You’ve never seen a Bible story done quiet like Noah before. This is not an adaptation, or a big budget retelling of the classic Biblical tale, this is the story of Genesis after a page one rewrite. It combines fantasy the way you see in Greek Myths, and big blockbuster films, with theological debates you usually find in smaller, more independent films. It is a flawed film, but even when it stumbles the moments it succeeds are truly remarkable. It’s basically a Bible film made for me.
Noah doesn’t want to sell you that the events of the film actually happened, because if it did you could scientifically tear this movie apart. The internet has already done so. However, it does have a lot of ideas, and themes that it wants to convey. The same way you have to read the Bible between the lines, you have to understand the thematics of the film, what’s it’s trying to say about morality, and how Director Darren Aronofsky, conveys all of it through the visuals onscreen.
In Aronofsky’s, Noah, the world was created by the Creator, never referred to as God. When the film begins, the state of the world is already a post-apocalyptic one. With the descendants of Cain spreading across the supercontinent, destroying the land in order to survive. Noah, and his family are the last remaining descendants of Seth, Cain’s other brother. They live their lives by only taking what they need; they don’t consume meat. Noah begins to receive visions from the Creator of the destruction of all life on earth via a global flood. With the visions serving as a set of instructions Noah begins to build an ark. However, because he only receives his instructions through visions, he begins to believe that the Creator actually wants to destroy all human life on Earth, and only preserve animal life. He believes that his family will live out their lives, and eventually die off altogether.
Of course, as Noah is building this ark, the descendants of Cain find him, and also want to come on board. They are an army of desperate people, and Aronofsky goes to great lengths to showcase the depravity of these men, and women. From acts of cannibalism, to trading of women for food, their desperation is clearly showcased, as is their evil.
Clearly, a man such as Tubal-cain, leader of the group of desperate people, is evil, and Noah is a good, and benevolent figure. Actually, by the end of the film you might be questioning that fact. Noah operates in the grey areas of morality. It’s trying to convey that even good people are capable of doing bad things. That the evil of humanity is in all us. The films conveys that through a vision that Noah experiences, but also through Ham, one of Noah’s sons, who has to decide whether to follow a man like Tubal-cain or his father.
There is a moment in the film, where Noah’s son is running to the ark with a girl he rescued from Tubal-cain’s camp, when her foot gets caught in a trap. Noah sees them, but instead of trying to rescue her, he unwillingly drags his son away leaving the girl to scream, and be trampled to death by the mob of people attacking the ark. The scene is particularly horrifying, because the sound of her bones being crushed is emphasized over the mob of people running, and yelling. She is only on screen for a short amount of time, but in that time she is established as a victim, and her death is clearly meant to be felt.
You could say that a moment like that is Noah running out of time, and choosing to save the life of his son, but if he was truly good, wouldn’t he have at least attempted to save her.
After all the action has subsided, Aronofsky follows that scene with Noah, and his family sitting safely on the ark, but instead of peace, and safety they have to listen to the screams of people outside the ark. There is this great shot of men and women clinging to the last piece of land as the waves hit against them, washing them away.
Scenes like that, convey Noah as an ignorant man, a selfish man. When the film starts, Noah is confident, and determined in what he is doing, but by the end he seems more self-interested, and confused. It’s really quite brilliant, how subtly the film turns Noah into the villain. It’s all part of Aronofsky’s vision in conveying the moral complexity, not only in his film, but in our world.
Aronofsky is an atheist, which is why much of the film’s biblical context is juxtaposed to scientific imagery. He tells the story of creation, using a quick-cut montage style of images of the big bang, and evolution. The whole thing appears as this time lapse video, and is just gorgeous to watch. The telling of Cain killing Abel, is portrayed through the silhouettes of different men killing each other over different periods in time. For example, aboriginals vs. confederate soldiers, or, Greek vs. the Persians. Even simply showing the world as one land mass, registers the notion of Pangea.
Also, much of the destruction that the descendants of Cain have caused to their world, could easily, be compared with our world today. As Noah is traveling the land with his family, he comes across areas that have been strip-mined, deforested, basically, barren, and empty, devoid of any life.
Noah is shot as if it were a blood and sandals war epic, but it is more along the lines of something like Game of Thrones, or even Lord of the Rings. It’s fantasy, and in being a fantasy it allows Aronofsky to make a lot of bold creative leaps in his story-telling. The mysticism in the world of Noah blends so well with the film’s tone that you forget you’re watching a fantasy epic, but Aronofsky is not shying away from embracing the strange, and supernatural. You have the Angels who were banished to earth – encrusted with the muck of the Earth when they crash landed – now giant rock monsters that look more like caveman drawings. To animals who are variations of creatures we know today. To an old man with the ability to perform unexplainable acts of miracles.
The film’s actors are another reason the film works so well, especially, Russell Crowe as the title character. His Noah is a quite person, which creates a sense of complexity, but also conveys the character’s inner struggle. His face is always a quite menace never playing his part at the same level of the film’s epic scale, but playing right under it. The second great performance is that of Logan Lerman, who plays Ham. Lerman plays the confused and callous son to perfection. He is caught between two father figures, and Lerman has the ability to portray that inner torment with great skill. The rest of cast all deliver decent performances, as well, chewing the scenery when required or being subtle when necessary.
Noah takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, where the destruction, and death that comes with the flood is meant to be cleansing, and purifying. More of a fantasy than a Biblical epic, Noah is Aronofsky dealing with themes he loves to tackle but on a bigger scale, and with a bigger budget. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s an ambitious one. The story of Noah in the Bible is one of the simplest, and hard to believe stories in there, but here, it is approached with such irony, and seriousness that it’s hard not to admire it. Also, it’s a blockbuster that requires you to turn your brain on full, and will definitely have you thinking days after you leave the theatres. Aronofsky is one of the most brilliant, and visionary director’s of our time, Noah may not be his best film, but it aims high, and for the most part succeeds.
Score: 8 out of 10