I want to acknowledge that I’m currently journeying into tricky territory.
A lot has been said, written and discussed about Hollywood’s latest daring endeavor – adapting the biblical story of Noah and the flood into a full-length feature film. I’ve seen some commentary about the film that I really enjoyed and some by which I was really discouraged. So, naturally, I’m going to throw my hat into the ring.
This isn’t a review per se, but it is an opinion piece. As a film-lover and as a follower of Christ, I’ve tried to take the objective parts of the film combined with the adaption of the story from the source material to formulate a well-rounded, complete opinion of what certainly has been the most controversial movie of 2014 so far. As with all of my writings, I hope that these thoughts make you want to think and discuss, whether that’s with me or anyone else. I would hope everyone forms their own opinion on every piece of art in which they choose to take part. But enough with formalities.
On the surface, Noah is an audacious affair for everyone involved, especially for director Darren Aronofsky, a self-proclaimed atheist and creator of films that tend to make filmgoers squirm (ex: Black Swan or Requiem for a Dream.) To take a story that is a beloved fundamental teaching of multiple world religious and turn it into a challenging two-hour piece is asking for trouble. That’s especially the case when you incorporate themes of doubt, divine justice and environmentalism, topics that tend to make people a little sensitive. But Aronofsky did it, and he handles those issues boldly.
Noah (a steadily great Russell Crowe) is portrayed accurately in terms of biblical standards. He is a “righteous” man in the sense that he depends on “the Creator” for his well-being and lives to follow his commands. He takes only what he needs from the earth and protects those who need his help. He is also obedient, trekking his family across a barren wasteland to visit his grandfather to get some sage advice about whether or not they should all be expecting to survive death by water. When God tells him to build a big fat ark, he does it. When he meets resistance, he continues doing it, even when members of his family don’t seem too keen on the idea.
But from there, Aronofsky takes Noah’s character in a different direction. Noah is a man who honors the Creator. But he also seems bent on completing his mission at any cost (no spoilers here, but let’s say some of his ideas and actions are pretty gruesome). He goes as far as alienating his family and coming across as a stubborn, cruel man. That in itself is ironic, given the people that he so desperately fights to keep off of the ark are also stubborn and cruel, just in different ways. This portrayal of Noah has rubbed some people the wrong way. But my question would simply be why? No one on this earth is perfect, and no one has ever been perfect, save Jesus. So why are we so quick to cry out when one of the biblical heroes is given a little depth of character that is probably pretty spot-on for what he was facing? Noah may be a “righteous” person, but he definitely wasn’t perfect. The Bible doesn’t go into his life much, but we can know that based on what we believe is true. We all deal with uncertainty in the nature of God and divine justice. Who’s to say Noah was any different?
Another big complaint I’ve seen with Noah is that it takes too many creative liberties with the story. With only four chapters and barely a page of fairly vague material to work with, it would be nearly impossible to only follow the text. And for the most part, Aronofsky follows the text to the letter. It’s between the lines that he takes his risks. And boy, he certainly does embrace those risks. I’m not sure how biblical giant rock monsters are, but it’s not implausible to think Noah might have had some sort of supernatural help building the ark. But other than these “Watchers”, most of the extrapolation is pretty grounded. Noah’s “environmentalism” translates to vegetarianism and a great respect for all of creation. I’m not sure how that’s wrong. Some people have different views on vegetarianism, but why should that be the make or break issue here?
Finally, I’ve seen some people up in arms about the antagonists in Noah. They’re men who acknowledge the existence of the creator, but believe that he’s no longer a factor in the world. Men, in their minds, are the rulers of the world now, sent to subdue and rule the earth in whatever they see fit.
One of the smartest things I’ve ever been taught is that lies are often saturated with truth. In some ways, this idea is correct. Men were set to have dominion over the earth and subdue it. But in whatever way they see fit? Not so much. The men in this movie who so often quote scripture to their own ends (much as Satan does later in the Bible) are brutal people, evil to the core. At one point, one of them tosses his daughter to a ravenous mob in exchange for a pig to eat.
Something I took from this film, as a Christian, can be summed up with the idea of finding middle ground between two extremes. On one side, you have men who sell their families for a piece of meat. They take what they want and when they want it. They aren’t afraid to kill for their own gains. On the other extreme, you have Noah, who would sacrifice anything (and I mean anything) to complete his divine mission. When he fails, he drinks himself into a lonely stupor. Both extremes are portrayed as wrong in their own ways. The middle ground here is that Noah’s mission is to assist in carrying out the Creator’s justice, but the Creator is merciful by allowing Noah to choose mercy over harsh, just action. That sort of trust in one man shows the Creator’s mercy towards mankind in the first place.
As a film, Noah is visually stunning and incredibly well-acted. All of the roles were casted well, especially Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson. And Ray Winstone makes Tubal-cain one of the despicable villains I’ve seen in any biblical film. Aronofsky is a steady-handed director, but the pacing of the film feels uneven at points. There are huge, clunky time lapses, and some of his gambles (Noah’s retelling of creation) don’t pay off. Still, it’s the work of a master craftsman and you have to give him points for his boldness. And despite what you may read from some people, the film is wildly creative and imaginative.
In conclusion, everyone needs to recognize that Noah is not a Christian film. It’s the work of filmmaker who saw a story that he thought would be interesting and profitable. Still, I admire Aronofsky for his moxie and desire to create a thoughtful work of art even if he doesn’t believe the source material to be true. This version of Noah isn’t supposed to be the tale of a God who destroys the world and starts over with a perfect servant. It’s the story of a man who gets some really hard instructions and does what he can to see those instructions fulfilled. On the way there, he deals with some very relatable human issues. Sometimes he makes an admirable decision, and sometimes he doesn’t.
But for my Christian friends out there, I would encourage you to make a decision on this film based on your own personal experience with it. If you choose not to see it, then you choose not to see it. Just don’t condemn it because something you read online told you it was heretical. And if you choose to see it, think it through. Put yourself in Noah’s shoes and ask yourself what you would do. You may find that Aronofsky’s adaption hits you harder than you thought it would.