I think it’s safe to say that most people are familiar with the story of Noah’s Ark from the Bible. For those not familiar with the myth, it’s about a man named Noah who, along with his family, are commanded by God to build an ark to save a portion of the world’s animals from a global flood that is intended to wipe out humanity (except for Noah and his family). As an atheist, I certainly don’t believe in the story literally. It’s possible that some parts might have been inspired by some things that actually happened, but there has been no scientific evidence discovered that might support any part of the story, and then there’s the whole issue that this Jewish and Christian flood myth was actually based on earlier Sumerian and Mesopotamian flood myths (as are a lot of the myths in the Bible, which is why I don’t treat it as a reliable historical text). When it was announced that Darren Aronofsky was going to make a film version of the Noah story, I was very curious about how he would approach it. I suspected that he’d have something amazing in store for audiences, and I turned out to be right as I enjoyed the film very much when I saw it on the big screen earlier this year.
2014’s Noah follows Noah and his family as they try to live peaceful lives. One day, Noah receives a vision from the Creator that a great flood will soon approach. Noah and his family, with the help of the Watchers (fallen angels who had essentially become rock creatures), build an ark to save a number of the world’s animals and are confronted by the descendants of Cain, who desperately want to board the ark and will take it by force if necessary. The performances given by the cast are top-notch: Russell Crowe (as Noah), Jennifer Connelly (as Naameh, Noah’s wife), Ray Winstone (as Tubal-cain), Douglas Booth (as Shem, one of Noah’s sons), Emma Watson (as Ila, Shem’s wife), Logan Lerman (as Ham, another of Noah’s sons), Anthony Hopkins (as Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather), Marton Csokas (as Lamech, Noah’s father), and Frank Langella and Nick Nolte contribute voice work as two of the Watchers. Crowe gives the strongest performance, as his Noah is a very complicated character (one that will make you question whether he is actually doing the work of God or if he is actually a borderline psychopath).
Aronofsky’s direction is terrific, and the screenplay he co-wrote with Ari Handel works very well, going the “inspired by” route in order to make the story work on screen (Paramount Pictures actually added an “inspired by” disclaimer in the credits so that religious people wouldn’t be offended). The production design by Mark Friedberg was amazing (I loved the more realistic approach for the look and layout of the ark). Matthew Libatique’s cinematography was gorgeous (I especially loved the shot where Noah and Naameh are talking to each other as they stand as silhouette figures against a dawn skyline). Michael Wilkinson did a superb job with his costume designs, creating authentic-looking costumes for the time period rather than the colorful ones of past religious epics. The makeup design was well done, as were the spectacular special effects (the most complicated and extensive ever used in a film) created by ILM. Clint Mansell delivers a great score that is emotionally engaging and introspective as well as filled with rich themes.
Aronofsky delivered a film about faith, sacrifice, and hope while also managing to include a positive environmental message. I feel it is a film best approached as a work of fiction; if I believed the story literally I’d probably laugh through most of the film. I was surprised at the amount of religious people who disliked the film (a film I would’ve figured they’d find faith-affirming), but I was even more surprised at which element of the film they seemed to dislike the most: the Watchers. I actually argued about this with several people who believed in the Noah story literally. They were fine (in the original story) with Noah and his family living for multiple centuries (which no one can really do), Noah managing to get two of every animal species on the ark (which even today no one can really do), and the Old Testament God being a dick about wanting to wipe out humanity. They were fine with all of that, but the part in the film they found too outlandish were the rock creatures who assisted Noah in building the ark (if they had actually been in the original story, it would’ve made sense considering their size and strength as well as how quickly they’d be able to put the ark together). The arguments made against the film are silly at best. It’s an enjoyable tale with strong performances and even some gripping action, so just sit back and enjoy.