“He speaks to you. You have to trust that he speaks in a way that you can understand.”
If you are expecting a peaceful, colourful, biblical story of your childhood, do not go see Noah, the 2014 movie.
Noah (Russell Crowe) is a good family man who is disturbed by dreams about the destruction of the world. He seeks his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) who tells him that the Creator has chosen him for a special task. “He speaks to you. You have to trust that he speaks in a way that you can understand.” What he understood was man has become so wicked that the Creator wants to annihilate humanity and he has to save the innocent. He builds an ark, with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), his three sons Ham (Logan Lerman), Shem (Douglas Booth), Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), and adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson). As the ark they are building nears its completion, with the help of the Watchers, heavenly beings doomed to the earth because of their disobedience, various animal species enter the ark. Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) arrives with his followers demanding they be allowed on board. The rains come in torrents, and the flood waters rise with the animals and Noah’s family safe in the ark, but the drama does not end.
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Noah is a biblical epic, but it is a dark, brooding opus typical of Darren Aronofsky (see Black Swan, etc.). Aronofsky combines good biblical research, masterful storytelling and effective CGIs: the miraculous forest, the animals coming in droves to the ark, the terrifying but majestic waters of the Flood! Cinematography is at times visually stunning. The actors do not disappoint either. Russell Crowe inhabits Noah’s skin and exhibits his versatility as a tender father, a driven hero, a villain fighting his own demons, and trying to fulfil his mission as he understood it. Jennifer Connelly complements Crowe with her presence and heart. Anthony Hopkins still manages to deliver a believable Methuselah. Emma Watson and the young actors adequately portray their roles. Aronofsky takes a story we all know and presents it in a language 21st century men and women can grasp. He has been accused of taking so much liberty with the Bible account. His critics forget that the story of the flood was passed on from one generation to another orally before it was ever written with all the embellishments at each retelling.
Aronofsky’s latest work is a Noah story for adults because it challenges you to think. The recurring flashback montage of creation confronts the viewer with the wickedness of humans. And this wickedness, this sin, is shown as the cause of all the sufferings in the world, personified by Tubal-cain and his army. Noah comes face to face with this evil reflected in his own heart. And yet he has been given the sacred trust to care for the earth and to serve the justice of the Creator. So focused was he on obeying this mission that he is willing to sacrifice not only himself but everything, including the love and lives of his family. Although God is never mentioned in the film (he is called Creator), he is present and involved in the lives of his people: he guides, provides for and saves them. Despairing of what he thought was a failed mission, Noah discovers the Creator as a God not only of justice but of mercy and second chances, of forgiveness and new beginnings.
The overtly environmentalist message is another criticism. But what is wrong about the reminder to “take only what we need”? Can we not see the rape of nature currently happening in this day and age? Are the extreme violence in the fight scenes and intense emotional confrontations in the movie alien to our reality? Or is it because we do not want to listen? We so bombard our ears, our eyes, our minds, our hearts with what we want that we cannot perceive the new life offered to us: peace, freedom, joy? Maybe, this is the flood story that we need to hear.
Would that Ila’s words to Noah resonate in the hearts of all: “He chose you for a reason. The choice was put in your hands for a reason.”