Noah, the biblical epic directed by Darren Aronofsky, dominated the box office over the weekend by pulling in 44 million dollars. Despite being highly controversial for months, the film based on the Noah’s Ark myth managed to defend itself against the slews of criticism coming in from all corners of the Evangelical sphere of influence. And they have been coming in non-stop. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis said “it may be the worst film I’ve ever seen,” citing the various inaccuracies with the original Genesis account.
The irony of a Hollywood film not staying true to a story in which millions of animals survive for a year on one boat is apparently lost to Ham.
He’s not the only one. The movie is being called ‘blasphemous,‘ among other things. With Christian criticism so strong and rumours about rock people and environmentalism and Russell Crowe channeling Aragorn flying everywhere, I didn’t really have a choice. I had to go see it. I probably would have anyway. Noah’s Ark was actually my favourite Bible story back in my Christian youth, and despite being awakened to its many flaws and conundrums, I was eager to see how Aronofsky would interpret one of the most polarising accounts in Western literature. So I forked over six bucks and sat at a 1:00 matinee filled with old church people.
And in the end I….liked it?
Yeah. I liked it.
CAUTION; HERE THERE BE SPOILERS! YARG.
First, the good. Noah is a visually beautiful film. I fully expected it to be, with a mad genius like Darren Aronofsky at the helm, but I was awed at the imagination and wonder that poured out of the film like a deluge. It was the little things that stood out to me. Like the fact that Adam and Eve had no hair since there was no death in the Garden of Eden. The murder of Abel at the hands of Cain reflecting all murder and violence throughout human history. Most spectacularly, a sequence in which Noah narrates the Creation story as told in Genesis, accompanied by a rapid stop-motion sequence illustrating the history of the planet from the Big Bang through the evolution of life. For a minute I had one foot in Catechism class and another in Cosmos.
Even the colour palate is beautiful. The deep greens of Iceland are a fitting backdrop to the last surviving corner of Creation that Noah and his family inhabit. Aronofsky refused to stick with the typical Middle-Eastern Caucasian Bible culture so often portrayed in Biblical epics, choosing instead an almost Gaulish, barbarian, steampunk vibe for his ante-diluvian humanity.
The casting was adequate, with a few exceptions. Russell Crowe is a powerful yet tortured Noah, with Jennifer Connelly providing balance as his supportive but strong-willed wife Naameh. Emma Watson as Ila was a natural choice for the woman who would become a new mother of all humanity. Douglas Booth fell flat as a soft and weak-willed Shem, doing everything half-heartedly even when the life of his own unborn child is at stake (more on that in a bit). Logan Lerman is a much more effective Ham, a young man who challenges and defies his father and is seemingly the only character who fully comprehends that the entire world is about to drown.
Speaking of drowning….
I was eager to see how a film by atheist Aronofsky would handle the inherent cruelty of drowning all of humanity in an act of divine genocide. Noah doesn’t flinch away from the monstrosity of such an act, but instead places most of the emotional baggage on Noah himself. Yeah, Noah is sort of a dick. Repulsed by humanity’s wickedness, he decides that people are so corrupt that not even he and his family deserve to live on, resolving to die after the Flood without reproducing. Meanwhile, Ham finds a young girl named Na’el among the wicked and connects with her. He attempts to save her life as the deluge begins but Noah forces his son to abandon her, leaving her screaming on the ground only to be killed by an angry horde. The act stays with Ham throughout the film until he finally lashes out saying ‘Her name was Na’el! And she was innocent!’
And so were so many others. Their screams and pleas and begging echoes through the roaring waters. Noah has no pity for them, and neither does his god it seems. When Ila becomes pregnant, Noah swears to kill the child if it’s a girl. Naturally it is (twins girls, in fact), and Noah gets as far as raising a knife over them and their weeping mother before his basic humanity – squashed by the immense act of genocide he took part in – finally kicks in again.
It’s a message that’s of great important to any theist seeing the film. Even if your god were to exist, that doesn’t mean his actions are inherently righteous.
Now for the….less good.
The film has flaws, as all do. It’s overlong (two and a half hours!). The dialogue is stilted and often spoken in bad English accents. Apparently somewhere down the line, English accents started to symbolise antiquity and graveness, but here it often fell flat.
The film also carries an overt environmentalist message. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The spoiling of Creation was vivid and relevant to the film. But I had wondered how the film would depict a people so evil that mass murder was the only viable solution. Their greatest crime? Eating meat.
Not even kidding. Noah watches the descendents of Cain rip apart an animal for food, and that’s what convinces him that men have no right to live upon the earth.
The bacon cheeseburger I had eaten beforehand suddenly sat uneasily in my digestive tract.
The rape of the earth becomes a central theme of the film. Tubal-Cain, the evil antagonist, practically channels the spirit of Ann Coulter when he waxes eloquent on how men are made to create their own destiny and dominate the earth beneath them. Noah, a movie that had managed to not be preachy in any other aspect, unleashed the preachiness at the worst possible opportunity. Convincing me that a large group of innocent people deserved to die.
Also, there are rock people.
The Watchers, in fact, figures from the apocryphal book of Enoch. Neither Enoch nor Genesis really goes into who these beings were, so Aronofsky had a bit of artistic license to play with. He chose rock people. Fallen angels encased in stone when they came to earth to help mankind. They exist for two reasons, apparently. To help Noah build the ark in ten years instead of 120 like in the Genesis account. And to provide an opportunity for rock-em-sock-em special effects at the Battle of Helm’s Ark.
I was disappointed. There were a thousand different ways you could have gone with this, Mr. Aronofsky, and you picked the rock people.
Altogether, it’s a film that almost would have worked better as a 1920’s silent movie than a blockbuster epic. A stunning work of art that manages to climb out of it’s own seriousness by pulling the audience into a simultaneously engrossing and utterly bizarre landscape.
I’m glad I saw it. And I will be seeing it again.
Also, where the hell did Methuselah get a flaming sword? I’ve never seen those lying around Costco.