A MAMMOTH SPECTACLE
If you are expecting a standard big screen presentation of the Noah character you heard about in Sunday school – forget it! This was no children’s bible story where the animals went in two-by-two onto the cutesy little boat. And, it was not the comedic Evan Almighty version either. This is a dramatically re-imagined version of the biblical account. Make no mistake about it, this was Noah on steroids!
This was a dark time for all of humanity, pre-civilization, pre-government and pre-Abraham. There were no governing restraints to anarchy, so lawlessness prevailed. The corruption of men spilled over into every arena destroying Man, beast and earth alike. It was time for Justice to eradicate the overwhelming effects of sin. Judgment was on its way to deal with Mankind and one man had the unimaginable responsibility of responding to the Creator’s ultimate justice with sacrificial obedience. There’s no pretty way to paint that picture. Director Darren Aronofsky (The Black Swan) wanted to open a whole new conversation about Noah with this film. He succeeded. The results were alternately lavish, majestic, horrendous, and thrilling.
NOAH boasts an A-list cast reuniting Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly who starred together in A Beautiful Mind. They are supported by Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, and Anthony Hopkins. These biblical characters are honest and gritty and none more so than Russell Crowe who turned in a gripping performance as a tortured Noah struggling to hear from God, while privately wrestling with obedience to a task that results in the destruction of Mankind. He must sacrifice everything he knows to obey a God he cannot see in a world sinking under the weight of its own depravity. The burden of this indescribable responsibility plagues him to the end before he finally sees justice moving towards the finish line of mercy and grace.
Anthony Hopkins plays the 969 year old wizened sage Methuselah who’s seen much and knows much. He is content to finish out his years knowing the Creator has spoken, and his last task is to serve as a catalyst for his grandson’s destiny. (I would have enjoyed seeing more of Hopkins character on screen). Every story needs an antagonist and Tubal-Cain served admirably in the part. Ray Winstone was a vicious, grasping Tubal-Cain bent not only on surviving, but also desperately attempting to hijack the plan and take control.
Jennifer Connolly played Noah’s wife (Nameeh) as a resilient woman who trusts in her husband’s mission though she cannot understand the lengths he will go to for obedience. Noah’s sacrifice becomes her sacrifice as she watches the toll the mission takes on her family. Emma Watson (Harry Potter) was Noah’s barren daughter-in-law Il-La, who miraculously becomes pregnant after the Ark sails. Watson rendered an emotional performance demonstrating her growth as an actress since her Harry Potter days.
Clint Mansell provided the musical backdrop for this mammoth adventure and divided his scores for the film into four categories he aptly named “The Wicked”, “Covenant”, “Justice”, “Mercy.” Musical score is crucial to a film’s movement, emotion and believability and Mansell’s compositions transported us along from scene to scene effortlessly.
Aronofsky’s $125 million epic was clearly coloring outside the lines with this creative and artistic spectacle, that was at times astonishing in its scope. Some parts were fantastical (for a biblical movie) but there were also some jaw dropping moments such as the spectacular images of the animals entering the Ark. The visual effects and production values were stunning, as was the life size Ark (built to the biblical specifications).
NOAH has stirred religious controversy as many biblical films do, but I don’t personally expect Hollywood to preach theology with a biblical film, but to turn the strongest elements of the passages into an entertaining story that you end up relating to in some way. The fact that the industry still makes biblical films is a testament to the timeless appeal of these stories to the believer and unbeliever alike. The director hired a Christian Post contributor as biblical consultant to preserve the essence of the story. And, “essence” means the flavor or spirit of the story rather than a re-enactment. Aronofsky does not claim to be a theologian, but he is a filmmaker and as such, delivered a film worthy of seeing and is certainly a protagonist vehicle for conversation.
I believe this picture does succeed in retaining the elementary themes of sin, judgment, sacrifice, justice, mercy and grace. Aronofsky said “This is the least biblical biblical film you’ve ever seen.” However, even Aronofsky could not keep the running themes of faith in God and belief in miracles from dominating the storyline. It still ends up being about one man’s love of family and unwavering faith in a culture running opposite to everything he believes, and his fight to preserve what he holds most dear. And that…is something we can all relate to.