Darren Aronofsky’s Noah barely resembles the Biblical Noah, but that ends up being alright, because the world he inhabits resembles our world so little that Aronofsky’s $130 million epic might has well have been billed as a science-fiction dystopian apocalypse set in an era resembling prehistoric times — on some other planet.
In “Noah,” Russell Crowe portrays God’s chosen as a vegan environmentalist willing to kill even those closest to him in order to carry out his perceived divine mission, which involves God purifying the Earth with a great flood in order to save the innocent (the animals) from mankind’s wanton destruction.God is never mentioned, except as “The Creator,” and never actually speaks. Instead, the wishes of “The Creator” are related in a series of dreams, interpreted by Crowe’s Noah and his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) as God’s intent for them to build an ark to save the innocent — the animals — from an oncoming flood.
I went in with an open mind, not really expecting the film to resemble the Biblical tale of Noah. However, what I got was a film that was so loosely based on the Biblical story that it could have easily been called “Prometheus and the Ark.”
That said, be it named “Noah” or anything else, it should at least be a good film. Therein lies the rub, for me at least, because “Noah” doesn’t even succeed in what it sets out to accomplish. As a tale of mankind’s environmental evils and the historical evils perpetrated by humanity in the supposed service of God, Aronofsky certainly makes his points. But, what he doesn’t do is deliver a cohesive story that compels viewers to either root for a hero or hate a villain on the way to an ultimate finale. Any redeeming lessons are so obscured by the characters’ complete lack of humanity and compassion that it seems the only resemblance to the God of the Old Testament is the vengeful God who shows no mercy in his destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
WARNING: Spoilers Follow
What Aronofsky does, though, is — at least in my opinion — spend a lot of time trying to intentionally aggravate Christians. At 137 minutes, “Noah” is easily 45 minutes too long. Chief among the reasons for this extra length are a series of diversions away from what would normally be the plotline of a major action blockbuster, into territory seemingly designed to dig at the Christian faith. An entire storyline revolves around Noah’s misinterpretation of The Creator’s mission for him, deciding that God’s intent was that he is to not only insure the survival of the innocent animals, he is to be sure that all remaining humans — because they’re inherently evil — must be eradicated.
As a result of these diversions, the film lumbers along, wasting far too much time in between major action sequences just to try to deliver the writer/director’s messages. Some of these messages, however, resonate — including Aronofsky’s clear intent to portray humanity’s long history of taking an interpreted message from God and using that interpretation in order to perpetrate all sorts of evils and atrocities. It’s clear that Noah’s character arc includes being so co-opted by his interpretation of the mission God has intended for him, that he’s wiling to kill anyone and everyone who stands in his way… including ‘innocent’ humans — because the film makes clear that the only truly innocent are the animals. Hence Noah and his family’s vegan nature. They’re so dedicated to saving the innocent that they somehow have a seemingly endless supply of woven cotton and wool clothing to wear after the flood, despite the destruction everything on Earth (including, presumably cotton gins and looms).
The amount of ‘creative license’ taken by the film extends from clothing and the landscape — even the animals we see present before the flood — to the time sequence (instead of the Sunday School 40 days and 40 nights, the rains last nine months — the length of time it takes for Emma Watson’s character’s pregnancy, unless Aronofsky also took creative license with human gestation period).
A major point of contention among many Evangelical Christians is the inclusion of the “Watchers” in Aronofsky’s film. These are giant rock-like creatures who claim to be fallen angels, here on Earth to watch over mankind. While undoubtedly few Sunday School teachers told you about them, the Watchers actually do have a history in the pre-Biblical tales of the Jewish faith. Some of the oral tradition involving tales of a great flood even suppose that God’s reason for wiping out life on Earth may have related to the offspring of these fallen angels and human females, which God is said to have found an ‘abomination.’
Aronofsky’s inclusion of the Watchers shows both a knowledge of the historical texts that would be among those chosen for inclusion in the official canon that represents the Bible today, as well as a seemingly intentional dig at Evangelicals, who don’t recognize even the possibility that any of the texts contemporary to other Old Testament writings — notably the Book of Enoch — could have any place in the same historical tellings that include the stories of Moses and the burning bush and the parting of the Red Sea.
The controversy over this film spread worldwide. Muslim countries have banned it, Christian organizations have called for a boycott of it, and the debate over “Noah” has generated arguments and heated Facebook posts by a number of people I’ve known for a very long time.
I have been witness to countless arguments and debates — on- and off-line — about the perceived evils of the film — largely by people who haven’t even seen it. After a few discussions with people I’ve known for many years, it became obvious that the hatred for the film came from what they’d read about it in a Christian magazine or heard about it from a pastor on Sunday.
In my thoughts on the film leading up to writing this review, I found myself asking: Why would a person of reasonable faith have a problem with a Hollywood interpretation of a story that varies from their own faith and belief? And why would anyone who has studied the history and seen the variations in this, and so many other Biblical stories, take issue with a Hollywood director using a tale that has persisted across continents, religions, and cultures, as the basis for what is essentially a dystopian apocalyptic sci-fi blockbuster set thousands of years ago?
I came to the conclusion that it is perhaps because Aronofsky’s film will undoubtedly spawn questions and debate among those on the fringe of religious faith. As I said, I don’t expect this or any other film to change the minds of the fervently religious. And I certainly don’t expect that it will change the minds of anyone who is already not inclined to believe one particular religion’s version of history. But those who aren’t sure… they might ask questions. And, those in power — whether it be political or religious power — have never really appreciated people asking questions. Just ask those in Putin’s Russia today, those in Eastern Europe for much of the last century, those in today’s Turkey or North Korea, or those who suffered at the hands of the Inquisition centuries ago.
Interestingly enough, an intentionally ‘Christianized’ version of the film was screened by Paramount back in December. Coming in at 86 minutes, the ‘Christianized’ version reportedly opened with a montage of religious imagery and closed with a Christian rock song. That version scored even lower with test audiences than Aronofsky’s final 137-minute cut, which features Noah passed out drunk and contemplating how to kill off the few remaining human souls on the planet.
The controversy it’s generating certainly seems to be helping “Noah” at the box office — where it was a clear winner over its opening weekend, pulling in $44 million against a $130 million budget. The film will undoubtedly be profitable. And perhaps the film’s success is a sign that people are still willing to venture out and see for themselves, rather than listen to someone else tell them that the film isn’t Biblical, or that it’s evil. What’s the harm? For most Christians, it will cost about ten bucks to figure out that nothing Hollywood can present will change their faith, and this movie likely won’t change anything about how the average Christian feels about the story of Noah. Perhaps that’s just as well, since this is just a movie after all, and faith is something else entirely.
For hardcore Evangelicals, there’s not too much here… basically the names of Noah and his family are all that’s recognizable. For fans of big-budget movies, the sets are gorgeous, the CGI special effects are awesome, and in all, the movie has its moments. Yet it won’t change the mind of an atheist either. Those who believe one way or another will exit the film with the same views they walked in with. However, it might be the interesting tale of the Watchers, or any number of other mythological elements Aronofsky includes, that cause some who have a mind to question to do just that: question.
There was once a time when the very act of watching a movie like Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” would have been considered a sin. Anyone discussing or writing about it could have been executed for heresy. I thank God we don’t live in that world anymore. Because I prefer to make my own decisions. Ultimately, I disliked the film on its own merits, not because a religious authority figure told me to do so.