Noah was a strange and beautiful movie. Like Darren Aronofsky’s other films, it was visually strange and dynamic, emotionally intense, and even psychologically traumatic. The vivid and trippy imagery included the repeated use of certain images – the snake in the Garden of Eden, the forbidden fruit that pulsed like a human heart, and the raised fist of Cain, grasping the stone used to kill Abel – which served to underline Noah’s thoughts and convictions as well as hammering home the corruption of man, a major theme in this adaptation.
I hesitate to even use the word “adaptation” to describe this movie because it strays so far from the bare account given in the book of Genesis. Perhaps “inspired by” would be better terminology. All the key symbols of the Sunday School story are there – the ark, the pairs of animals, the flood, the dove with the olive branch, and the rainbow. But the puzzle pieces have been rearranged into a new and compelling story that is very different from the Biblical account, and contains many layers of possible meanings.
There is Noah, a man who witnesses his own father’s murder and grows up to live in isolation with his family, far away from “Men,” a word he teaches his sons to fear (with good reason). There is Tubal-cain, the violent leader of a chaotic host of men who sets himself up as a king and declares that the Creator has abandoned his creations and cares nothing for them. There are the fallen angels called “Watchers” who disobeyed the Creator and fell to earth to help men, whom they pitied, and were punished severely. And finally, there is the Creator himself who remains utterly silent through all the events, except perhaps to give some guidance in a dream or orchestrate the flow of events. But that, of course, is up to the viewer to decide.
The impenetrable silence of the Creator was actually one of the most compelling parts of the movie. More than one character begged for help and guidance and received no answer from the stoic heavens. One of the most tragic scenes was Tubal-cain’s vain cry to the Creator, “Am I not made in your image? Why will you not converse with me?” The silence is deafening.
Tubal-cain was also the source of much of the thematic “meat” of the movie, spouting lines about the Creator’s indifference, man’s absolute power over creatures and creation, and murder making men what they are. Noah, too, had an interesting and at times disturbing character arc. Some of what happens during the flood portion of the movie was difficult for me as an audience member to swallow because it was so unflinchingly harsh. Noah’s viewpoint and his interpretation of God’s will, when stripped of mercy and love, became a horrifying thing. Perhaps this is a metaphor for fundamentalism?
Even when the story took turns I didn’t enjoy, the performances from the entire cast were stellar and kept the story grounded. I particularly enjoyed Sir Anthony Hopkins as the ancient patriarch Methuselah, a role which was equal parts humor and sorrow, and was a larger role than I expected. Emma Watson was perhaps the biggest standout in the film. Her range of emotion was staggering.
The musical score was also beautiful. Composed by Clint Mansell, Darren Aronofsky’s composer of choice, the score was ominous, powerful, and beautiful. I always enjoy his scores, and this was no exception.
As for the story itself, I can’t say much without spoiling everything. But I will say this: the number and variety of themes and questions raised by this movie stunned me as I am seldom stunned in a movie theater. It was a refreshing – if traumatizing – sensation. Innocence versus guilt and hope versus despair was just the tip of the iceberg. There were some truly disturbing scenes of the horrific slaughter of animals by starving masses that showcased the corruption and evil of men. One might even make the argument that, between that and the environmental ruination of the pre-flood world, the film is taking a stance on animal rights and environmentalism. The film also poses the central question of what, if anything, man is worth – both to the Creator and to himself.
If Noah arrives at a conclusion about man’s worth, it is that men ultimately have the power to choose whether they see only wickedness or good as well. Only if they recognize the good, their own worth, and the worth of those around them can they act to preserve it. That certainly wasn’t the message I ever heard in Sunday School, but then again, the story of Noah is usually presented as just that – a story without much extrapolation. Darren Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel turned the story into a parable of sorts that addresses whether or not human beings have worth. Putting aside the conflicts of interpretation that are bound to arise around a Biblical movie… that seems like a good thing to me.
Noah is now playing in theaters.