Here Comes the Flood – ”Noah” Is Powerful But Eneven
Noah. The man once upon a time chosen by God in the Old Testament to save select parts of humanity and the animal kingdom from the flood intended to wipe out the rest. Most of us recognize the story, the framework at least. Or so we tend to think. Now Darren Aronofsky, the man behind ”Black Swan”, ”The Wrestler” and ”The Fountain” among other distinctive works, used a considerable budget to realize his vision, an interpretation that definitely has managed to split opinion and provoke debate on a global level. As for myself, I ended up after the movie discussing it with a handful of other (yeah, well…) mature gentlemen who expressed wildly differing views of ”Noah”, based on everything from Biblical accuracy to the overall quality (or lack of) in the CGI department. Someone estimated our average grade to be 4,8 (on an IMDb-based scale of 1-10). I was one of the more positively inclined viewers present at that table in the local branch of a global fast food establishment.
Noah the Boatbuilder in this version is not always easy to sympathize with. Many times he comes off as a clear-cut misanthrope, but maybe not without reason, judging from what we learn of the circumstances where he finds himself and his family. The exposition part of the film might be a little too long and relies on a sort of visual poetry you can either admire or find distracting, too much show-off and seeking an immediate emotional impact. That, of course, will depend on your personal preferences. The whole foundation of the film is constantly a balancing act, between powerful and the possibly preposterous. Exactly how good an idea was that thing with the Watchers, these gigantic creatures seemingly made of stone, although supposedly they were once pure light, before they displeased the Creator and went on to live in sad seclusion until they decide to assist the stubborn survivalist in his quest? OK, there are giants mentioned in the Bible. Maybe it’s just that I find the look of these ones more weird than wonderous when attempting to get immersed in this ancient world.
The enemy manifests itself in the shape of belligerent tribes ruling an arid land, inhabited by nomads; a decadent and corrupt world where one man is trusted with the task of starting all over again. Reboot. Rebirth. But there are times when we as an audience will likely come to dislike him, even hate his guts, view him as a fanatic; maybe consistent in his lack of faith in humanity but still way too merciless and judgmental even towards his – supposedly – own loved ones. No wonder then, his wife and sons will be tempted to rebel against him as well.
Remember: this is not strictly told from the Bible, the source most people after all use as a starting point to form an opinion of their own about this iconic figure. Aronofsky definitely sees the story as a myth to rework and elaborate on. Interviewed by Christianity Today he and his scriptwriter Ari Handel reveals the influences from other ancient Jewish literature such as The Book of Enoch and other assorted scriptures meant to explain the Torah, the traditional Jewish religious texts. It’s also obvious that the two of them has put some thought into the issues of righteousness and what true justice really means. In the process they throw some anachronistic stuff into the mix, when it comes to weapons and clothing. But who can say anything for certain about a world apparently annihilated and gone for good?
Casting the film, the director also reunited Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly from ”A Beautiful Mind”. Crowe, as we all know, does have an impressive gravitas which, when needed, carries the film through dark valleys and faulty towers. He becomes the chosen one. With flaws, yes. This is no whitewashing and as I said, Noah is not always the life of the party (to put it mildly), but he is intriguing and possibly even credible. Who could really go through such an ordeal, such a completely and irrevocably life-changing event without being altered and affected by present traumatic stress disorder? His relationship with the elder sons Shem and Ham gets complicated. Ham is too curious for his own good in this context, he questions his father repeatedly which inevitably causes confrontations. Shem manages to be more loyal and and restrained, until he also will be tested once too many and find reasons to rebel. Shem, by the way, would later go on to found the first city in history, Sana’a in present-day Yemen – according to some historical accounts or rather mythmaking. But that’s another story. And another film, maybe.
Technically this is an advanced, well-funded film, but the CGI stuff apparently doesn’t impress everyone. Basically all the animals coming into the Ark are computer-generated but they will eventually be relegated to the background when the film focuses on the human conflicts. Ray Winstone represents the resistance as a self-appointed king from the fallen family tree of Cain. But sometimes he gets the opportunity to deliver seductive and deceptively ingenious arguments like an Al Pacino in ”The Devil’s Advocate”.
All in all, ”Noah” is often powerful but uneven, narratively as well as visually speaking. The protagonist is not simple but fascinating. What does he see as his real mission? His existential brooding regarding the question if there is something remotely good in the human race, will extend even to himself and his family. And if the job is about starting all over, does that mean that his blood will be the beginning of everything that will be hereafter, or should there really be any descendants? What is right and wrong in this existence, in these circumstances, and is there anything resembling mercy? Regardless of your opinion of the film, you can find plenty of fertilizer for philosophical debates afterwards.
A few other reviews of ”Noah”: The Daily Beast calls it a flawed film that you have to see. Christian site Sojourners says it’s ”deeply, passionately biblical” while Matt Zoller Seitz at RogerEbert.com feels we has witnessed a ‘bizarre’ blockbuster, a ”a surrealist nightmare disaster movie” for better or worse. But he still seems to recommend it for what it is.
Related: American PBS is launching a documentary series on the importance of religion in the US, a development that is a bit different than here in Europe where I live. Seems interesting, if I find the time to watch it…