For the past year, Darren Aronofsky’s (“Black Swan”) adaptation of the epic Biblical tale of Noah has been covered in controversy. Large portions of the Christian church have denounced the film as blasphemous. The controversy is unfounded.
From a secular point of view, the film is one of Aronofsky’s best films, and Russell Crowe has rarely been better. It easily holds its place alongside “Gladiator” and other beloved epics.
Surprisingly, the movie did not stray too much, especially when the director is an atheist and claimed to have made “the least Biblical Biblical film ever made.” The story of Noah is very short in length and detail (aside from the ark material and measurements), so the film had a lot of holes to plug.
Aronofsky’s style is apparent from the beginning with some gorgeous scenery and effects to match the mythical time the film is set in.
The setting was imaginative, following the theory that mankind was more advanced than traditionally thought (think the Middle Ages mixed with early Industrial Era cities). This is explained by the Watchers, angels who left heaven to help what they perceived as a frail humanity. God punishes them for leaving by causing their heavenly bodies to be trapped in grotesque rock forms. Humanity turns on them, and they soon become outcasts from God and mankind.
In this version, mankind is split into two factions: the sons of Seth, caretakers of Creation (and therefore vegetarian, believing in the sanctity of animals) and the sons of Cain, the industrialized and wicked sect who God chooses to wipe out.
Miracles are accepted without question, though they rarely happen. Mankind believes God has left them to their own devices and only Methuselah and Noah have any real interaction with him through miracles and visions.
Everyone knows the story of Noah and what inevitably happens, but the film focuses on the human cost. Noah is just a man after all, and the audience is forced to feel every decision he must make. It explores the apprehension of the family as they prepare for the flood and the after-effects on their psyche.
The wickedness of man is a big theme of the film. Noah struggles with whether or not he and his family deserve to live. He thinks man is solely responsible for marring Creation. He believes man has wickedness inside of him always and his family and descendants will destroy the earth again. He makes some very extreme decisions and the film then looks at the fanaticism religion can unleash. Noah hates his task, yet truly believes he must accomplish it.
Growing up in the church, I never thought much about the millions of people who died during the flood, brushing them aside as evil. The film makes the audience confront that notion head on. The villains of the film are wicked, but they are also just fighting to survive, something everyone relates to. There are also the innocents to consider. What happened to the other descendants of Seth? They also died, yet they were not truly wicked. The film powerfully shows the mass death in a way that will linger for a long time.
The humanity of the film was astounding. “The Ten Commandments” and other classics focus on God, the prophet and the miracles. It was simpler (and the abilities of films were limited back then), but the human aspect was usually contained to the main characters who were righteous. “Noah” does not shy away from potentially having a villain as a hero. Noah was only a man, and the themes the film explored elevate the material to food for serious thought.
The cast is great, with the exception of Jennifer Connelly. Emma Watson does a terrific job as a woman struggling with her place in humanity’s future. Anthony Hopkins is captivating as Methuselah, portraying both the kind grandfather and the wise old hermit at the same time with ease.
Ray Winstone played the main villain, a man who would usually be the hero in this type of movie. He fights for the survival of the human race and is willing to kill for it. Winstone does a great job of balancing his villainy with humanistic wisdom. His character simply believes in a twisted version of mankind’s job on earth—dominating instead of being caretakers.
Connelly’s performance was good, except for what is arguably her most important scene. Her accent came and went many times and even changed to other accents, as if she were representing different regions of England.
The CGI was touch and go. When it worked, it inspired awe. The animals were the most variable in quality. The flood itself was powerful to watch.
The ark itself was built to Biblical measurements. The production team actually built it for all scenes before the flood. It was massive, and yet during the flood it was tiny, a testament to the skills of the effects team for the scale variance throughout the film.
My main criticisms in the movie have mostly been mentioned. Connelly’s acting (for one scene) and some of the CGI were lacking.
A big point of contention was the absence of wives for Ham and Japheth. In the Bible, they were already married. It served the plot well, but was a big deviance.
The controversy the film has stirred up is interesting, because it is very close to the Bible. Noah’s choices were all in the service of God, and were choices anyone could have made. Genesis mentions Nephilim and other angelic beings on earth, so why not the rock golems?
The advanced society falls in line with some historical beliefs that something made humanity devolve technologically.
The biggest controversy was over the Creation story. Noah narrates the seven day cycle of Creation, while evolution takes over after the Big Bang. This is one of many theories about the beginning of the universe and a good compromise from Aronofsky. Also, man was kept separate from the evolutionary reel, made apart from the animals and represented as beings of light until the fall.
It suggested micro-evolution over eons (time differentiation between God and man) occurred.
“Noah” is a great epic that has an extremely human core. The story is examined as never before and forces the audience to think about the frailty of man. It may not adhere one hundred percent to the Bible, but it is a good example of how non-believers can show respect to the source.