In Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s re-imagining of the biblical flood narrative, the titular patriarch loses his father, Lamech, at a young age – as “Men” (born from the lineage of Cain) attempt to purge the remaining descendants of Adam and Eve’s youngest child, Seth, from the Earth. Hidden from the Men at the time of Lamech’s slaying, Noah (Russell Crowe) grows into a kind-hearted father and husband who lives off the land – in balance with animals and plant life.
The unchecked pillaging of Earth by Man begins to spread to the isolated hillside that Noah and his family call home. Tired of Man’s rape, murder, and butchery, “The Creator” speaks to Noah in a series of visions – instructing him to protect the innocents of creation (specifically, the animals) from a forthcoming cataclysmic event designed to wipe the failure of Man from the planet. Horrified by the darkness he sees in others, Noah sets out with his family to build an ark and fulfill The Creator’s request. Yet, despite honorable intentions, the mission creates unforeseen conflict within Noah’s house, forcing him to confront his own wickedness, and question whether any man (himself and his sons included) deserves to inherit The Creator’s new world.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Aronofsky’s Noah – since the film is a significant re-imagining of an iconic story from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim religious texts. Still, the director does not present his depiction as either “true” or a “more accurate” version of events; instead, he exercises the Noah narrative as an allegorical opportunity to explore the differences between ideologies of faith and human self-determination. Moviegoers who believe that reimagining religious scripture (even for the purpose of modern symbolism) undermines the message of the source text will find countless feather ruffling alterations. As a result, the changes are bound to make Noah a hard watch for viewers that would have preferred a more traditional adaptation – especially viewers who are already criticizing the movie simply because “it didn’t happen this way in the Bible.”
Sadly, all of the controversy has distracted from the quality of the actual film – which presents an impactful experience for both religious and secular viewers, alike. In fact, many of the contentious changes actually make Noah a more engaging choice for moviegoers who are open to Aronofsky’s artistic vision and subject matter. The movie is neither Christian propaganda nor a threat to the bible, it’s a relatable tale of human nature and the mysteries of creation – one that actually reaffirms key themes from the original story and thought-provoking moments in the journey of a peaceful man whose life is torn apart in an attempt to do the “right” thing.
To that end, Russell Crowe gives an engrossing performance – presenting a rich iteration of Noah: a lover, a warrior, and a bully, all in one. Aronofsky’s character isn’t just a man of honor and faith, when necessary, he’s a man of violence. The film portrays Noah as a dedicated believer willing to defend The Creator’s plan at all costs – even to the detriment of his own loved ones. The director takes Noah’s journey to its logical (albeit heart-wrenching) conclusion, even exploring the consequences of watching as humanity is destroyed, and asking: “What effect would that responsibility have on a person?”
The supporting cast is equally strong – with Ray Winstone in the role of antagonist King Tubal-cain. Winstone’s portrayal is far more complex than a standard stock villain – offering a smart juxtaposition against Russell’s Noah and outlining the major philosophical differences between Men and the few descendants of Seth who clung to faith in The Creator. Through Tubal-cain, the actor manages to balance both the wickedness of humanity with enough charisma to make his beliefs relatable – even if they are, ultimately, barbaric.
Along with solid efforts from Anthony Hopkins, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, and Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson is another key standout as orphan-turned-member of Noah’s family, Ila. In addition to providing a significant amount of exposition that could have been eye-rolling in the hands of a less capable actress, Watson is responsible for one of the toughest scenes in the film – selling a major turning point with a downright dynamic performance.
To sell the scale of Noah’s task, and the subsequent flooding of the Earth, Aronofsky employed a notable amount of CGI. Fortunately, quality visual representations of the Ark, animals, and The Watchers (creatures that have been hidden from the trailers but play a major role in the film) aid in a reimagining that is both immersive and grounded. Supernatural elements, such as the aforementioned Watchers, are utilized both to enhance the emotional impact of the story while also solving challenges that might otherwise have distracted casual viewers asking a host of logistical questions. Not to mention The Watchers, which actually enjoy an intriguing and extremely relevant backstory, also allow for several of the movie’s most epic moments.
Select details might be different but Noah honors the scriptural source material with an inspiring tale of love and dedication in the face of unchecked darkness. Understandably, certain viewers will be frustrated (and even offended) that Aronofsky didn’t choose to develop a “faithful” retelling of the religious text; yet, for those with an open mind, Noah supplies an immersive and thought-provoking movie experience. Given the movie’s premise, it will be easy for moviegoers at extreme ends of the spectrum to dismiss the film outright – but viewers that are willing to give Noah a chance might find that, despite differences of opinion and belief, there’s plenty of universal value in Aronofsky’s gripping tale of good overcoming evil.
If you’re still on the fence about Noah, check out the trailer below:
Noah runs 138 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content. Now playing in theaters.
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