Movie: Noah; Director: Darren Aronofsky; Studio: Paramount Pictures; Rating: PG-13; My finding: 4 out of 5 stars.
"Noah" is a passion project of director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky that by his own account, he has been thinking about since he was 13 years old, when he submitted a poem about the biblical story for school. For the audience, though, the enjoyment found in it depends entirely on your tolerance for liberties taken with biblical accuracy.
Before going to the movie, I read the story of Noah and the great flood from Genesis again. Like all stories in the Bible, greats amount of time and detail are funneled into the gist. That leaves a lot for interpretation to the reader and is the reason Abrahamic theology continues on so strongly. If a movie were only to display the details present in Genesis, then that would not account for the more than two-hour runtime of "Noah."
This image released by Paramount Pictures shows Russell Crowe in a scene from 'Noah.'
Some will undoubtedly be uncomfortable with expanding the story of Noah and the expansion of characters beyond those of Noah, his wife and their three sons. But for others, the expansion may make the story come alive in their minds more so than it had previously been presented to them.
I come from the latter viewpoint and enjoyed the film very much.
In the beginning, as we all know well, God created Adam and Eve, who had three sons, Cain, Abel and Seth. Cain committed the first murder when he killed Abel and the descendents of Cain and Seth now populate the earth. But it appears that the descendents of Cain have the upper hand in terms of numbers and power, if not of spiritual strength like the fewer descendents of Seth.
The descendents of Cain have created great, sinful cities that blaspheme God. God has had enough, and decides to cleanse the Earth of their presence and start again. He puts the task of retaining the innocent parts of creation, like the animals who have "lived as they did in the garden" throughout time, in Noah through powerful visions of flood, fire, brimstone and all kinds of manner of death and destruction.
And it is glorious.
The cinematography provided by Aronofsky's longtime collaborator Matthew Libatique is breathtaking in its precision and epic scale and should be seen in theaters before it becomes degraded down to smaller screens.
Noah's task will not be easy, though, and he believes he was chosen because God put his trust in someone who will "get the job done." The language is also, thankfully, modern and easy to understand, which further embraces the idea of bringing the story to life for modern audiences, believers or otherwise.
To help Noah in his task, though, Aronofsky and co-screenwriter Ari Handel, enlist the help of former angels who had fallen to the earth in the belief that mankind could be helped but were cast out by the descendents of Cain. The fallen angel's punishment for believing in sinning humanity was to become encrusted in the earth, and they now appear as stone behemoths who tower above humans and the animals. This is the first major departure from the canonical story in the Bible which mentions no such helpers, called the "watchers" in the film. But, in its own way, it remains biblical in its message and further supports God's reasoning behind starting over: The wickedness had become too great.
Leading the sinful is Tubal-Cain (played by the great Ray Winstone), who was a tertiary character in Genesis. He received only one mention, in Genesis 4:22, as a descendent of Cain. While his whole personality and his rule of "King" of the wicked are created within this film, at least his profession as a forger of iron and bronze remains intact. In fact, when Noah tells Tubal-Cain and his followers that there is no room for them on his ark, the sinful masses begin to forge weapons to kill off the giants and Noah and his family before the great flood comes.
Russell Crowe is, in my opinion, the perfect choice to embody Noah. Like Crowe in real life, an interpretation of Noah could be of a hard-working but also hard-minded and stubborn man. Noah is so totally in tune with his biblical task that he can come across that way. He must challenge everyone, including his own family, to see the end of his vision.
Sometimes, though, that vision takes him to some hard places. The hardest of those places is in a secondary storyline that almost makes Noah out to be a monster of sorts if only he didn't receive visions that guided him. That storyline is created through the adoption of a girl barren from a wound she received when marauders destroyed her vision.
Taking liberties at all with a
story that people have rallied behind for milleniums, forming their own visions of the finer details and the meaning behind each action, is a dangerous thing to do. Especially that of the cursing of the descendents of Noah's middle-child Ham that immediately follows the story of the Great Flood in Genesis.
Sometimes, though, risks must be taken in order to bring the conversation away from petty politics that have covered up the messages buried beneath. When that risk comes about in such a beautiful and compelling package, it's quite hard to deny it.
(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday's Arts &?Entertainment section.)