dir: Darren Aronofsky
There is no more epic a fantasy than the Bible, really. And Noah, the latest flick by Darren Aronofsky sets out to show us just how absurd believing the literal version of the story is.
No, that's not fair. The religious types who took umbrage with this flick, who, let's face it, take umbrage with anything because it's their favourite hobby, and because they're deeply insecure, ignore the fact that the original story, as read, straight out of the Book of Genesis, is already pretty monstrous. And flat out bonkers. Nothing said, no blasphemous statement can really saying anything worse about the Hebrew / Abrahamic / Old Testament God than his own actions would indicate.
I mean come on. He was the original genocidal maniac. He tried to kill off our entire goddamn species, for crying out loud, not just the people he didn't like because they had the wrong coloured skin or because they talked funny, or their eyes weren't the right shape.
Every other mass slaughterer of humans has taken their lead, their inspiration, from up on high. From the classics. From the one who started it all.
Aronofsky, who is, by his own admission, not a religious type, sees other possibilities in the story. Most of them have to do with a man, the mind of one man, Noah, the crazy mind of one man (the only other person better than Russell Crowe for this would have been Mel Gibson). This one crazy man has eyes lit by religious fervour. At a young age he sees his father murdered by a man who styles himself a king (Ray Winstone), and, understandably, this makes Noah not like other humans that much. As a sort of pre-Christian survivalist / prepper, he carves out a dicey life for himself and his family on the edges of human settlement. He is plagued by visions, visions of Eden, of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, of Cain slaying Abel, visions of the human world's sinfulness, and what God must do to even the scales.
As industrialisation and the muck of humanity spreads, so too do Noah's muttered and grunted statements become more and more apocalyptic. He sees the coming of fire from the heavens, and he sees all of humanity underwater.
Why? Because we're all sinners, apparently. We despoiled the earth, we built stuff, we were cruel to animals, we didn't call our mothers enough, all of us, each and every one, were sinners who deserved to be wiped out.
And there were kids around, they were sinners as well. How? Why? Well, it was because of the bloody Apple, wasn't it, in the Garden of Eden. Original Sin was enough to justify killing us all off whether we'd done anything to defy God's ways or not.
In this film, the emphasis is placed on the misuse of nature by the people who follow Tubal-Cain (Winstone), coincidentally the same guy who killed Noah's dad. The way they cut down all the trees, make stuff, and eat animals is what tips the sinful tipping point. Independent of Noah's vision / delusions, the stuff the baddies are doing seems to be poisoning the earth, leaving it barren, contributing to global warming or something similar.
Noah, who sees all this and laments, laments at the top of his lungs, hears and sees stuff no-one else sees. In this day and age, he would probably have been medicated, at the very least, they would have kept him away from sharp objects. He's very good at killing people, but at least, for a while, he's determined to protect his family, and if he has to kill a bunch of people to do so, then so be it. The others are all going to die anyway once the flood comes.
The bigger problem he faces is that he has a wife (Jennifer Connelly), three sons and an adoptive daughter (Emma Watson). That's not enough to build a gigantic boat-type thingie with which to protect the real innocents of this world, is it?
Lucky for them, they bump into a bunch of angels. Honest to God, a bunch of fucking angels. These angels are basically giant rock monsters, who are really good at building stuff, because as one of them tells Noah, they're the ones who taught humanity how to do practical stuff with their hands. They gave our species the skills to pay the bills, to store the bills, to do all sorts of bill-related activities. They were punished for this, by God, by being turned into goopy, goofy looking giant Gumbys. They see in Noah, eventually, a chance at returning to God's good graces.
The fools. What they really represent is an opportunity to make this Biblical story look a hell of a lot like the missing, apocryphal chapters of Lord of the Rings. It would otherwise be impossible for Aronofsky to have big battle scenes without them, since Noah himself couldn't fight off and kill tens of thousands of people on his own, and there aren't enough of his family to be an army.
So, stone angels killing guys... it looks... interesting? They might look like Ents, but they're far less peaceful or slow, and they can kill a whole bunch of people before they're taken down, which is what they really want, secretly, in their fiery heart of hearts.
As odd as these scenes look, they serve a purpose. They stave off viewer boredom. A lot of stuff that happens in the flick is intended to stave off boredom, and in most cases it succeeds. Noah himself is an abusive tyrant, regardless or because of his being the mouthpiece for God's will, so past a certain point all he does is glower and grunt in a fearsome way that no longer seems like he’s doing the Big Guy Upstairs’ bidding. His family cower around or away from him and his pronouncements, basically doing what he says though they don't really agree with him most of the time.
The story, for some reason that isn’t obvious to us in the audience, needs to give one of Noah’s sons, Ham (Logan Lerman), ample, or more ample, reason to hate him. The whole family has plenty of reason to hate Noah already, as far as I could see, but Ham has to hate him extra to justify some of the more dubious things he does. What Ham wants is a wife. His suspiciously attractive brother Shem (Douglas Booth) and adoptive sister are all hooked up, and he’s looking at being without a shagging partner in the brave new world God is going to create by wiping the old one out.
Everything Ham tries to do is rebuffed, by Noah, by God it seems, by a cruel fate that wants him to be pounding sand alone for all eternity. In these fantastical stories, these people, these prophets like Noah and his grandad Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), were living like a thousand years. I know how ridiculous that sounds, but that’s what these dinks who follow this stuff literally believe. So not only was Ham looking at being alone, he would be looking at being alone for a very long time.
Thus creeps the snake into the garden, thus does evil sneak its way even into God’s plans. His role is really unfortunate, because it requires him to do a lot of dumb things, and then change his mind about them afterward.
The only innocents in this murderous sinful world of ours are the animals, as he sees it (or as God commands). The variation here is that Noah's plan isn't just to nab two of each and push them into place, feeding them straw or whatever they need. His plan is actually to give them roofies and knock them out for the duration of the trip, which perhaps explains something that makes no sense in the original story, but then doesn't seem very believable, though it is horribly convenient. It does show how they could have gotten around the pesky problem of all these animals eating each other.
Only when most of humanity is wiped out does Noah reveal his actual plan. This might be where the story varies the most from the biblical account, but, let’s face it, it’s all bonkers anyway. His plan is pretty nuts, but then God’s plan to wipe the slate clean and start again is pretty nuts as well. Unfortunately for his family, especially his adoptive daughter Ila, Noah’s plan is not only nuts, but it is especially cruel. Monstrously cruel; crueller than Tubal-Cain, who happily eats live animals to prove his dominion over the creatures of the earth, crueller than God Himself, who killed nearly everyone in a flashy and inescapable way.
Noah gives them an ultimatum, one which they have no control over, but one which made me think that the family, as a whole, would probably have been thoroughly justified in killing Noah themselves, maybe forcing him to walk the plank. It’s not like anyone would have thought any the less of them
The dramatic aspects of the story are overamped, which is perversely meant to make it seem more believable, but it’s a story that’s inherently unbelievable, isn’t it, because it’s a fable. In a fable, an instructional mythic story, anything can happen as long as it gets to the point that you want to make. Realism and this kind of stuff perhaps are incompatible.
Unless you think the story is true world history, in which case there’s no fucking way anything can help you, not even my disgust or pity. That being said there are definite attempts to make this seem both epic in scale and importance, but a relatable story on a human level. In that sense, Noah isn’t just a tool following his god’s commands, he has agency, he has choice (as Ila is forced to concede towards the end, and she explains Noah’s Free Will moment to the rest of us). Whether Noah’s is a monster or Judaism’s / Christianity’s / Islam’s greatest prophet is up to the viewer, though I doubt the shading this story provides would change any deeply held beliefs.
Aronofsky and crew, who’ve worked together on six interesting, sometimes great films, really go out of their way to distance this from the other religious Lifetime channel / Christian crap which occasionally clogs up American cinemas in order to get people by the church busload to the flicks in order to prove a political point (and make a pretty penny). I don’t think Aronofsky has ever made big bucks from his odd films. This is his most financially successful film thus far, though it’s also, despite plenty of weirdness on display, his most conventional.
He does use it to say a lot of fairly unconventional stuff. Yes, of course we’re all sinners and doomed to die horrible deaths and such, but he links our selfish natures to the way we treat the animals that the Bible alleges God gave us stewardship over, to protect and collaborate with, rather than exploit and destroy for our amusement.
I don’t know if it’s necessarily an anti-meat-eating message, it’s definitely an anti-cruelty message, but then didn’t everyone already know it’s bad to be cruel to animals? We split hairs over what constitutes cruelty and such, and whether it’s ethical to eat them, but only the most blind can’t see that harming them, harming nature wilfully usually doesn’t work out for any of us. The Bible said so, don’t take my word for it.
Rather than being overtly religious (which, duh, it already is), there is more of a mystical quality to stuff that goes on here. A single rain drop hits the ground and blooms instantly into a flower. The skin of that first tempting snake in the Garden retains some mystical spark, some element of the divine or the mysterious. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, which triggered the Fall, throbs with a strange energy.
In perhaps the most breathtaking moments (most of the flick looks pretty incredible, thanks to cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who always works with Aronofsky), and also a moment that made me laugh out loud, Noah tells of Creation, of the Biblical literalist version of Creation, and it’s depicted to us in a way that isn’t really a million miles away from both the Creationist version or the Darwinian version.
That takes balls. Opposable thumbs that prove evolution, but also balls
And when it ends, not content with a simple rainbow to represent God’s covenant with Noah that he’d never again kill everyone off, unless he really, really wants to, the sky erupts with a prismatic effect so powerful I thought my retinas had detached.
Noah is a strange film. If you could stand watching Russell Crowe doing his best impression of Mel Gibson’s weekend visits with his family, you might get something out of this strange, strange film.
7 times their time on the ark was about the same as what I’ve heard most cruises are like out of 10
“Strength comes from the Creator” – I love you, Creator - Noah