In 2014, Darren Aronofsky finished Noah, his version of the biblical tale of a flooded world where only a chosen few survive by building an ark and filling it with pairs of animals, but his story is much more science fiction than bible fact. The film is enjoyable precisely because of this merging and changing of what is normally a pretty large morality tale, bigger than the one about Sodom and Gomorrah by quite a bit, into an epic more magical telling of the first time the “creator” destroyed his creation.
According to the film, which does quote the bible just enough at the beginning, Adam and Eve have Cain, Abel and Seth. They’ve been kicked out of Eden and Cain kills Abel. He is then banished and it is his offspring who destroy the earth by means of a gross of industrial cities (Aronofsky’s phrasing not this reviewers) and Seth assumes the mantle of vegetarian earth father who bats for the “other side.”
Noah (Russell Crowe), who is the last of Seth’s clan, raises his own family and has a vision of water, he is floating in the stuff. Men are encroaching on Noah’s home and he takes the family and flees. On the way they find an old mine as well as a young girl Ila (who will grow up to be played by Emma Watson) who is badly wounded. They take the youngster and flee into a black area marked with piles of human skulls at its perimeter.
They have entered the land of the giants, aka The Watchers and the men follow. One Watcher rises up and scares the pursuers off and knocks Noah out cold. The family awaken in a canyon surrounded by the rock creatures whose leader orders that the humans be left to rot. One of the Watchers ignores the order and saves Noah and his small family.
The patriarch goes into the mountain to speak to his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). He takes Shem, who he treats with deference and leaves Ham at home with his mother and little brother. Once there, he drinks some “medicinal” tea and has another vision, he now knows what to do about the flooding. He must build an ark. The Watchers, after a sign from the Creator (a spring appears in the middle of all the desolation, Noah plants the seed that his grandfather gave him and it generates a huge forest of trees) help Noah build his large wooden craft.
The task takes long enough that Ila now is a young lady, Shem has a beard, mustache and pretty randy attitude, and Noah has had a haircut and trimmed his beard. Ham, after being pretty much made to feel like a second class citizen his whole life, becomes socially inept and likes to spy on Ila and Shem. The baby is now a pre teen and amazingly Jennifer Connelly, as Naameh, has not aged a day.
As the ark is being built and the animals are arriving in dribs and drabs of birds and snakes so too arrive Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) and a number of men. After a short exchange with Noah, Cain is surprised to see that the rock giants have joined the other side. Making threats, Tubal-Cain withdraws to build an army to take Noah’s ark.
The surrounding camp is turned into hell on earth as starving people turn on one another and become animals. There is discord in family Noah as Ham cannot find a wife and Ila wants to leave as she cannot have children. The rush is on to finish loading the ark in preparation for the upcoming storm. Noah has doubts.
At the time of its release, there were many religious organizations that were upset at the film’s depiction of perhaps the least known figure in the bible. However Aronofsky chose to take the threads of the tale and to use the names and lineage as well as its outcome but dressed the whole tale with a sort of parallel world coating.
Perhaps the feeling that The Watchers are a version of Transformers, with the one who helps Noah filling in for Optimus Prime, helps bring about that science fiction air to the proceedings. Certainly the message of the movie, that back in “biblical times” man destroyed the planet through his industrial cities and bad practices fits more of a science fiction reality than what really caused the “big guy” to flood the world.
There is also a sort of juxtaposition of morality. In Noah’s world, it is a sin to kill animals to eat, vegan is the order of the day for Seth’s offspring, yet it is perfectly all right to kill men who intrude into his territory. The Creator is presumably meant to be God but Methuselah fulfills that role almost as well, with his little touches of miracles here and there.
Surprisingly, for a film that does not tackle the bible at all apart from the most loose retelling of Noah’s story and choses, instead dances around the whole sin issue, Noah is entertaining, if not a little over long. At 138 minutes there are stretches that are slow and a bit boring. Even with the added touch of having Tubal-Cain as a stowaway on board for a climatic fight and the subplot about Ila’s daughters, the film drags under the weight of all that water.
Still, Aronofsky delivers and despite having made the colossally bad decision to cast Russell Crowe as the “Grizzly Adam’s” version of Noah, the movie entertains. This is one that should be watched via the auspices of DVD or On-Demand. One can take breaks when the film bogs down or fast forward to the action. A 3.5 out of 5 stars, the biggest drop has to do with miscasting rather than all the CG and the attempt to make this into a sort of re-imagining of a bible story. It works better as science fiction with a hint of misplaced finger wagging.