Film takes liberties with scripture to fine effect
By Tim Pompey 04/03/2014
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
2 hr. 18 min.
If you’re expecting the actual story of Noah via the book of Genesis (Chapters 6-9), let’s just say you will and you won’t see it. Then again, that story takes about 10 minutes to read, and since director Darren Aronofsky has turned it into a full-length movie, this means there’s a lot of back story to add and more room for speculation.
If you’re willing, however, to let Aronofsky’s tale unfold, you might be surprised at how powerful his story of Noah becomes. Yes, the seed of the original is there. It’s just more fully explored, particularly as it pertains to humanity and to the God who created that humanity.
In short, what Aronofsky has done is wrestle with the how and why questions. Grabbing the bones of the Genesis narrative, he develops the details and the impact they have on humans and the Earth itself. For instance, how would an ark hold so many different types of animals, and if we believe that God is connected to us, why would such destruction be necessary?
Oddly enough, Noah (Russell Crowe) never meets God or hears God speak. What he does experience is a startling series of dreams that he struggles to interpret. It takes a visit to his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), to convince him to prepare for the destruction of the Earth via a flood.
On the run from bands of human predators, he encounters another strange phenomenon: the Watchers, a group of fallen angels who have been transformed into gargantuan rock figures. Initially hostile, they become his guardians and work assistants as Noah finds a location, miraculously watches a barren land turn into a forest, and begins the gigantic task of building an ark big enough to hold the entirety of creation.
The story makes its own path when the so-called king of the land, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), demands that he be given the ark as part of his royal possessions. When Noah refuses, the battle is on and the plot turns dark and bloody.
Aronofsky, whose previous works include The Wrestler and the Academy Award-winning Black Swan, has thrown a mammoth amount of work into this film, and it shows. Visually stunning, it has a fluid sense about it, capturing an Earth “pre-Abraham” that was still forming itself through intelligent design, scientific evolution and social development. It’s a world filled with monsters, mad men and sages who lived for centuries and witnessed the ascension and destruction of mankind.
The same kind of thought went into creating the story. Working with his longtime associate Ari Handel, the two have made the writing sparse but well-rounded. It has the broad and powerful feel of a novel brought to screen, with the benefit of some great action and a few soliloquies that may be human in nature but have a Biblical quality that is insightful, perhaps even transcendent.
The energy of the Word and the words is dramatically interpreted by a great cast that includes not only Crowe and Winstone, but Jennifer Connelly as Noah’s wife, Naameh, Douglas Booth and Logan Lerman as sons Shem and Ham, and Emma Watson as adopted daughter Ila.
If you accept the classic definition of myth, i.e., the early history of a people that explains some natural or social phenomenon and typically involves supernatural beings or events, then Noah fits squarely under this heading.
The risk that Aronofsky takes is that he grabs a part of one story and builds another story around it. He adds to the sacred myth, so to speak, and by doing so, honors the original’s intention. Given his past successes, the fact that he does it so well is no surprise. That he brings new life to the older story and makes it that much more powerful, even better.