Before this film came out I told any family member who expressed an interest in it that Darren Aronofsky’s Noah probably wasn’t going to be exactly what they were expecting. This wasn’t going to be a “rise and shine and build an arky arky” kind of thing. And it isn’t, but it also kind of is. No, you probably don’t remember the rock angels from your Sunday school classes and Russell Crowe’s Noah is a heck of a lot more dour and brooding than the nice 900 year old man from the story, but the bones are there. Aronofsky has just put his own kind of meat on them. As such, it’s a pretty successful movie for film fans and religious moviegoers alike, so long as each keeps an open mind about what the other might want and enjoy from a movie such as this.
There is apparently some controversy involved in the fact that Noah doesn’t ever use the word God to refer to a central character in the story’s narrative. Instead, Noah and his family and his distant cousins, the sinful sons and daughters of Cain who want to get a piece of his sweet salvation, use The Creator to refer to the entity whose biggest act to this point had been the creation of the universe. Doesn’t seem like that bad a compromise, as there was no real organized religion at this point in “history” and therefore no name to be named. It also underlines the dramatic irony of the whole situation. We know what happens to man during this story, our great destruction is at the very center of the film, so to call God “The Creator” calls attention to the fact that he’s about to do the opposite of that moniker quite soon.
It’s also telling that two of the film’s best sequences come back to back which tell parallel stories of destruction and creation, first as the flood waters rise and those rock angels protect the ark for just long enough to allow Noah to achieve his goal and then, as Noah and his family listen to the dying cries of humanity – a haunting and terrifying sound with one equally scary visual representation – Noah tells his sons and daughter the first story, the creation of the universe. This is done in the most spectacular of ways: a montage of short 3-4 frame bursts of motion that at first follow the Big Bang and then zoom into Earth as the seas die down and life begins to form inside them, starting as a single cell which splits into many and then eventually forms fish who sprout legs and walk on land and so on and so forth. It’s imagery that you can see watching Cosmos, but the frantic energy wrought by the staccato editing enlivens and invigorates the otherwise overly familiar story. The montage ends with the legacy of Cain as two silhouetted warriors meet on an almost-pop-out-book battlefield and enact the history of warfare with all the technological advances in killing that have happened throughout history using the same rapid-fire editing. It is brilliant filmmaking and storytelling combined into one outstanding package.
But for all of the large scale things that must happen in a Noah story, the heartbeat of Aronofsky’s film comes in the more intimate – but no less intense – second half. When it’s just Noah and his family the impact of what has just happened becomes almost too much to bear. Noah becomes convinced that not only must all the descendants of Cain die, but also his descendants, those of Seth, the other brother of Abel. Even his own daughter’s child might need to be eliminated, should it be a girl, because the sin of humanity might still live on in her and her offspring. Everybody else on board disagrees and there is much family drama. Like I said, not the Noah of the Arky Arky song. Noah’s relationship with The Creator is a rough one; he often looks to the heavens and sees only the sky. Aronofsky’s God is mostly absent, or at least deliberately hiding. It is then up to Noah to overcome his survivor’s guilt and try to see the good that humanity can be. Does he? Well, it’s a Noah story, but also an Aronofsky movie. He has a penchant for killing off his main characters. You’ll have to see it yourself.