Biblical films are always tricky things to pull off. It’s a delicate balancing act: the directors/writers need to balance the well known story and its theological connotations with the need to create a modernised and dramatic story for modern audiences, all without falling into the trap of being too “preachy” – i.e. ramming an incredibly unsubtle conversion attempt down the audience’s throat. That being said, the Bible (and indeed other religious texts) is full of stories which still have appeal to a modern audience, and the story of Noah certainly has to be one of the most well-loved and well known of these stories. It was interesting that Darren Aronofsky is a self-proclaimed atheist – and more interesting is how this affected his interpretation of the story. Noah is certainly an epic retelling of the story, with added elements which help create a dynamic story for the audience to engage with.
The film starts in a world which has been ruined by humanity’s greed and selfishness. Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family are in self-inflicted exile, choosing to survive (barely) by strict vegetarianism and showing mercy to the “broken” world. From there, the primary plot follows the biblical story: Noah has a vivid dream sent to him from “The Creator”, which tells him to seek out his grandfather, who will explain the dream further. After a second dream, he realises that his “end of the world” dream means that humans have broken the world, and the world needs to be cleansed. Ergo, mighty ark building.
Two hours of a guy building an ark is not particularly interesting, hence the various subplots present in the film. While some of it felt unresolved, other side stories were brilliant and creatively done. For example, the many-armed, stone giants that end up helping Noah and his family are in fact fallen angels. They had a great redemption story, having to overcome their earthly shackles to return to their true form as creatures of light. They were also visually pleasing to watch: gnarled creatures held together by an internal fire? What’s not to like?
With the assistance of his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), a seed from Eden, his family, consisting of his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), his three sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), and an adoptive but barren daughter Ila (Emma Watson), and several fallen (though not corrupted) angels. Several years later, as the ark nears completion, an army of men, who are led by the violent, prideful Tubal-Cain, demand to be let on the ark. However, Noah says that all humans but his family are doomed to die judged by “the Creator”, while the animals will be saved.
On top of the main plot and the threat of Tubal-Cain’s army, Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel flesh out the family’s characters, which adds a layer of internal tensions to the film. Shem, Noah’s oldest son, is in a relationship with Ila, who doesn’t want to marry him as she can’t give him children. This comes in to play later on in the film. Ham, Noah’s second son, is another source of conflict – feeling alone and rejected by his family, he rebels and causes several problems during the film.
Methuselah was another great sideplot: Anthony Hopkins plays a wise old sage who is integral to Noah’s journey, and who then spends most of his screen time pining after berries. This provided some well-needed comic relief, and helped lighten the fairly dark film.
Despite its lighter moments, Noah was a fairly dark film, with some uncomfortable scenes appearing throughout the film. For example: when the last of humanity’s shrieks for help and mercy falls on Noah’s unflinching fanaticism, when women were kidnapped to be traded for animals, or when live animals are torn apart.
An interesting theme in the film which rattled more conservative viewers was of the environment and vegetarianism. Noah and his family don’t harm innocents, and as animals still live the way they did in Eden, to kill and eat an animal is an act of violence against “the Creator”. The film does have a good go at the more carnivorous population which claims that “meat makes you stronger” and that animals should be subservient: Noah states that strength does not come from the physical, but through one’s inner values and from “the Creator”. Other environmental messages that made appearances were the dangers of deforestation and the beauty of nature: the filth and pollution of mankind and its destructive tendencies need to be literally swept away. This can be seen as an allegory for the dangers of rising sea levels and how humanity should improve on itself and live harmoniously with “the Creator” when the floodwaters subside.
In terms of direction, Aronofsky uses photo montages to illustrate certain points. There was a splendid montage of the story of Creation as narrated by Crowe’s Noah and told through the lense of evolution. Other montages included the journey of a pair of doves, a magical river stretching out and a repeated set of three images which becomes more clear as the film progresses.
In conclusion, a surprisingly good film, although not earth shattering. It felt a tad too dark to be a proper family film, although if the children in question had some understanding of biblical mythology (or strong constitutions) then they would be alright. It was certainly enjoyable to watch, and had a rich variety of fairly epic characters (from stunning actors). As a final verdict, the film was solid, with some very interesting and inspired moments.