“I am not alone.”
Darren Aronofsky’s depiction of the story of Noah from Genesis hit the theaters Friday and, my, has it stirred up a ruckus. Well, any time the Bible is depicted onscreen there tends to be a ruckus. Even Cecil B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments caused some drama in its day, though Christians have pretty much embraced it now. (More on that in a bit.)
Part of the grumpiness from some sectors with Noah is that this particular story in the Bible is quite brief. Unless making a 20 minute short, a filmmaker is going to have to pad out the story. Which for some people is a problem even if the padding is tame and reverent. Whatever. Even Michelangelo padded things out or depicted images and story points that are not specifically detailed in the Bible. I don’t see anything wrong with doing so, it’s an artist’s interpretation of something from the Bible, which is a worthy artistic goal. Besides, long stretches of the Bible are up for interpretation anyway and if the Bible can’t handle discussion, interpretation or challenges, it would not be worth much. The Bible, of course, can indeed withstand it which leads to this latest of biblical epics.
For the record, for this discussion, it seems relevant for me to say that I am myself a believer in God and Jesus, have read the Bible through a number of times, I’m a John 3:16 guy, and if you don’t believe any of that, please come sit right by me and let’s have a great time. I’ll also say that while Noah certainly has some problems, I found the movie to be very engaging and at times riveting. I also found it to be shockingly reverent toward God (referred to most of the time as ‘The Creator’ in the movie) and was deeply moved by much of the movie.
I have been reading a lot of commentaries from people who are of course complaining about the movie. Frankly, I can’t imagine what they were expecting and can only believe they went into the movie loaded for bear. I want to keep this relatively short (yeah, yeah, not possible) so I won’t break the movie down scene by scene, which I would enjoy doing, but for these people who complain, I’d like to point out three of many lines that struck me and their relevance in the film.
“I am not alone.”
Noah (Russell Crowe) announces this confidently to the men who turn up to bring down his efforts. He is depicted here a strong man of faith with a strong belief in God, his creator. While like any human he has his doubts, Noah believes in the vision given to him by God and believes that God will ultimately protect him and his family. This depiction of a very real, strong God is rampant through the movie. Some have complained that God doesn’t speak in a human voice down from the clouds to Noah. May I sing a Hallelujah and shout out a “praise God” for that, which would have been gruesome. People have visions in the Bible all the time, it is a very specific way God is depicted communicating with people. In Noah, God is shown giving specific, meaningful visions to people, both in dreams and in waking life, people who are willing to open themselves up to God and listen to him.
I found it fascinating and pretty spot on that the main villain, played by Ray Winstone, cries out to God for speech, to be talked to, and is frustrated that God will not speak to him on his terms not God’s. His reaction and subsequent monologue was one of my favorite things in the movie and relates to the next line I found so surprising.
“Man is filled with wickedness.”
If you are going to make a story about Noah and the ark, you ultimately have to justify wiping out all but about 6 of the world’s population or the movie won’t work. Aronofsky has a chilling scene shortly before the flood that depicts how the general population is acting. After you watch this scene, it’s hard not to think anything but ‘Bring on those flood waters!” Winstone’s speech, which occurs around this time, I found very interesting theologically and illuminated one of man’s biggest sins, which is when we try to be God or equate ourselves with God. From a 130 million dollar movie from a big studio, to have such things even be raised much less stated firmly was pretty amazing to me. I’m not going to make the case the movie is 100% accurate theologically – and what is accurate theologically is itself is a rabbit hole the smartest people in the world have been traveling down for centuries – but for a person to expect this particular movie to fit anyone’s theology accurately is naive or insane. I myself was shocked that Aronosfky made a compelling case that, yes, God had very good reason to pull a restart and wipe out the planet.
I must also add I was led to believe by many who did not like the movie that Aronofsky showed humanity needing to be wiped out because of how we treated the planet not each other. I’ve heard the movie called a wacko environmentalist movie. Not true. Yes, Noah and his family are vegetarians and many who get wiped out eat meat. This is actually from the Bible… pre flood, it seems clear God called man not to eat meat. And if you end up with only two of every species alive (faithfully depicted) it might be a good idea not to eat meat for a while! Certainly the manner in which humanity is treating the animals and the way in which they eat them is pretty gruesome. This I can understand getting under someone’s skin a little. But the environment has nothing much to do with humanity’s sin and the reason for the destruction. The above mentioned scene, with certain details straight out of the biblical account, is devastating. This scene, and the movie itself, is cause for all of us to look at ourselves in a more honest light. I can’t imagine anyone willing to give the movie a chance and watching it openly not looking inward at least a little bit after having seen it. That’s a great accomplishment for a work of art.
“Forgive me, my creator.”
While the movie deals with and wrestles with justice, it also depicts mercy over and over. It depicts clearly the idea that we can be blessed by God and be shined down upon Him if we simply ask for forgiveness and acknowledge Him. The movie seemed pretty strong to me on this point which again surprised the hell out of me.
The being that speaks that line is called ‘A Watcher’ and is a clear reference to the Nephilim, which are referenced twice in the Bible, the first time as Noah’s story begins. Their depiction in the movie was to me a little silly physically. But I liked the emotional side of them. I found it daring for Aronofsky to include them, I liked how they were used in the story. For the people who have complained the Nephilim were not depicted accurately? I’m sorry, you’ve lost your mind and are simply looking for something about which to complain. There is no description of them in the Bible which means their depiction is open to interpretation. Unless you have seen one, and I want a photo, you can’t say this is inaccurate.
There are a lot of other moving and challenging aspects to the movie. It certainly spins off the rails a bit in the 3rd Act once the Ark is afloat. (SPOILER ALERT). Noah goes a little crazy and decides God wants all humans to die, even himself and his family. He begins to take steps in that direction and becomes not unlike Alec Guiness’ amazingly complex Colonel Nicholson in the brilliant Bridge on the River Kwai. While this section went on too long and is raising tons of hackles with people, who is to say what happened to Noah on the ark? Anyone who just watched and heard, quite graphically, the human race being wiped out certainly might go a little crazy. While this is definitely the most problematic section of the movie, it still raises and deals with some compelling and complex issues and shows a man tormented by his belief. It speaks to Aronofsky’s talent as well as his heart that the movie ultimately embraces mercy and love.
Aronofsky certainly wears his heart very much on his sleeve. There is an earnestness to this movie that here and there is a bit ham fisted. It’s very easy to diss a movie that is earnest. It’s also tough not to have these moments in Biblical Epics. Have you seen The Ten Commandments lately? Anyone who likes that movie and disses Noah is not being intellectually honest. Noah is much more serious and challenging than any biblical epic I’ve seen, particularly DeMille’s, which is unwatchable today unless you are 8 years old.
Is it ok to dislike the movie and challenge it? Certainly! It has flaws, particularly narratively in the third act. I winced a couple of times. What is irking me, though, are people who are calling it laughable or unwatchable. Like the movie or not, Noah is a serious attempt to depict a gruesome time on the planet. It’s a complex story by a visionary director who puts his heart and soul into his films unlike most any filmmaker alive today. Aronofsfy doesn’t always work for me… I found The Fountain impossible to get through, for instance. But he is incredibly watchable (Black Swan!) and even in The Fountain… perhaps there most of all… he is striving to put something challenging, complex and very emotional onscreen. You can’t say that about 85% of the content the studios release. The trailers before Noah were for Transformers Pt 12 and Hercules Version 10. If you sit through those two trailers and then spit on Aronofsky’s efforts rather than at least engage him in an intelligent way and admit he is serious minded and sincere, you’ve jumped the shark and have no real place in a conversation about story and film and art. Did he make art? That, too, is up for interpretation. But he certainly tried a lot harder than most and he has yet again put a very personal and moving vision on screen, one I can’t wait to see again.