Noah

Noah photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgNoah is Paramount Pictures indefatigably middle-of-the-road biblical fantasy. Anyone expecting a theological epic with the dramatic heft of something like The Ten Commandments will be mostly disappointed. There’s an innate difficulty in expanding a tale that comprises 4 brief chapters in the Book of Genesis into a 138 minute movie. A big budget biblical production utilizing the full extent of technology of today could be the recipe for a huge success. Visually the spectacle is impressive. Watching the large assemblage of animals march in line to board the ark is an awe-inspiring scene. The narrative even explains logistical details. For example it answers how these creatures could co-exist without eating each other. But elsewhere the story feels padded with vignettes that utilize spectacular special effects but add no emotional drama. Cue The Watchers, angels cast out of heaven who have fallen out of favor with The Creator. They have become encased in mud and dirt on Earth and are now gigantic stone creatures not unlike something found in The Lord of the Rings. Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds.

At first glance one might think Darren Aronofsky, a self-professed atheist, to be an odd choice to helm a big-budget, A-lister epic based on scripture. However individuals driven by obsessive quests have long been a tenet of his work, so the religious subject mater isn’t as foreign as it seems. A man driven by obsession could be the focus of a fascinating film, but this drama doesn’t cut beneath the surface to delve deeply into the emotional concepts present. There is inherent drama in this story. We’re talking about God’s displeasure with the sum total of mankind. This is angry vengeful Old Testament God. Noah experiences visions or dreams that he believes are messages from the Supreme Being. The Creator, as he’s called here, apparently wants to not only wipe out all of humanity that currently exists, but to end it completely with his family, never to continue again.

You’d think that this might be cause for alarm. Sadly the chronicle rarely explores that concept deeply. Noah has been entrusted with a major task. He must build an ark and take 2 of every creature so that they may thrive after a great flood kills every living thing. Except for a few worried glances, Noah doesn’t seems conflicted enough by what he’s been asked to do. That is where the narrative should mine his complex struggle. Obviously he wasn’t completely successful because humanity continued to thrive, but that conflict happens at the very end. We lack an outlet for the sheer magnitude of his emotional struggle that demonstrates his problems/fears/stress. As a result the character remains a vague representation of a man in crises with whom we never truly connect.

Director Darren Aronofsky’s point of view is just so blandly neutral. Noah isn’t a terrible picture. There are moments of greatness. At one point, the flood has consumed the world, yet there are still some mountain peaks exposed. A scene with the huddled masses wailing out to the ark, while Noah and his family enjoy safety within, highlights this concept brilliantly. Unfortunately it’s one of the few moments we experience that anguish. It’s as if he was asked to comfort the religious with a perfect portrait of Noah’s unwavering devotion but also placate movie goers looking for a CGI extravaganza. Early test screenings back in October of 2013 to determine which version of the film would “please” the most people is not the way to make great art. This is the product of a talented director being kept under reins. The end result is that it’s not inspirational enough to inspire the faithful and it’s not innovative enough to entertain Aronofsky’s fans. By trying to stay neutral and satisfy everyone, he ends up pleasing no one.

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15 Responses to “Noah”

  1. I’m not an Aronofsky fan and this movie doesn’t change that. I won’t go over all of my review but I shared a slightly different take. I never got the sense he was trying to please both sides. I felt this was so far removed from the biblical text and it was actually a secular activist film. And there are so many flaws just in the storytelling and conception itself. I had tons of issues with it.

    • The biblical passages about Noah are so brief, you’d almost have to deviate from the text to make a movie. Perhaps it should’ve been a short. The problem is in how he chose to deviate wasn’t interesting.

      On another note, Noah is so saintly, so unwavering in his devotion to God’s plan he doesn’t even seem human. That’s where I feel like Darren could’ve demonstrated how a human being would react to this task. This would’ve made Noah’s journey more personal and emotionally involving.

      I agree with you that from a storytelling standpoint this was half-baked. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. It was just meh.

  2. Good write up. I think I will pass, even though I should probably review it! But the middling reviews really seem to paint this as a average boring film, which can be worse than a bad film.

    • The ol’ tomatometer is at 76% which would suggest acclaim. However when I survey general audiences and other bloggers I get a much more negative reaction.

  3. I could have sworn that Aronofsky was Jewish (hence the whole assembly of Pi), but I guess I was wrong, or he lost entire faith at some point. Anyway, two and a half stars seems really generous if you’re saying that Noah, ultimately, doesn’t please anybody. I guess the visuals were *really*good, lol!

    I’m not sure any review can convince me away from this though. Huge Darren Aronofsky fan. Every one of his films strikes me as sub par initially, but then they just grow on me more and more. Particularly, Requiem for a Dream. I gave that one a B+ (three stars out of four), but I’m feeling like if I rewatched it, it’d be a strong A+ (four stars out of four, of course). The Fountain, I just haven’t gotten around to because it received mixed reception, and Black Swan I’m trying to find a method to sneak a viewing in because my parents don’t want me watching it.

    I was going to go see Noah last weekend–with my disturbingly religious grandmother, who loved Son of God, in fact–but things didn’t go according to plans…I hate being so busy!!

    Great review, Mark!!

    • Darren Aronofsky was raised Jewish, but he identifies as an atheist now. The movie is perfectly middle-of-the-road so 2 ½ stars is the ideal rating. It’s not bad, not good.

      I’m certainly not trying to convince people to avoid it, but I think I’ve encapsulated the movie’s positives and negatives to give viewers the info they need to decide whether they will enjoy this.

  4. I thought the characters were ridiculous. This was Transformers with Lord of the Flies and a make up artist on Emma Watson and the youngest son who they aged by him not shaving a few days…

  5. Nice review. We share similar thoughts. I thought Noah was kind of a mess, but an interesting mess. Still, Aronofsky’s the wrong director for this kind of material and he works better in smaller-scale projects.

    • Amen. I appreciate his smaller scale, more introspective films. Black Swan proved he was capable of a box office hit without having to spend a ton of money.

  6. This was confusing. The story was not what I remembered about Noah. I expected the real sentimental story. Noah seemed like a sweet old man in the stories I remembered. I will say, I loved the scenes when all the different birds , animals and insects/reptiles came to the ark. That was the highlight for me. 3 stars

  7. Sweet old man he was not, with the drunkenness episode and the bewildering, vengeful, over the top, and vindictive Curse of Ham in the Biblical account.

    I’m sure Aronofsky made an effort to delve into the Rabbinical tradition’s discussion of Noah as “righteous” only in the context of his immoral generation but not “righteous” per se.

    • I’m amused by people who think of Noah as some sweet old grandfatherly type fellow.

      Old Testament is some serious stuff. I mean God told Abraham to kill his son just because.

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