Apr 03 2014

Unreal Movie Review: Noah

Published by at 12:00 pm under Movies,Reviews

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It was a rather perplexing thought. Why is director Darren Aronofsky, of Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain and Black Swan, directing an apparently spring blockbuster about the biblical story of Noah? Why would he leave his old friend Hugh Jackman hanging in The Wolverine to do this instead?

At first, it seemed like a possible cash grab, something uncharacteristic for the director. Bible movies/shows are big business, as evidenced by the History miniseries and Mel Gibson’s mammoth hit, The Passion of the Christ. Noah is certainly a Bible story that could be reworked into a CGI-filled blockbuster, but Aronofsky always seemed like an odd choice to helm something like that. Roland Emmerich would have made perfect sense.

But we should have known better. Aronofsky’s Noah is perhaps a bit more accessible than his other work, but still feels distinctly like it’s his. And outside of a select few “battle” scenes, it’s not really the blockbuster the ad campaign claimed.

Rather Aronofsky’s film is a surprisingly personal look the character of Noah himself, and an exploration of what faith means. Ahead of release, critics were saying the film supposedly made no reference to God, which is technically true. The word “God” isn’t uttered, but he is a distinct presence, and called the “Creator” instead. Noah’s relationship with him is the basis for the film, but it’s more complicated than the original Bible story would suggest.

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The film feels a bit goofy to start. We’re told about how the descendants of Cain and Seth parted ways after Cain killed Abel. Generations later, Cain’s people have covered the land in wickedness, while Noah and his family are the very last of Seth’s line.

We also learn about fallen angels who were cast down to earth after the fall of man. Originally, they tried to help mankind, but God punished them for intervening. They went from beings of light to covered in rocks and mud, wretched creatures forever removed from heaven. Cain’s people turned on them as well eventually, enslaving them or hunting them down. Eventually, when they realize the Creator is working through Noah as the end of the world approaches, they come to his aid.

The angels are perhaps the silliest aspect of the otherwise rather serious film, and feel like something pulled out of Lord of the Rings rather than the Bible. But they serve a practical purpose, filling in plot holes in the story like how Noah was able to build such a massive ship in such a short time with just his family, and how he was unable to hold back the hordes trying to board his Ark as the rains came. The answer: Fallen Rock Angels. Okay then.

Once you get past the angels however, the rest of the story follows the Biblical version quite closely in many ways. We see how the Creator provides the lumber for Noah in a barren wasteland, how he draws the pairs of animals to the Ark. We see Noah’s children grow up, and face the reality that they’re going to be the last people on Earth soon enough.

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Russell Crowe’s Noah is a generally good-hearted zealot, and wants nothing more than to serve the Creator’s ultimate will as the last of Seth’s line. He follows what he interprets as divine orders without question, and spars with the king of the wicked, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), a man who craves survival above all else.

The madness of Cain’s world is a sort of pre-post-apocalypse the likes of which we haven’t seen before. Since the fall of Adam, the world is ravaged, and the people are a mess of violence and despair. The scenes inside the Cain camp are harrowing, and leave even the steadfast Noah shaken.

While Noah’s family, his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelley), his sons Ham (Logan Lerman) and Shem (Douglas Booth), and his adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), support his dream at first, but things taken a dark turn once the doors of the Ark close. Noah now believes that he and his family are caretakers of the animals, and nothing more. They too have wickedness inside them, and God’s will is a world without man entirely. When Ila conceives a child with Shem, Noah is suddenly the villain, determined to exterminate the infant to fulfill the Creator’s assumed orders.

The film is powerfully acted and scripted, and far more logical and sane stories have featured far worse performances. When viewed from the outside, Noah’s story is rather absurd, but Aronofsky’s version gives the tale real dramatic weight. It’s gorgeously shot, scored and in many ways, on par with his other work. It’s only held back by the central story itself, where giant rock monsters stomping on intruders don’t really mesh with the seriousness of the rest of the film.

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Noah is far better than it has any right being, and I’d argue the best Biblical film since The Ten Commandments. It doesn’t pander by painting a picture of a flawless Biblical hero and his benevolent God. It’s a picture of a real man confronted with an impossible task, inflicted on him by what seems to be an almost heartless Creator. It has far more layers than Christians might even be comfortable with.

Noah ends up being a great film, and is worth a viewing regardless of your own belief system. It goes to show that a great filmmaker can turn any story, no matter how old or seemingly absurd, into something compelling.

4 out of 5 stars





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7 responses so far

  • cypher20

    Huh . . . I think I’m more inclined to agree with Matt Walsh’s review. To each their own!

    • David R

      I check in with Walsh from time to time, and often value his perspective even when I don’t agree with it, but he was way out of line with that one. Like, to the point of his actual, factual assertions being wrong (one example: Noah has been a passion project of Aronofsky’s for a long time; it’s not just a marketing gimmick). Walsh’s lens is that of an offended Christian, not a film critic. It’s worth noting, BTW, that the director of this movie comes from a Jewish understanding of the text.

      As a Christian who simply thought this movie was great, Walsh’s assertion that Christians who think this movie is great are cowards, or dishonest, or simply not paying attention, rubs the wrong way. His usual black-and-white soapboxing is out of place in a discussion about a complex, artistically bold meditation on the mystery of faith and doubt and justice and violence and mercy.

      • cypher20

        Hmm, color me skeptical on the claim that Jews would agree with this interpretation of Noah. I know there is plenty I would disagree with Jews on, but I have a hard time imagining their interpretation Noah even vaguely resembles this film.

        As for being a film critic, does one need any special credentials to be a film critic? I love Paul’s writing and work (I swear he is planning to take over the entire internet) but so far as I know he has no “film critic” credentials beyond “watching a lot of films”. Love you Paul! Please don’t be offended.

        Although, I don’t think Walsh was necessarily just trying to be a film critic, just share his opinion and convince some people not to see the movie, a goal in which I imagine he succeeded.

        • David R

          I can’t speak for Jews; I’m simply saying that a lot of Christians are like, “This isn’t Biblical!” when it draws on ancillary Jewish texts, which… like, no duh it’s not entirely Biblical.

          There aren’t “credentials” for being a film critic, but all Walsh (and, importantly, a number of other people) did was judge the movie based on its adherence to his understanding of the scriptures. There was no attempt to explore or articulate the purpose behind Noah; instead, there were accusations of crass marketing gimmicks and other forms of insincerity. Even a cursory search session would show that Aronofsky fought tooth and nail for final cut of the movie. It’s a recorded fact that this was a passion project, not a studio money grab.

          As Paul pointed out in THIS review, the movie is complex, challenging, imaginative, and personal. It has something to offer. Period. That doesn’t mean anybody has to have any particular reaction, of course, but if you care about the subject matter or the medium it’s something to keep in mind.

          I’m mainly saying it’s disheartening that your only response to this piece was to mention that you preferred that other one.

          • cypher20

            My reply was a polite way of saying I disagreed rather then going on some angry screed.

            Personally, I never expected Noah to adhere closely to the Bible. However, if it is half as antithetical to the Bible as Walsh says (and he’s quite thorough in his spoiler-laden “review”) then I’m disheartened there are Christians who support this film. If it was just inaccurate, that would be fine and expected. If it wasn’t Noah but was instead some kind of riff on Noah, that would be fine. That’s how I treated Avatar, cool fights, great CGI, just ignore the lame story and politics. Seriously, a screed against technology made using some of the most high-tech equipment available to man? Further, I somehow doubt James Cameron lives a very “green” lifestyle (maybe I’m wrong on that one???). I digress however. Point being, taking on that Biblical aspect and then being so disrespectful to the Bible is my beef with Noah (although I’m not terribly surprised)

            But I do go on. Can I just say, I don’t know where you stand on this, but I always find it so odd how some people will claim how unreliable the Bible is. . . and yet then they’re all interested in these ancillary texts, which are far less reliable and far more fantastical. Strikes me as hypocritical.

            Alright, signing off, take care.

  • David R

    Really dug the movie. I could probably waste ink talking about a few pacing problems and other symptoms of it being incredibly freakin’ ambitious, but I’d rather focus on the good stuff in a movie that has as much good stuff as Noah does. Challenging, brilliant stuff. Already started more good conversations for me than pretty much any movie in recent memory.

  • thatsmrsnyder

    Very good review. I agree, it’s so different from his other works, but at the same time is unmistakably Aronofsky. I actually thought that the (SPOILERS) redemption of the Watchers was one of the more touching moments, as well as their fall to Earth on of the most visually arresting images I have seen on film in a very long time.

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