Few directors dare the audacious feats that fuel Darren Aronofsky: a ballerina transforming into a bird (“Black Swan”), a repulsive exposition of drug use (“Requiem for a Dream”) and a quest for the Tree of Life set in the years 1500, 2005 and 2500 (“The Fountain”).
The Harvard grad’s sixth feature film stays true to his filmography as he fashions a loose adaptation of the Genesis story of Noah (played by Russell Crowe), complete with a glowing Adam and Eve, prehistoric creatures and rock monsters … yes, rock monsters. Don’t worry, he provides a decent explanation. Plus, they’re super sweet on screen.
Aronofsky rightly calls this, “The least biblical movie ever made.” Don’t take offense, he simply sets a higher artistic standard than most producers of biblically based stories, and he adds much extra-biblical material to the story of God’s decision to flood the Earth, thus drowning the wicked and starting anew with Noah’s offspring, following an extended stay aboard an ark that housed two of each animal species to repopulate. I’ll admit the rock creatures and other fantastical elements might be tough for any reader of the Pentateuch (the biblical books of Genesis through Deuteronomy) to swallow, but such creative liberties can benefit thoughtful viewers as they navigate the Noah on page and screen.
In the early 1990s, Neil Douglas-Klotz proposed an interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer employing Middle Eastern mysticism. What results is a beautiful translation that revisits the oft-forgotten language of many biblical passages. For Douglas-Klotz, mysticism provides new insights. Similarly, perhaps truth doesn’t lie in the historical facts but in the potential. Prehistoric creatures, grandfather Methusela’s (Anthony Hopkins) miraculous abilities, an oddly ambiguous backdrop that could be dystopian or B.C., and a special seed from the Garden of Eden that sprouts millions of times faster than the most vigorous Chia Pet — Genesis references none of these things, but they call attention to a world beyond the rationalism of the 21st Century –– a world worth exploring.
In the wake critical failures like “Son of God”, it takes an atheist filmmaker to breath new life into a genre in dire need of originality. Yes, “Noah” embellishes, but it’s never boring — hats off to Aronofsky’s artistry accented by Clint Mansell’s splendid score. The result is something far more interesting than a formulaic endeavor driven more by cowardice than conviction. To paraphrase “A Wrinkle in Time” author Madeline L’Engle, there is no such thing as religious art –– only good art and bad art, and bad art is bad religion. “Noah” isn’t perfect, but it provides a more complex depiction of biblical figures and God — or the Creator, as Noah calls him.
Further, if most Christians were OK with Jesus inventing the barstool in “The Passion of the Christ” (yes, that really happened), perhaps viewing an alternative version of the Noah story won’t damage anyone’s faith, but raise important questions. “Noah” seems hell-bent on one question in particular: how does a man — an imperfect man at that — navigate an understanding of God’s will, especially when the stakes are so high? And does that faith lead to dogmatism –– blind, naive obedience that erodes the power of belief?
While many of my Christian kin will take offense with “Noah” — mainly the mere idea of an atheist filmmaker telling a story so dear to Jews, Christians and Muslims — this is hardly sacrilege. Stories of Christians, in particular, walking out mid-film thanks to, say, fallen angels receiving redemption, reek of religious insecurity. Why can’t the fallen receive grace? Is it only meant for humanity? Instead, place this film in dialogue. Engage. Agree. Disagree. Question. Just put aside hostility. It benefits no one.
Alas, for all the layered conversations “Noah” can set in motion, depth of character drifts away. Crowe is a competent Noah, but easily outshined by Emma Watson as adopted stepdaughter Ila, wife of Noah’s eldest son, Shem (Douglas Booth). And while Noah serves as his own worst enemy, every climax requires a clear foe to attack, and wicked King Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) fills in that void. Sadly, he’s a walking cliché, only on screen to expand on the idea of original sin.
We also see some tension between Noah and his middle son, Ham (Logan Lerman), who fears embracing this new world alone. He needs a wife, but his father doesn’t quite know if God means for any of humankind to survive, despite the passionate objections of his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly). Again, this all results in rather contrived scenes. Luckily, the visual splendor and driving plotline stay afloat.
“Noah” is Aronofsky’s most commercial film to date, complete with thrilling action and visual spectacle only possible with a more than $100 million budget. That said, it’s more engaging as theological fodder than top-tier filmmaking.
It’s far less engaging than his other five films, including the critically panned box office flop, “The Fountain” (I remain faithful to that film). Still, a half-mass Aronofsky can drown your average heathen filmmaker.
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
Leave a Reply