Movie Review: Noah

Russell Crowe as NoahI thought Noah would be the kind of film that gets a love-it-or-hate-it reaction. Instead, Noah tells us to take back all of our preconceived notions. It is big and insane like any Biblical story is, and boy is it proud of it.

Noah is the sixth film by Darren Aronofsky. If he can turn this into a big hit, then he will be granted virtually all of the creative freedom he wants for a very long time. In a lot of the Noah reviews, I have seen words like “impersonal” pop up. Noah might not be a beautiful character study like The Wrestler, but that does not mean that it is any further away from Aronofsky’s heart. After all, he has been dreaming about making this film since he wrote a poem about it in grade school.

With Noah, Aronofsky turns a Biblical story into his own personal sandbox. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed Noah as much as I did if it didn’t deviate from the source material so much. There has been a lot of annoying reinterpretations of folk and literary figures lately from I, Frankenstein to the forthcoming HerculesNoah reminded me why some stories get told over and over again. Therefore, I will not call this one I, Noah.

With Noah, Aronofsky remains true to his roots, telling a story of creation that feels straight out of The Fountain. It retells the story that almost everyone knows about Adam & Eve and Cain & Abel, two of history’s oddest odd couples. From there it moves up to Noah, the descendant of Seth, who is thought to be the world’s last good man. Therefore, he must build the Ark that saves all of the animals, since God is planning to flood the Earth and kill all of the sinners.

Aronofsky takes a lot of elements directly out of the original story, but interprets them in a way that only he could. For instance, there is no voice of God, which actually might have been kind of ridiculous. Instead, God is more of a presence (watch his awesome interview on The Colbert Report for more about this). He also visits Noah through a series of elaborate dreams where the main take away is that he must build an Ark. That puts this film somewhere between Field of Dreams and Wayne’s World 2.

In some ways, Noah is like two films in one. The first half is like a better than normal blockbuster, complete with battles involving giant rock people known as Watchers. Believe it or not, The Watchers are actually something from the Bible. They only look partially like rejected Hobbit characters. Meanwhile, the second half, spoiler alert, takes place on the boat, because I don’t know if you know this, but God actually gets away with flooding the world. The second half is a dark family drama. It is kind of like that part in Seven Psychopaths where Sam Rockwell proposes that the script they are writing should end with a bunch of guys in the desert talking, as opposed to a big shootout.

The first half of Noah is good. A lot of people die, and a lot of others give epic speeches about God and man. The scope of it is eye-popping, even if the CGI animals look a little too CGI. Matthew Libatique should be an Oscar frontrunner simply for the stunning sunsets that he captures on camera. While some people might be offended that Noah is a blockbuster, the Old Testament happens to be very cinematic. After all, every good deed is punctured by floods, locusts, and bloody battles. In ancient times, that stuff got people to believe in God. Today, that stuff makes millions at the box office.

The second half of Noah is about Noah trying to figure out what the big man from the sky really wants from him. It also gives the actors, especially Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson, a chance to really shine. It is also genuinely intense and a reminder that sometimes, people talking can be even more intense than people fighting. Aronofsky sets some very high stakes. I had a good idea as to how it would all end, but that doesn’t mean that the sense of dread wasn’t effective. Noah is faithful to the original story, while also questioning God’s motives. And yes, it goes much deeper than simply asking “how could all those animals fit on that boat?” It’s a metaphor, people. The really interesting question explored is this: when you have to answer to a higher power, is it okay to say no?

Sure, Noah isn’t perfect, it sometimes gives in to modern Hollywood tropes. I groaned occasionally, especially when a character would say “it begins” or two others would say “what do you want?” “justice!” But the groan wasn’t too big because, weirdly, it seemed fitting. As I said, the Old Testament is the original blockbuster, so cheesiness is just in its DNA, even if it was a screenwriter who wrote those words.

Sure, Noah is bloated and sometimes all over the place, but remember, this is a story about a man who somehow fit two of each animal onto one boat. This is not a shameful desecration of an old tale, but rather a reinterpretation. Old stories need to be retold every once in a while; that is how they stay fresh. And if it means looking at it as if Noah is kind of a sociopath who is isolated from his family, then so be it.

Brain Farts From The Edge:

  • RUSSELL CROWE: “Let me sing to you.” ME: NOOOOO!
  • There is one shot of a single rain drop coming down. You’ll know which one it is. It’s incredible.
  • There is one shot of a forest. It spins rapidly. It is dizzying and very blurry. Was it blurry for others, too? Was this shot perhaps made for IMAX?
  • Mark Margolis is in Noah. He has also been in every Aronofsky film to date. You might know him better as Tio on Breaking Bad. Ding. Ding. Ding.
  • I sense some modern commentary in here. Noah talks about being “stewards of the Earth” and how animals are the only good creatures left on Earth. Noah is very pro-animal. Does that mean Emma Watson will be posing half-nude for PETA anytime soon? Asking for a me.
  • Speaking of Watson, she is in this alongside Logan Lerman. It is a mini Perks of Being a Wallflower reunion.
  • With Noah, Aronofsky shows that he understands better than most others how to make a blockbuster that is filled with dumb action but is also incredibly smart at the same time. Once again, it’s all about creating stakes. His days as an indie filmmaker taught him well.
  • Noah is largely about family and maintaining a good world for your descendants.
  • Members of Noah’s family line often wrap a snake skin around their arm. It is a ritual used to remind them of the Original Sin. It also looks very similar to the Jewish practice of wrapping Tefillin around one’s arm. I am not sure if that was the purpose, but that was all I could think of.
  • For much of Noah, Ham (Lerman) searches for a girl he can bring on the Ark with him so he can create his own family. Imagine if he found that perfect girl, brought her on, and then she was like “actually…I wasn’t planning on having kids until I’m 35. I’m kinda focused on my career right now.”
  • I honestly didn’t realize that Cain & Abel had a brother named Seth. I probably learned it in Hebrew School. Then again, I had a lot of trouble focusing in Hebrew school. I really wish that Seth here could have been played by Seth Rogen. He would have tried to calm the situation people God and the sinners of Earth with a nice doobie.