Published on March 31st, 2014 | by Noah Dimitrie0
Those attached to the Biblical account of Noah, you’ll feel betrayed by Darren Aronofsky’s big screen adaptation, but Noah works on its own terms, mostly.
Those who are attached to the Biblical account of Noah will probably feel betrayed by the big screen adaptation. It’s not that Darren Aronofsky’s visually arresting epic changes much of the story, it’s that his version goes in a completely different direction, thematically. One could even suggest that the film isn’t so much an adaptation as much as it is an interpretation, with Aronofsky filling in the blanks as he goes along. Fortunately for those of us who don’t have much connection to the source material, we are given a complex, arcane tale; a lens through which we can see ourselves and our environment and retrace our steps.
Unless you live under a rock (more on those later), you more or less know the story of Noah. As I mentioned earlier, most of that story is still intact. However, certain elements are added to make sense of it all, and to help clearly establish the themes early on. The most noticeable of these is the society that surrounds Noah and its origins. According to the film’s prologue, the descendants of Cain founded and industrialized civilizations all across the land with assistance from fallen angels posing as rock monsters that kinda look like Optimus Prime. Unfortunately, as generations passed, they became a hostile, barbaric society, one convinced of man’s dominion and supremacy over the Earth. This is where the film forges its identity. The race of mankind (not including Noah’s family) is not shown as evil through their hedonism and sinful ways, but through their utter disrespect of nature and life itself. It’s clear that, at least throughout the first half of Noah, the film is an environmentalist fable; a sort of big-budget, hippie version of the story.
As the ensuing flood nears, other conflict arises. Ham, the middle child of Noah, feels forsaken as he will never find a wife. Emma Watson’s character laments that she will never be able to have children due to a childhood injury. All of this plays into the third act, which takes place on the ark after the flood and is significantly removed from the first two acts. The film, in fact, endures multiple tonal changes, that go over semi-smoothly. If there is a major fault with Aronofsky’s film, it’s this type of incoherence. The film also bites off a bit more than it can chew, as it rushes through a few of its character’s arcs in order to get to the point.
As for the film’s visuals, Aronofsky and friends do a bang-up job. The cinematography is truly stunning as it exhibits the engulfing darkness as well as the dim yet all-too-present light of the world that the characters inhabit. Aronofsky’s flashy visual style (that usually works but is notorious for sometimes wearing out its welcome) is present as well, though it takes a well-needed back seat to the film’s spectacular special effects. The CGI is used as a blessing instead of a curse which leads to a stunning, confident display of a world left almost completely up to the director’s imagination. Never has a flood of Biblical proportions looked so frightening.
But even with all the incredible visuals, the film never loses sight of the message that it is trying to get across. A film with so many facets could easily get lost along the way, but thankfully, Noah is still first and foremost, a dense examination of what our species has become. Aronofsky makes a strong case for the nature of human beings being deluded and tainted, but also not completely unsalvageable. The barbaric society being wiped out clearly reflects our own, and the film makes sure that it gets that across. Noah’s internal conflict, ostensibly that of deciding whether to continue the human race, reaches a suspenseful yet heart-rending conclusion that is, at most, a sign of hope, or at the very least a reminder of what we as people can pride ourselves on; compassion and tolerance. It makes us reflect on ourselves and our society. It makes us question what went wrong.
As tied down to the past as the world of Noah is, I like to think of it as a dystopia, one pushed to the brink. The film then becomes a kind of reverse psychology apocalypse drama, one in which the characters are fighting against humanity in favour of the victims of its cruelty. If you look at it that way, Noah is provocative and enormously wise. Maybe more people will see it that way as the years go by and the controversy cools off. I guess one can only hope.