I went into the theater knowing full well that Aronofsky’s Noah was not going to be Biblically correct. Hollywood has a wonderful habit of taking creative liberties when it comes to adapting books or stories into movies, and Bible stories are no different. I also knew that this particular version of Noah was going to incorporate the mythical Watchers (aka fallen angels) from the non-canonical Books of Enoch, so I was prepared for some rather large deviations from the Genesis tale.
Honestly, I’ve never experienced a film that has so deeply and viscerally impacted me as Noah.
(Spoiler warning for those who care…)
Noah is a gorgeous film. I remember first seeing the previews for it and thinking to myself, “Man, this is going to be a stellar piece of cinema!” And it is. It really is. The sheer scope of this movie is astounding, and I was honestly breath-taken more than once while watching it. Noah’s dream-sequences/visions from God stand out as highlights of the film for me, and I’m almost disappointed that the previews gave away so much of them. They are gripping and enthralling and I thought they were expertly crafted.
The Watchers are also very impressive, but not at all what I was expecting (think Ents made of stone). They were beautifully rendered, really cool additions to the story, and I thought they were handled very well. But what really impressed me was the scenery itself. The Earth looked and felt old and young, barren and fruitful, all at once, and this dichotomy is seen again and again in not just the imagery of a daytime sky riddled with stars, but also the characters – and that is where I began to have issues with this film.
As I stated before, I fully understand that Hollywood rarely adapts a pre-existing story or idea in a way that pleases everyone. I was among the throng that was originally angered by the creative liberties taken with some of the latter Harry Potter films, but I have since come to appreciate those films as my favorites in the series. And perhaps I have Harry Potter on my mind because Emma Watson is absolutely brilliant in this film. In my opinion, she and Logan Lerman steal the show from Noah himself, which is really saying something considering Russell Crowe is such an amazing actor.
Honestly, all of the main cast deliver incredible performances and bring their all to each and every one of their scenes. These characters have depth and finesse, and I was able to connect with each and every one of them. But my issue isn’t with the caliber of these actors. My issue is that I wasn’t prepared for the creative leaps Aronofsky took when it comes to the depiction of Noah and his family, and the more I dwell on them, the stronger my feelings toward this film grow.
When Noah is first “told” by God (referred to as “The Creator” in this movie) via prophetic visions that the world is going to be destroyed by water, the audience is initially led to believe that the Lord wants to start anew with Noah and his family (per the Bible story). But when Noah goes to find his two youngest sons a pair of wives (oh yeah, this story happens in the span of 10 years, as opposed to the actual Biblical time-span of 50-70ish years, meaning all of his sons were supposed to have been grown and had wives already) he sees the utter depravity of mankind unleashed as an entire village is plundered and sacked before his eyes.
Because of this, he comes to the conclusion that none of mankind is worthy to save, not even his own family, so he condemns them all to death so that the “pure ones” (aka, the animals on the ark) may live in peace without the violence of humanity. And maybe this is what Aronofsky was trying to get across to his audience – the utter depravity and cruelty of mankind – because the title character is probably the most depraved and deranged individual I’ve seen on screen in a long, long time, and I do not say this lightly.
After Noah has sentenced his family to live out their lives in isolation before death (all while you can hear the screams and moans of the dying on cliff-tops outside of the ark), Emma Watson’s character, Ila, finds out that she’s pregnant with Shem’s child. This could have been a joyous moment, a glorious glimmer of hope for the future of humanity, a sign that The Creator wanted Noah’s family to repopulate the Earth – and Noah’s family tries to convince him of that! But he sees it as a test for himself, a trial for his resolve to see the Lord’s will done unto completion, and so he tells his family exactly what’s going to happen: if it’s a boy, that child will become the last living man on Earth and die alone; but if it’s a girl, then Noah would kill her the instant she’s born to prevent the future of mankind.
It’s a horrifying revelation for the audience, magnified tenfold by the incredible shock and anger his family shows toward him, and by the madness Noah allows himself to fall into. The movie only increases in shocking intensity whenever Ila has her children (twin girls), and what unfolds is the most heart-wrenching half-hour of cinema I’ve ever had to sit through, so much so that words fail me when trying to describe the pain I still feel because of this movie.
This movie broke me. Even though Noah ultimately doesn’t kill his granddaughters, he allows himself to believe that he failed The Creator because he couldn’t bring himself to murder them. The man who “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” was reduced to a creature just as vile and corrupt as those the Lord wanted wipe off the face of the planet. It’s a hard thing to stomach, especially for a film that’s going to draw the attention of a lot of Christians. Even from a non-religious perspective, I still find myself abhorring Noah for his actions against his family.
This all being said, I still think Noah is a film worth viewing. No, it’s not going to be The Ten Commandments of this generation. But I don’t think it was meant to be. It’s a beautiful, engaging, haunting, exhilarating film that will push and challenge you. Just like any other compelling piece of art.