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Review: Noah (2014)

Noah (2014)

Directed by: Darren Aronofsky

Premise: A retelling of the Biblical story in which a man and his family must build a vessel to house a pair of every creature on Earth before God destroys the world in a flood.

What Works: Noah was directed and co-written by Darren Aronofsky, a filmmaker who is known for making challenging and thought provoking movies such as Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain, and Black Swan. Aronofsky has done the same in Noah and he’s told the well-known flood story from the Bible in a way that overcomes the inherent challenges of movies with religious themes. In many Biblical films the characters behave in a way that is not credible; they often speak and act melodramatically instead of being in the moment and the movies often come across artificial and pretentious. That is not the case in Noah. The film maintains the tension of the story and the events carry much more dramatic weight because the characters retain the possibility of failure. The film is not a hagiography and the Noah of this film is not a saintly figure. He is an ordinary man dealing with extraordinary circumstances and he struggles to cope with the enormous responsibility for the survival of creation while witnessing genocide. That struggle and the film’s admirably vague presence of God makes this a story of faith, one that is challenging if ultimately affirming. The movie takes liberties with the source material but so did Michelangelo when he painted the Sistine Chapel and so did John Milton when he wrote Paradise Lost. As an adaptation, the relevant questions are whether or not Darren Aronofsky and his crew understood the story of Noah and how they’ve employed it. Clearly, the filmmakers of Noah understood the meaning of this fable—it is about destruction and redemption—and they’ve created a story in which characters cope with those themes. Aside from its thematic accomplishments, Noah is an exceptionally well made movie with a lot of unique visuals. Regardless of its intellectual nature, the movie has a foot planted in the realm of Hollywood spectacle and it delivers on that with some breathtaking visuals.

What Doesn’t: Most motion pictures are made with an audience in mind, and on that score, Noah is problematic. It is unclear who this movie was made for. Like many of Darren Aronofsky’s films, Noah is challenging and iconoclastic; Aronofsky is at heart an independent filmmaker and that spirit of independence is both advantageous and disadvantageous to the movie. Noah does not fit within the typical boundaries of blockbuster filmmaking; this is not 2012 or The Poseidon Adventure and that’s a good thing. But for that reason the picture is likely to befuddle mainstream viewers. Noah may also fail to appeal to the niche audience for religious films like The Passion of the Christ and Fireproof. A lot of those movies are, at best, sentimental, oversimplified, and unchallenging and at worst they reinforce the persecution complex of some of their viewers. Noah presents a story of faith and redemption in a way that leaves the audience with complicated questions. That may not be what some portion of the audience will want from this movie but the fact that it does this is admirable. Regardless of the religious and political conundrums that this film presents for viewers, it is flawed in its storytelling. The characters of Noah are not especially interesting until the flood begins. Up until that point they are pretty flat and one-dimensional. Characters are given dimension in a story by the choices they make but for most of the film Noah and his family construct the ark with little difficulty. Once the rain starts to fall, the various subplots pull together and the movie is both dramatically and intellectually compelling but this does not happen until about halfway through the picture and the process of building the ark is not adequately utilized to develop the characters. The ending of the film is also troubled. In the aftermath of the flood, Noah is estranged from his family and turns to alcohol, presumably to cope with survivor’s guilt. This portion of the story is rushed through and Noah’s recovery and reunification with his family is done quickly and in broad strokes, with everyone forgiving each other a little too easily.

Bottom Line: Noah is an independent feature made on the scale and scope of a Hollywood blockbuster. It suffers from some storytelling flaws but those defects are far outweighed by the filmmaker’s accomplishments. Like many of Darren Aronofsky’s films, it will probably benefit from multiple viewings in order to parse out the themes but that it a testament to the intelligence and skill—and yes, faith—with which the movie has been made.

Episode: #485 (April 6, 2014)