When the trailer for Noah was released, I think I had a similar reaction to a lot of people: that of confusion. Chiefly, I didn’t know who this film was for. Was it for the hardcore Christians? The marketing – which miraculously ended up at the Vatican – seemed to suggest it yet the trailer seemed a little too…well, weird. It certainly didn’t give off a vibe of “Hello, Christian demographic! Come and see me!” Partly the reason I went to see it was this curiosity, you should never judge a film by its trailer (Man of Steel taught me that, great trailer but terrible movie) however I had an unshakeable feeling that it was going to be rubbish. So how did it turn out in the end? In a phrase, it was completely bonkers.
If there ever was film that brought the viewer’s personal beliefs and doctrines into the forefront of their enjoyment, then this is surely it. That is to say, one’s spiritual disposition is likely to determine how you read, and ultimately, how much you engage with the film. Broadly speaking, a Christian might see the film as taking, well, certain liberties with the biblical source material and will probably find that the events depicted do not match up with their version of the story. Secondly, an ardent atheist might begin to question some of the logical inconsistencies within in the film (All the animals, on there? Where do non-white people come from? Etc). However, I believe that coming from these angles is detrimental and diametrically opposed to what Noah is and wants to achieve. Note, these beliefs aren’t bad in themselves rather they are less than ideal as an approach to film, specifically this film; they do not do the film justice.
Personally, I would attempt to divorce this film from its source material. As we should with all film adaptations of literature; be honest you don’t really ever want anything that’s ‘faithful’, you just want a good film. Instead of viewing this as biblical epic, it is perhaps more fitting to call Noah a science fiction epic. Rocky Transformers, Evil cities and Kings, Apocalyptic rain, mythical-like animals, its spatial and temporal ambiguity, and to top it all off: a ‘Creator’. With this view it puts some of the spiritual, moral and ethical quandaries in the film in perspective. This what I mean by it being bonkers, it becomes so absurd (sometimes Absurd in the philosophical sense) it’s almost laughable, but I am laughing with it? Does the film know how over the top it is? Having Russell Crowe and Ray Winstone as the two main and meaty characters is a sure fire way to ensure that one’s scenery stays well and truly chewed. Winstone’s rabble rousing cockney speeches provide great entertainment. Speeches which contain lines like: “We are Men! And Men united are invincible! Do you want to live?!” will boil your testosterone but give you a giggle in the process. This tonal ambivalence sort of works however often, it is a little jarring.
The central tension in Noah is between the philosophies and morality of Tubalcain and Noah. The latter has his – perhaps insane – visions from ‘The Creator’ predicting a cataclysmic flood destined to wipe out humanity, Tubalcain has a brutish fierce will to survive amidst his meaningless world. Noah takes his morality from what he thinks ‘The Creator’ wants and only becomes complete when he initiates his own agency. Conversely Tubalcain remarks “Man is not governed from the heavens, he is governed by his own will”, which is a pretty bold and existentialist claim in supposedly biblical Sunday school film (as some people will tell you). About two-thirds of the way through, it is clear the film is not painting a black and white vision of morality. Noah is not wholly good (he even comes close to becoming the antagonist) and one could say that Tubalcain, despite being a nasty piece of work, is simply making the best of a bad situation, a situation where his Creator (or Father) does not speak to him and thus he is abandoned. This existential angst is what, for me, drove the narrative, in fact it’s even left partly ambiguous that the Creator is not real and the visions were all in Noah’s head.
If Noah is a science fiction film then that goes someway to explain its ecological and environmentally friendly message. It is one of the only clear oppositional counterpoints in the whole film. Tubalcain’s men are ravenous meat eaters, so they are bad. And Noah and his family are shepherds of the Earth and only “take what they need” therefore they are good. This for me is a shortcoming in the film. Where the morality is complex and ambiguous its ecological stance is played with much broader strokes. There one scene in particular where the baddies literally rip an animal (a CGI one of course) apart in a fleshy induced rage and become hysteric due to its protein goodness. Now I’m all for vegetarianism and pro-green movements, but as a meat eater I’d like to think of myself a little above barbarous savagery. It felt a little cheap in the film and one element that seemed out of place.
Aside from this, on a technical level it is pretty marvellous but it’s not the standout feature. There are some really great stop motion sections and Garden of Eden scene is wonderful to look at. The animals (yes, THAT scene is in it) are all slightly modified versions of existing animals, which prompts the question, is this a science fiction world, or is it saying that evolution did indeed happen? (Of course it did, don’t be silly). This is where the film succeeds, in spectacle and big action sequences. Where I think it fails is in its dialogue and more intimate moments because all the dialogue is unnecessarily clunky at times. Crowe’s Noah has the gravitas one would expect and seems larger than life, without an anchor like Jennifer Connelly he would seem a little too ridiculous. With lines like “The end of everything…” and “No, the beginning” you can’t help but cringe as the lines drip with Hollywood cheese.
It’s a completely bonkers movie that doesn’t let up and hey, for an early summer blockbuster it’s very entertaining and raises some interesting questions. I can’t help but feel that Aronofsky’s ideal version of the film could’ve been done without so much studio interference. However it is understandable considering its source material. Rock monsters, gruff voices, axes in heads, creation, Adam and Eve, apocalypse, Sir Anthony Hopkins, cockney accents and two of every animal? Jeez, we’re gonna need a bigger boat.
(I left it for the end, I couldn’t help myself)