“Maybe one day we will learn to be kind.”
It’s hard for me to put into words exactly what I felt when I watched Darren Aronofsky’s Noah last weekend in full IMAX glory.
As someone who left their Bible studies back in Catholic high school, I was unable to comb through this film frame by frame to see how it stood up against the scripture on which it is based. To be honest, I found all the artifice leading up to the film a bit silly. To ask Christian audiences if they would be satisfied with a movie that “replaces the Bible’s core message with one created by Hollywood” not only undermines Christians, but the entire art of filmmaking itself. Instead of getting my fur up about what the film should or shouldn’t include or portray, I took Noah for what it is: a brilliant piece of filmmaking. More than that, it was Aronofsky’s interpretation of the Bible – never a replacement for or authorized retelling of.
At first, I was a little taken aback by the surly backdrop and font with which the film opens, telling us, almost in Star Wars crawl style, what has occurred prior to the film’s opening. It’s a necessary tactic, as not all of us are as squared away on our Old Testament study as others.
I was correct in assuming that all that I needed to know of the original story from Genesis is this: God picked Noah to ensure that every living creature on Earth would be preserved during the great flood. In Aronofsky’s version, the almighty makes the decision to annihilate humanity due to their poor treatment of the Earth. It’s up to Noah to round up the animals and preserve his family only — even if it means they will be the last living people on the Earth.
The beginning of the film utilizes an interesting visual summary to show us the creation of the universe. It reminded me a bit of the visual tactics used in Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life. What I found very interesting is that we see Eve’s hand reaching for the apple — the forbidden fruit — in the Garden of Eden, and that it appears to have a pulse, a heartbeat. At first I didn’t think anything of this, but after watching the entire film I came to realize that the “forbidden fruit” was in fact, living flesh. Therefore, the fall of humanity perhaps has to do with the eating of animals. If you know me, you know I agree wholeheartedly with this assertion.
We meet Noah and his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo Carroll). The family, who are progeny of Seth (brother of Abel and more importantly, Cain — the original sinner) is set apart from the rest of civilization and lives an existence almost like the Incredible Hulk, humbly surviving off the land that God has provided them. They are like shepherds without animals, alienated from the Cain’s offspring who are slowly destroying the natural world.
I have to applaud Aronofsky for challenging the Biblical background of this film in such a respectful way. Rather than making the film all about an epic journey for mankind (although it does have plenty of those tendencies), it is told on personal terms augmented by massive special effects. And water. Lots and lots of water. Above all, what Noah as a whole and specifically Russell Crowe’s character achieves is a perfect illustration of humanity’s vice: we are simultaneously as cruel as we are compassionate. It is the perpetual struggle of man.
Watching Noah, played by the brilliant (and might I add – aging wonderfully) Russell Crowe, is to watch a man whose internal struggle matches that epic contest occurring around him. Crowe is fantastic, and clearly the film’s standout. His unquestionable physical and mental strength are reminiscent of the characters he created in Romper Stomper, Cinderella Man, and most notably, Gladiator. Crowe has the ability to appear militantly masculine and aggressive, yet gentle.
This is precisely how I imagine Noah would be. The fate of the world rests in his hands, and he can choose act based on the divine messages he receives from the Creator (note: we never hear the word “God” uttered once in this film), or he can choose to ignore that in place of his own personal morality.
But what I love most about this film is its subtle yet powerful message about the treatment of animals.
During one early scene in the film, we see a wounded deer-like animal who had been shot by Cain’s soldiers frightfully scurrying behind rocks to find a place to die. Noah’s children follow the animal and after watching it die, ask their father why people eat meat, to which Noah replies, “they think it will make them strong.” Everything about the image of Russell Crowe, likely 200+ pounds of man muscle, uttering this verse, made my vegan soul smile.
As I watched this film, I slowly began to notice a feeling in my gut – one that simmers with an unrelenting force throughout the 138 minutes of Noah. The message is simple: man is good, and man is evil. We have everything, and we have nothing. More specifically, we are who we are based on our history. Men can be compassionate, or men can be cruel, selfish, and depraved. As the film unfolds, Noah receives a vision from the Creator that he must fulfill his duty: build an arc to save Earth’s creatures from the flood, which will wipe away the evil of the world. Noah becomes more and more focused on his mission, slowly aging and growing physically stronger, his gaze becoming slightly more fixated rather than focused.
Aronofsky certainly deserves an Oscar nomination for one particular scene during which Noah, in a moment of vulnerability, strays from the blueprint of his plan to save only his family during the flood. Feeling paternal empathy for his only single son, he decides to venture to enemy territory to find him a wife so that he won’t be alone after the flood – thereby defying the Creator be detouring from the original blueprint. As he treks to the land of the outcasts led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), we see humanity at its absolute worst: men trading young women in exchange for food, rape, gluttony, a live animal being torn apart by brutally feral men — everything you would imagine seeing at the end of the world.
As Noah stares at the nightmare, his gaze lands quickly on a man who appears to be his mirror twin eating a piece of animal flesh. Noah, aghast, immediately turns and returns to his ark, having seen temptation personified by this alter-image of himself.
The anti-cruelty flame flickers again.
We witness Noah’s Jekyll and Hyde journey from a gentle yet capable man of God to a crazed and maniacal creature focused solely on his task. I suppose a contemporary analogy would be Navy Seals or Marines who have a laser-like focus on completing the mission at hand, even if that means committing casualties of the worst kind in the midst of doing so.
Noah builds his arc, and he calls the animals from all corners of the Earth to its safety with help from an original seed from the Garden of Eden — given to him my his grandfather, Anthony Hopkins. As an aside, I love the fact that there are no real animals used in this film, only computer-generated images.
In a very sweet moment, we see Jennifer Connelly concoct a potion to put the animals to sleep. We see Noah tell his son, who is older now and petting a sleeping animal, to be gentle because they are their protectors.
As the flood begins, Tubal-cain and his army charge the ark, fighting to overtake Noah and his family and to save themselves. The “battle” scenes, so to speak, between Noah and the essential anti-Christ are very much reminiscent of Transformers, as Noah is helped fight by former angels who have fallen to the Earth and transformed into huge boulders. It makes sense as a cinematic bandaid – no matter how strong Russell Crowe is, he can’t possibly fight off an entire army of testosterone-driven, blood-eating men by himself.
To me, these scenes went on a bit too long. Although I love a good action scene, I could have done without the excessive spectacle. I would have preferred they traded a few minutes of these big blockbuster scenes for a scene of Noah’s family witnessing the new world after the flood waters recede. After all that time on the ark, it felt anti-climactic to not see the payoff!
The other stand-out scene to me came when Noah’s family is on the ark with the animals and they hear the rest of humankind drowning outside in the churning water. As the ark holds steady, huge waves throw bodies up against giant boulders to which they try to cling.
I have to confess that this is what I imagine hell to be, and when people do me wrong — and I’m not talking about cutting me off in traffic or stealing my parking space wrong, but I mean truly, truly wrong — I picture them suffering this type of fate. The only big question looming over our heads, and one that Naameh asks Noah during this scene, is whether or not all of humankind should have to perish because of the sins of a few. Surely there are some innocent out there, dying without reason because some of their brethren sinned. That’s certainly the $64,000 question and my answer would be yes. A modern day example would be when we do things like outsource pollution or cheap labor to the other side of the world so that we can maintain a pristine image. In fact, we are participating as well as contributing to the downfall of our civilization.
My only criticism of this film is that I didn’t feel that Jennifer Connelly’s character was strong enough. No one can argue that she is beautiful and lithe, and I actually found her tolerable throughout the first two thirds of the film. And to those who have already seen it, we know that she all but saves the fate of humanity in the way that only the “woman behind the man” can do.
However, after Noah starts to lose his grasp on reality, he begins to endanger his children — one horrific act in particular — in the name of his God-given job. I don’t know any mother who wouldn’t jump in front of an oncoming train or walk through fire for her children, and the fact that Jennifer Connelly puts up a lame fight really got to me. Sure, she threatens Noah by saying that if he commits this act, he will die alone, without her love and support. I was just waiting for her to go trailer park on him — but she didn’t look the part, physically or mentally. Why can we never have a film with a tremendously strong man coupled with an equally robust and solid woman? That’s what I’d like to know…
All in all, I think that Noah’s message is long overdue. If you are a frequent reader of my blog and a follower of mine on Twitter or Facebook, you already know that I feel strongly that humans are slowly destroying God’s good Earth. When I look out over my beloved Caribbean sea in Jamaica, the fact that septic waste from huge all-inclusive hotels is being pumped into it on a daily basis makes my heart hurt. When I see pictures of pigs on their way to the slaughterhouse in the middle of winter — so cold that their noses are frozen to the side of their metal containers — I ask myself how the same human race who composes symphonies and poetry can be capable of such disgusting cruelty. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this video. And this one. And this one. why we are never satisfied with what we have. There used to be porpoises in the Hudson River. Now? You’re lucky if you can see your hand below the water. We’ve done an awful job taking care of what we were given. What I want to know is, when will our flood come? When it does, I’d like to be on the ark with the animals — where will you be?