Over the weekend, I caught the latest Biblical epic that is causing social and political tremors. Not since Mel Gibson’s controversial “The Passion of the Christ” has there been a film that has caused such an explosion of commentary, reviews and chatter than “Noah”. The reviews that I have read since watching the film seem sharply divided (although the film has a high rating on Rotten Tomatoes- 77% at the writing of this post. http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/noah_2014/). Audience reactions are decidedly mixed.
The reaction from some in the conservative Evangelical camp has been one of disgust. Pastor Rick Warren implies a criticism of “Noah” and its director, Darren Aronofsky, via twitter: “Director of new ‘Noah’ movie calls it ‘The LEAST biblical film ever made’ then uses F word referring to those wanting Bible-based (entertainment).” As The Christian Post notes, this quote from Aronofsky was taken out of context. (http://www.christianpost.com/news/rick-warren-blasts-noah-misquotes-films-director-on-twitter-116319/).
Creationist Ken Ham has blasted “Noah” as an “unbiblical, pagan film from its start” and goes on from there. (http://time.com/46738/supreme-court-mccutcheon-campaign-finance-law/). A critic (and perhaps others) have also maintained that Aronofsky is a secret gnostic based on various images that are a part of the film.
Generally, I’m in agreement with the Evangelical camp on many doctrinal issues (not a lot of political ones) but speaking as an Evangelical, I really enjoyed Aronofsky’s take on the complicated Biblical character.
The character of Noah has had the Sunday School treatment for a long time. Let’s face it. The Biblical account is tailor made for cuddly renditions to children. A righteous man hears from God about a coming apocalyptic flood, builds an ark and saves his family and really cute animals (well, mostly cute). The episode left out of many of those Sunday School renditions of the antediluvian patriarch is when Noah got drunk and passed out naked in his tent. His children (Shem, Ham, Japheth) see him and move to cover him up with a blanket because seeing one’s dad naked is never a feature of a good day. This account is found in Genesis 9:20-27 and this account is in Aronofsky’s film.
“Noah” the film is decidedly not for children. The movie shows Noah receiving vivid and disturbing dreams about the coming first apocalypse (in the film, how he interprets God’s message to him). Humanity’s violence and wickedness is full on display. The character of Noah sees hundreds of human beings in an encampment ready to rape and do unspeakably evil things to each other. That being said, Aronofsky has finally given the world a fundamentally more realistic portrayal of Noah than most church programs.
Yes, the movie is largely extra-biblical but any cinematic treatment of this account is going to have to interpret and take creative license in order to flesh out the characters involved. The written, Biblical account is rather matter-of-fact about some of the events surrounding the great deluge and gives us a few sentences regarding the rest of Noah’s life afterward. The Noah-drunk scene is interesting in the Biblical text because no reason or motivation is assigned as to why Noah got drunk. The Bible seems to leave room for creative interpretation here.
What seems clear is Aronofsky takes the Noah flood account as pure mythology (read interview here: http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/03/the-terror-of-em-noah-em-how-darren-aronofsky-interprets-the-bible/359587/). Obviously, many Christians (and other religious faiths) take Noah’s flood as an account of history. By now, anyone who has not seen the film, have heard about the rock monsters which hesitantly become involved in Noah’s life and end up helping him build the ark as well as defend the ark when hordes of humanity try to come aboard. These creatures come with an interesting back story and like the film, have received mixed reviews. I thought they were a unique touch but they did feel borrowed from a “Lord of the Rings” film.
The Bible text also does not tell us much about what happened on the ark while Noah and his family were adrift. Aronofsky and his screenwriter, Ari Handel, give us some pretty compelling family melodrama. I know these portions of the cinematic story have given Christians some pause. The character of Noah seems to transition from righteous to self-righteous to dangerous (no more spoilers other than that). We are not used to having Noah presented to us in this manner however, I think the film’s portrayal of this is crucially important. No, the “inside the ark” account is not found in the Biblical text and is pure fiction but it shows Noah as a tremendously flawed human being. Before he is closed into the ark, Noah mentions to his wife, Naameh, something along the lines of, “the depravity and sickness that is in the world is also in this ark because we are in the ark.”
When the family is in the ark in the film, there is a devastating sense of the primal. All of whatever governments or institutions humanity had are gone. It is just Noah and his family and even a patriarch who is described as righteous can misunderstand what God is telling him. Noah becomes a haunted character perhaps by the crushing weight of survivor’s guilt.
My opinion: Aronofsky has just missed masterpiece status with Noah. There are some ideas in the film that are never fully fleshed out and some of the dialogue evokes one-liners that would be found in an action movie. All of this though is easily overlooked because of the audacity of this project and the passion that the filmmakers brought to it. They have breathed fresh, new life into an ancient story/account and there is a point with the film where it seems unpredictable where the events may lead.
Aronofsky is a top-notch filmmaker, a veteran of: “Pi”, the undisputed masterpiece “Requiem for a Dream”, “The Fountain”, “The Wrestler”, and “Black Swan”. He definitely does not get confined in any specific genre. His skills as a movie-maker are on full display in “Noah”. The special effects, which are incredible, serve the story and sequences, including Noah telling the creation story to his family, remind us of mesmerizing sequences from Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”.
The director is a professing unbeliever in Christianity and describes his religion as indescribable and perhaps best explained in “The Fountain”. Yes, that is vague and weird. With “Noah” he has fashioned an experience true to the difficult and honest nature of faith and given us a protagonist, so often portrayed as extremely saintly, as being as flawed as any of us.