meanwhile, Noah sees both the good and the bad, yet ignores that in service of God and his will. The ideas of will, mercy, and justice are all heavily implemented into Noah and applied to human characters as opposed to merely God, which is what makes Noah a powerful film. Because even though God has this final say in everything, it is with mankind he is trying to leave that final say. To not give the attributes of mercy, justice, and willpower to human characters would undermine the point of Noah.
Noah works because it does not treat the Bible as fact. It treats it like a story, and it’s a story we can all relate to because it has existed for thousands of years. Aronofsky and Ari Handel engage with the text as a founding piece of literature, and not as the word of God. Their religious beliefs are primarily checked at the door, neither agreeing nor dismissing the Bible as true or false. Noah explores the tale with a critical edge and highlights the naivety to take something as fact when there are so many issues that need addressing. The most baffling realization is that it took until now for someone to engage with the Bible without spreading propaganda for or against the text.