Noah – A review and discussion

Spoilers Abound

Darren Aronofsky is a visionary director. By that I mean he has a strong visual sense of what he wants and creates movies to match. For me, personally, he is also a director whose vision generally exceeds his capabilities.

That is the case with the epic film Noah. A lot of reviews focus on the film’s fidelity to its source material. As that isn’t the director’s intention it isn’t a fair comparison. He is telling a modern film with modern themes and values. But the movie doesn’t quite hold up.

It is a stunningly shot film. It has some good action scenes (but also some lousy ones). It has strong conflicts for Noah to face. As an entertainment it is thus largely successful.

The theme of the movie is that mankind has ruined the planet and whether they can be trusted to do better in the future.

The flaws? First the film is over long. At 2 plus hours it is too long for an action thriller. It adapts a story that is told in 5 chapters in the Bible and which can be well summarized in two paragraphs. So there is a lot of additional material. A lot is ineffective.

The characters are ciphers. Noah, portrayed by Russell Crowe, is fully realized. Ila, played by Emma Watson, has some good scenes, but no true character arc. Most of the rest spend the movie standing around stony faced. Sometimes they are scared, angry or sad as the plot demands. But they don’t come alive. The movie has a full character arc for Ham, played by Logan Lerman, but he acts every scenes with the same wooden, stunned face.

Finally the theme is bludgeoned at us. The movie is overly manipulative. Often choices are made that make no sense in order to forward the theme.

All told it is an entertaining spectacle of a movie. I think most folks watching it will enjoy it. But viewed on its own terms it doesn’t quite measure up.

Ok. The is the end of the review. But I also want to talk about choices the director made. Film making is about making choices and when doing an adaptation it is a bit more obvious what choices are being made.

I already spoke on the choice of theme. Obviously quite a bit different than what the source material describes. And most choices made support that theme.

Most events from the Bible occur in the movie. While the theme is different the movie is quite close to the written text. Two significant differences are that the movie never makes it clear that it rains for forty days or how long is spent on the ark until land appears nor does God ever speak directly to anyone. I thought not mentioning the forty days was quite interesting since it is one of the key elements everyone would know.

Bizarrely Noah is not a disaster movie. There are lots of conflict types in the movie, but not the one required for a disaster movie. Man vs. man. Check. Man vs himself. Check. Man vs God. Check’ish. But there is no man vs. the environment.

In a movie where the world floods, they never fight the water or storms. No scenes of almost drowning. No problems with the Ark leaking. No being tossed around by the storm.

That was interesting.

Next in an adaptation of a Biblical story God is almost absent. I say almost because there are many miracles depicted. But they are portrayed like magic. More importantly none of the characters have a relationship with God. In a very modern take, God is distant and unfathomable. God communicates only with Noah and only through visions that are easy to misunderstand. None of the other characters seem to relate to God. (Except the bad guy but his challenges go unanswered.) God is never referred by that term or ever The Lord, but always as the Creator.

Noah’s relationship with the Creator is not portrayed as faith, but obedience.

I thought that was interesting too.

Finally, the choice of how to portray the wickedness of mankind. While most men are shown as brutal and violent the big choice is showing the earth as a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Their evil is to believe the earth is theirs to subjugate and exploit. Noah is shown as good because he protects even the smallest flower.

Obviously this is one of the choices used to support the theme. But I still found it interesting.

Finally every other review I’ve read mention the rock angels. This was a Peter Jackson type inclusion that I didn’t find notable. They served their role in supporting the theme and plot. Their animation was cool. But mostly a bit forgettable. Their addition to the story was a choice, but I was not as interested in it as others made. Certainly not as interested as every other reviewer.

I think that is all I have to say.

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