“This film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that the film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis” – Paramount’s February 2014 disclaimer in response to religious concerns after test screenings.
It seems there are some in the Christian community who would have preferred this adaptation of Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s latest biopic, to be a feel-good version of the story while remaining faithful to the biblical narrative on which it is based. If that kind of adaptation is even possible when it comes to the naturally depressing and compact story that Noah’s Ark is, needless to say this Noah doesn’t achieve it. What it does do is give us something much better.
Key here is to remember that a film based on such a culturally significant story was always going to be a subjective interpretation of that story. Bearing this in mind, there was no better choice than the visionary Aronofsky, a proven master in bringing out both the best and worst in his characters (The Wrestler, Black Swan), to direct. Aronofsky gives us a flawed – and therefore distinctly human – version of the Noah character, played by Russell Crowe in what turned out to be an inspired casting choice (I initially had my doubts about it). While some may argue that this conflicted and ‘flawed’ Noah isn’t quite the one we see in the Bible story, we must bear in mind the context of our time; I think this version was the only suitable one for the task at hand.
Additions to the text are understandable; had you been expecting a feature length movie about a story that lasts three chapters in Genesis and doesn’t give detailed character notes without these creative allowances, you simply weren’t going to get it (it would have been left on the cutting room floor). Of course it is here where many films begin to go wrong, changing the implication of a text in their fiddling with it, but the changes added in Noah only help to illuminate its meaning.
A fine example is the character of Tubal-Cain, played by Ray Winstone in one of his signature ‘tough guy’ parts, who is referenced in just one Bible verse (Genesis 4: 22) where he is described simply as ‘the forger of all instruments of bronze and iron’. The character is taken and expanded upon by Aronofsky, who uses him as the outspoken lesson of humanity’s downfall. As we hear him speak of man being superior over everything, not in being given this right but by taking it, you find he is exemplary of the entire human race before and since. The character could be accused of being one dimensional, and frankly this is to be expected with an actor like Winstone filling the role, but he nonetheless meets the requirements demanded by the films plot.
Elsewhere, Emma Watson’s talent flourishes in perhaps her most challenging role yet as wife of one of Noah’s sons, Shem. Jennifer Connelly also appears as Noah’s wife, and Anthony Hopkins continues to be typecast in his old age with the role of Methuselah, the wise sage of the story who displays some ambiguous supernatural gifts. It is Aronofsky and his lead actor on whom the weight of their story lies, though, and the pair carry the rest of its parts well.
Slight personal annoyances lie in the fact that God is constantly referred to as ‘the creator’ (the most encompassing term possible), and the fallen angels known as ‘The Watchers’ are present for purely blockbuster-type reasons, with their eventual fate providing somewhat of a happy ending in the backdrop of an otherwise bleak subject. You do realise, though, that without these giants it would have been hard convincing the audience that Noah and his small family somehow managed to build their Ark by themselves. God communicates with Noah only through dreams, refusing to answer through direct speech when Noah does the familiar ‘looking up to the sky and questioning’ stance.
These allowances, and a few others, help the film appeal to a mainstream Hollywood audience. This is largely a double edged sword. While I have admitted that Noah is an entirely necessary adaptation for modern viewers, the overall production is not quite up to par with some of Aronofsky’s other work in creative terms. But I say this only because expectations of the director are otherwise so high.
The film captures Noah’s moral struggle between his emotional affiliation with man and obedient allegiance to God, while always maintaining that it is the allegiance to God which takes priority, and somehow manages to paint this as a positive thing. If we had been playing a game in the Final Fantasy series, the answer would have been to take God down in order to save humanity. Yet in this 2014 adaptation of an apocalyptic story, the audience may just find themselves understanding Noah, and God’s, motivations for destroying everything. For once, the onus is not on saving everyone to save the world; Noah goes to the opposite extreme, and ultimately comes out with us still on his side.
8 / 10.