As I’ve probably mentioned here before, I’m an atheist. As I’m sure I’ve also mentioned, this doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate religious stories. Whether they be genre movies with explicitly religious themes like The Chronicles of Narnia or The Exorcist, radical reinterpretations of scripture like The Last Temptation of Christ or Salome’s Last Dance, straightforward adaptations like Ben Hur or The Gospel According to Saint Matthew or even contemporary works like Dogma or Saved! I am completely on board with enjoying or appreciating movies with religious themes. And it definitely helps if the movie is, like Noah, bats**t insane.
The plot is…no, I don’t need to recount the plot, at least in broad strokes, it’s probably the second or third most well known story of the Old Testament. What sets this apart from your expectations (Vision from God, building the Ark, arrival of animals, flood etc.) is all in the details. For example, that bit in the trailer where Noah (Russel Crowe) proclaims to the evil King Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) that he’s “Not alone,” in defying him? He is not referring to being metaphorically supported by God. He is referring to the giant rock monsters who are actually fallen angels (there’s no good pictures of them, but they look like Tree Kin if they were made of rock) who are literally there to help him fend off Tubal-cain’s army.
The fact that a big budget Bible movie has been allowed to get away with such radical reinterpretations of the text makes me want to recommend it right off the bat, but even aside from that, it’s a fairly kickass action movie. It’s directed by Darren Aronofsky, who’s previous film Black Swan was my pick for the best film of 2010 and even aside from that he’s a damned fine director. His visual style for the film is something between prehistoric and post apocalyptic, the action scenes are mostly fresh and inventive and rather than shy away from the political implications of the story, he decided to embrace them wholeheartedly.
For example, the primary way we differentiate the good descendants of Seth (basically just Noah and his family) and the evil descendants of Cain (everybody else) is that the descendants of Seth live in harmony with nature whereas the descendants of Cain seek to exploit it. Oh and it’s suggested that the Creator (who is only ever referred to as the Creator, never God) is sending the flood because the descendants of Cain have used the world up and global extinction is the Creator’s refresh button.
The script is well written, and also kind of bizarrely devious. It works very hard to make Noah and his cause sympathetic, but never lets us forget that his cause is essentially letting every human on Earth die. This comes to a head in the 3rd act on board the boat when…well I don’t want to spoil, but I will say this: most movies about a person saying they’re called by God either frame them as a Holy Man or a Crazy Man. Noah might be the first movie that tries to go with both, as if the strain of communicating with a deity has damaged his grip on reality.
On that note, Russel Crowe is probably the standout, working hard to convey the weight of his mission as well as his unraveling psyche, and he plays both all the way to the hilt. Jennifer Connelly doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but she gets a couple of good acting moments towards the end. Emma Watson is saddled with playing a bit of a cliché but she’s good at it and she gets a lot of depth toward the end. Still, of the secondary characters, my favorite is Anthony Hopkins in barely more than a cameo as Noah’s grandfather.
It’s still something of an imperfect movie. The third act is a tiny bit too long and the denouement is MUCH too long. Of Noah’s sons, only one of them gets any significant character development, even Emma Watson’s love interest barely gets any screen time. All the action scenes are good, I just feel there should be more of them, especially in the third act. And while Anthony Hopkins is fun, I wish we’d gotten to see more of him.
Oh and on the religious note: those of you expecting a literal adaptation of Scripture will definitely walk away disappointed. In case the giant rock monsters didn’t tip you off, this movie draws heavily from Apocrypha like the Book of Enoch, so be aware of that. But honestly, this movie and all movies deserve to be judged on their own merits rather than whether it fulfills or contradicts your religious beliefs. Especially a movie in which a retelling of the 7 Days Creation myth is told over a montage of the Big Bang and Evolution.
Noah is ultimately an odd duck of a movie. It has elements of spiritualism, action, high fantasy, cosmic horror and deeply personal drama. It might not represent a career high point for Aronofsky (Black Swan is a really hard movie to top) or for 2014 in general, but it’s a fascinating movie and one worth of your attention, regardless of your religious affiliation, or lack thereof.
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and you can excommunicate him on his way to Sunday School. Good on you if you get that reference.
– good screenplay and acting
– great action scenes and special effects
– unique and interesting take on a well known story
– runs a little long
– some characters don’t get a lot of characterization
– not enough Anthony Hopkins