Friday, December 12, 2014

Movie Review: Noah (2014)

Noah (2014) co-written and directed by Darren Aronofsky

The tale of Noah's ark in the Book of Genesis is a mere four chapters, so any film-length version of the story needs to put more details in the story just to fill a feature length run time. In Darren Aronofsky's Noah, inspiration is drawn from many sources--other parts of the Bible, other ancient texts and teachings including the Book of Enoch, and Aronofsky's own imagination. His version of the story has Noah (Russell Crowe) fleeing with his family from the world of men because men are truly, despicably evil. He is haunted by dreams of an apocalyptic event and decides to visit his grandfather for guidance. Grandpa isn't particularly helpful and Noah decides the visions are telling him to build an ark to save the innocent beings from the coming disaster. Those innocent beings are (he assumes) the animals. Mankind is to be wiped from the lands and brute animals will inherit the earth. The local human tyrant, Tubal-cain (who also killed Noah's father when Noah was a child), wants the ark since he is the lord of men. He doesn't have so much a sense of impending disaster as he has a sense of entitlement. Conflict arises.

Normally, Noah would have no way to fight off an army by himself with only three sons. The movie posits another intelligent, physical set of beings who lived at that time--The Watchers. They are angelic spirits who defied the Creator and were imprisoned in rocks as a punishment. Initially, they helped the sons of Adam develop rudimentary technology after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden, but men turned against the Watchers and began to hunt them. One Watcher befriends Noah as he travels to visit his grandfather and that Watcher convinces the other Watchers that they can redeem themselves by helping Noah fulfill his Creator-given task of surviving the flood.

The movie is incredibly uneven. Some of the special effects are breath-takingly beautiful (time passing, the account of creation). Others are head-scratchingly horrible (base camp at Mount Methuselah green screen effects, CG animals coming into the ark). The movie evokes the remoteness of the antediluvian world with images like the strange-looking sky, but breaks that evocation with the modern cut of some of their clothes (the cloth looked antediluvian at least but their hoodies and jackets did not). The movie gives some interesting elaborations on the biblical story but also goes so far in imaginative directions that it is very hard to take seriously (the rock monsters didn't bother me but genocidal Noah did). From what I've read, Aronofsky had this project in the back of his mind since he did a presentation as a student. The result is surprisingly unrefined.

Another difficulty for me is the recurring theme of the Creator's silence. Most characters (both good and bad) question the Creator and ask for direction only to be left to their own devices (and interpretations of cherry-picked bible quotes). The most detail anyone gets is Noah who has dream visions. He sees vivid flashes of the impending disaster. Noah has to deduce what he must do from these very scant revelations. He gets a key element wrong and even though he questions that element several times he does not get a correction from on high. Consequently, Noah as a character is very unlikeable and makes some very heinous decisions. The whole sequence on the ark felt contrived by the lack of communication between Noah and the Creator. Noah is ultimately redeemed in the film but for me it was too little too late.

Even though I found parts of the film artistic and interesting and I'm glad I saw the film, overall I found it an unsatisfying adaptation of the flood story.

The good folks at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast discuss the movie here. They liked it more than I did and do a wonderful job pulling out more from the movie.


  1. Thanks for the mention! On the Creator's silence ... perhaps I felt that is the way most of us feel when asking direct questions to which we'd like immediate answers. I really don't get hints often from Him. Sometimes, of course, I do. And I actually have had a few interesting dreams. Which I've had to interpret myself. :-)

    So I guess that silence felt very realistic. :-)

  2. I guess my objection is that the Creator's silence had a very modern flavor to it that was part of the artistic tension between representing the ancient world and having many modern elements in it. Aronofsky's take does strike a chord with our experience of relating to God but, for me, it struck too strong a dis-chord with the biblical account. The movie doesn't achieve that "ever ancient, ever new" character that makes a story relevant to every age. At least Aronofsky tried for that even if he didn't succeed in my opinion.

    I've thought about the movie more since writing the review and have come to the conclusion that my main objection is that Noah the movie character is too far from the just man described in the Genesis account. I can see introducing flaws to make the story more dramatic but he is too flawed for me.