This is not the story you remember from Sunday School.
After a year of production and roughly $125 million in costs, director Darren Aronofsky’s Noah roars into theater this month with a twist on one of the oldest stories known to man. It’s big, loud, beautifully designed, and unlike anything you have ever seen for better and for worse.
Opening with the origin of existence, Noah explains the early mankind was divided into two groups following Cain’s departure from his family’s side after murdering his brother Abel. Cain helped build cities and industrialization, while those with Seth, the other son of Adam and Eve, spent their days doing what they believe to be the work of the creator. Noah (Russell Crowe) is the last descendent of Seth, and by the time he reaches maturity much of the world’s beauty has been lost to man’s self-indulgence. The land is barren, animals are rarely seen, and faith in the creator has been essentially wiped from the hearts of Cain’s descendants.
As the story goes, the creator speaks to Noah through dreams and informs him that he has a mission to complete that will require a great undertaking. Noah gathers his family and begins a long journey to visit his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) and along the way not only saves a small child (soon to become Emma Watson), but also encounters a group of fallen angels known as ‘The Watchers’ that can best be describe as 7-foot, six-armed CGI rock monsters.
Anyone familiar with The Bible is probably a little confused at this point, and that is perfectly okay. There are a lot of wild ideas in the biblical story of Noah, and there are an equal – though in many cases entirely different – wild ideas on display in this film. It follows in the footsteps of Aronofsky’s work on The Fountain, with a relatively straightforward narrative being told in an complex and impressionistic way, but given the source material the mystery and beauty to it all feels completely warranted.
Noah’s mission to build the ark is a challenge that takes many years to create, but in the biblical story there is a significant lack of dramatic tension. If Aronofsky were to simply repeat what pastors around the world preach the results would be incredibly dull, and knowing this he has added a plethora of flourishes to craft a more thrilling narrative that builds to the same conclusion as the original. As far as what kinds of flourishes have been added, the answers range from minor to significant, and include the aforementioned rock angels, an extended stay in the ark (40 days and nights becomes many months), animals you have never imagined, family members that may or may not have existed, and an open embrace of evolution that is sure to piss off more than a few Bible-belt believers.
The biggest challenge facing Noah, however, is not as much its deviations from scripture, but whether or not viewers will be willing to accept someone taking artistic liberties with a story that is rooted in one of the most widely-recognized religions in the modern world. What Aronofsky has done is no different from what other filmmakers have done by taking Hercules and similar figures from greek mythology and throwing them into big budget cinematic epics that feature nothing found in the texts that first brought them to life, but because Noah is said to be working with God – who Aronofsky chooses to refer to solely as The Creator – some will say there is no room for imagination.
Crowe is an admirable Noah, but his evolution as a character does not begin until well into the second act, after the rain has begun to fall. He is headstrong and focused on the mission he has been given by his creator, which causes him to be stunted as a protagonist. Thankfully, the addition of a wife (Jennifer Connelly) and orphaned female child to play opposite Noah’s three sons offers viewers characters they can relate to. They’re outsiders themselves in many ways, and even though they believe Noah is doing the Creator’s will they cannot help wondering if he is losing touch with reality.
Noah may be adapted from a book far more famous than any other ever printed, but at the end of the day its likeness to the source material that inspired it is about as close to The Bible as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire is to the Suzanne Collins’ bestseller of the same name. That said, it’s one of the most beautiful and thrilling historical epics ever brought to the screen, with imagery and performances that will stay with you long after the the skies have cleared.
Written by: James Shotwell