Whereas Son of God was Sunday School onscreen, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is anything but Sunday School. I was relieved – the story of Noah’s Ark has been retold so many times (and often to children) that I knew that this film would have its work cut out for it in order to tell the tale in such a way as not to seem trite. My excitement built as I read lots of articles leading up to the release of the film. Aronofsky was going to tell a story heavily influenced by Judaism and in the Jewish storytelling tradition of midrash. He had fought with censors who wanted to tailor the film to suit a more Christian (particularly Evangelical Christian) audience. The cast was stellar. The effects looked spectacular.
I was not disappointed in the slightest.
Russell Crowe is perfect as Noah. He is a conflicted character, firm in his faith and devoted to his duty. He trusts in God and wants to do His work, but like all of us, he doesn’t quite know what that is. He is tempted by the Devil to think that he does, partway through the film, but he is proven wrong. Noah is not a jolly old grandpa who loves animals. His wife, Naameh (portrayed by Jennifer Connelly), is not a sweet grandma – even as she is a dutiful wife, she has her own faith and she is not afraid to question her husband when he seems to no longer be doing the work of God. Arguably, she is a stand in for those who love their faith and church and yet cannot abide by its hierarchy or leadership and their dogma.
All of the cast is superb. Even though they are archetypes, they are realistic. We can see ourselves in them. Aronofsky is presenting a story about humanity’s relationship with Creation, with the environment, with ourselves, with each other, and with God. God is not a passive character, but He is unseen. He is a powerful Creator who is compatible with all religions, although He definitely has Jewish and Christian overtones. Aronofsky presents the created world as one of both science and religion, showing them to be compatible and complementary.
The messages in the film are delivered in a fantastical world. The characters seem larger than life and yet still grounded in reality. The animals, plants, and landscape seem otherworldly – as the Creation was renewed and restored through the Flood, it was indeed the world before it was made anew. Understandably, it was somewhat odd.
Overall, I recommend this film to a general audience above the age of ten at the discretion of the viewers. Depending on one’s religious background, what one gets from the film varies widely. It is foremost an apocalyptic survival tale in a fantasy universe. It is also a story about the environment and nature. It is a story about family. For Christians, it is a story about the Church and faith. For Jews, it is a genealogical tale. Above all, it is about forgiveness and love.
For those who want a Sunday School retelling, they have to look elsewhere. This is not Sunday School – this is a story for the rest of the week, when we have to live out our faith and beliefs and when we have to forgive those who wrong us. Not ideals, the nitty-gritty reality of who we are and what we have become.
As far as Biblical epics go, Noah is the most true to the meaning and heart of its story that I have seen. While the details were somewhat fuzzy – which is understandable since the story of Noah only takes up four chapters in the Bible and Noah has no speaking lines. All of the traditions that the Bible has ascribed to Noah in traditional Judaism are present, but they are reiterated in slightly different (though entirely canon) forms. We have angels in the form of rocks, Tubal-Cain as an evil king, vegetarianism shown to be godly, and incestuous marriage implied to occur a generation before what we would have expected. Furthermore, the story continues past the actual Flood and we see the conclusion of the Noah story that is conveniently left out of most children’s books and nursery themes.
I have always enjoyed the story of Noah and this film is undoubtedly my favourite retelling of it. It is not cute or pretty, but it is real. It is relevant to my life and faith. I enjoyed every moment.
However, I will never look at a Noah’s Ark-themed nursery the same again!