Biblical stories have been source material for TV and film for decades and are currently in vogue with an influx of recent adaptations. Alongside Noah, Ridley Scott’s fellow Book of Genesis story, Exodus, is filming at the moment and a contemporary Channel 5 mini-series was also on at the turn of the year. It goes without saying that when dealing with sensitive subject matter such as verses from religious text, you always have tread carefully and you aren’t going to be able to please everyone, especially with lines from the Bible. As we’ve learnt through the ages, Christians can be a punishing bunch to cross.
With this in mind, there were several challenges that director Darren Aronofsky faced with his sixth film; the main one of which was the logistics. Most of the stories in the Old Testament can be set across many centuries, especially the story of Noah who is 500 when the flood arrives and lives for another 350 years before his death. Cramming this much story into a film would be impossible and extremely convoluted. Thankfully though, the passages are comparatively short and concise leaving a lot of gaps in between narratives allowing availability to embellish new developments, something which Hollywood thrives upon.
Aronofsky chooses to focus on the most familiar part of the story, Noah being tasked to build the Ark, living through the flood and then making it to dry land once God had finished with his whole End of the World catharsis. Russell Crowe plays the single-minded Noah and is brilliant as a man torn between his strict following of God’s demands and his later confliction when tasked to do something unthinkable. Jennifer Connelly is also great but underused as Noah’s wife, Naameh and Emma Watson, Douglas Booth and Logan Lerman make up his children. They are all far too good looking and well groomed for this time period, especially Booth who looks entirely air-brushed.
When you assess Aronofsky’s previous back catalogue, he seems a strange choice to direct such an epic blockbuster. He has usually delved in indie movies such as Requiem for a Dream and The Wrestler and has only really toyed in something a bit more mainstream with Black Swan. In fact when comparing to his first 5 films, Noah is by far his biggest budget to date with his CGI budget alone being larger than the entire funds for Black Swan. This was obviously a necessity given the subject matter and it shows in the huge set pieces, the highlight of which features Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) and his men attempting to enter the Ark during the initial stages of the Reckoning. The boarding of the animals onto the Ark would also not be possible without the CGI and neither would the flood itself.
Once the excellent first half of the film is over, it does all get a bit mindless as cabin fever sets in. A stowaway is discovered on the Ark and Crowe has to wrestle with his conscience despite knowing that it could incur the wrath of God. The tension is palpable and it climax’s with Noah and his daughter-in-law Ila (Watson) confronting each other before the former eventually decides to do the right thing. The omnipotent one then sends the olive branch down to signify peace and a rainbow to show that it’s all over.
The film is not without its controversies. Aronofsky has been quoted as saying that he wanted to make Noah the “least biblical film ever” and he has ensured that God is not referenced at all; rather they call him “The Creator“. This attempt at ambiguity isn’t really necessary because it is obvious to whom everyone is referring. Similarly the Watchers look more Lord of the Rings than the Fallen Angels imagery that people have grown up with. Unsurprisingly the film has also been banned in a lot of Islamic countries in the middle-east, but this is nothing new.
The biggest contention however is that Evolutionary Creation is hinted at during a story that Noah tells his family about how they came into existence. This theological theory acknowledges evolution and states that actually science and religion can work together and that although evolution does exist, it was set in motion by God in the first place. Unfortunately within Christianity in the US, the acceptance of this theory is still very low and so inevitably has caused some backlash amongst creationists.
Arguably the original story of Noah is one of the very first blockbusters and Aronfsky delivers an epic, gripping re-telling which has enough flourishes to make it accessible to everyone despite it’s origins.