By Shane M. Dallmann
I find it amusing that after one amazingly successful weekend, Paramount is still pushing NOAH to the SON OF GOD audience as a pure Biblical epic, despite director Darren Aronofsky’s assertion that it’s “the least Biblical Bible movie ever!” Well, with Aronosky at the (sorry) helm, of course you ought not to expect a straightforward, unembellished account of Genesis… but it DOES represent Genesis, for all that.
No two ways about it… creation happened in six days, Adam and Eve committed original sin in the Garden of Eden, and Cain rose up and slew Abel, leaving only himself and his brother Seth to continue humankind. It’s here that Aronofsky takes charge of the story… we have the progeny of Cain dominating most of the globe while the spawn of Seth remains the endangered minority, still loyal to the Creator (the word “God” is never used in the film, nor does the Creator have a speaking role as such, but his presence is evident throughout–both factions know and believe in him as real and literal). But Cain’s men have the advantage when mythology outside the Bible story comes into play… “fallen angels” known as the Watchers have taken it upon themselves to
bestow additional knowledge and technology on the human beings otherwise left to their own devices… and though they’ve been punished by the Creator by being transformed into stone-encrusted monstrosities, they soldier on even as they live to regret what they’ve wrought.
See,if this weren’t a movie review, I’d be talking about the similarities between the Tree of Knowledge and Pandora’s Box… but here we’re invited to consider the myth of Prometheus in addition to Genesis. On the surface it might seem like a mere case of a director “beefing up” a perfectly good story just to include additional special effects and monsters (to make it more like THE HOBBIT, if not TRANSFORMERS), and it’s telling that the Watchers are hidden from the preview clips for NOAH to this day. But there’s nothing gratuitous about them… as handled by Aronofsky, the Watchers are a vital component in an exploration of just who we are, what we’re doing here and whether or not we deserve it.
Oh, wait… Noah! Through a series of frightening visions (as opposed to a mere voice from the heavens), Seth-descended Noah (Russell Crowe, of course) moves to protect his family (and especially the “innocent” animals) from the deluge the Creator promises is going to wipe out the Cain-followers (now led by Tubal-Cain, as played by Ray Winstone, the SEXY BEAST himself in a terrific turn) and pretty much everything else. But first Noah needs to seek the counsel of his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), putting himself in the path of the Watchers and saving the life of a little girl in the process…
Well, realistically, the Ark is NOT an overnight project here–it takes ten years, allowing the little girl to grow up to become Emma Watson, accepted as a true member of the family (though she’s also love interest to oldest son Shem, much to the jealousy of next-in-line Ham). Mrs. Noah (Jennifer Connelly) sees a problem with the survival arrangement and takes certain matters into her own hands… but Noah isn’t necessarily convinced that humankind is MEANT to survive the ordeal at all–as he sees it, he was “chosen,” all right, but certainly not because he was “good” as opposed to the rest of humanity. Still, when Tubal-Cain’s faction sets up housekeeping in preparation to storm the ark, we’re unflinchingly shown a society that one might well imagine the Creator would WANT to wipe off the face of the earth.
One’s personal tolerance of Biblical liberties granted as one’s own personal prerogative, NOAH is an exciting, gripping, violent and dramatic spectacle of a movie, all right, and it’s full of Aronofsky’s trademark surrealistic flights of fancy here used to illustrate the story of Creation, the instantaneous creation of a forest from which to build the Ark and the filling thereof of the contents of the animal kingdom (“The snakes are coming, too?” gets a good laugh in a film offering precious few of those). Yes, they’re recognizable as CGI, but they’re impressive all the same because they’re all about something and all contribute to the powerful themes invoked by the story (be that story Genesis or the script of NOAH), and they’re never simply “Hey! Look! Shiny thing!” Oh, and the story comes up with a nifty way to keep the animals under control during the voyage, and you’ll probably wish you could get a hold of some if it yourself!
Once the Ark itself is set afloat, NOAH gives itself over to additional drama that worried me a bit at first,but by the time the complete story plays out, it’s all worth it in the end. This isn’t about a group of special people beatifically riding out a storm… this is a dramatization of one of the most traumatic ordeals imaginable, and it’s no wonder that Noah wants nothing more than to get naked and plastered after all he’s been through (yes, the ENTIRE story of Noah is represented in the film).
So… Darren Aronofsky has made something challenging out of one of the most famous and familiar stories of all time. Imagine that. But the Biblical debate belongs on another page. As a cinematic entertainment, NOAH goes the extra mile and delivers more than the spectacle–as such, it’s very much worth seeing on the big screen.