Hollywood loves adapting books. Whenever an artist takes liberties or modifies the source material for the big screen, there’s always the ever-present uncertainty of upsetting followers of the original written work. There’s an even larger gamble when adapting the bible, or any historical text for that matter. Visionary director Darren Aronofsky (“Pi,” “Requiem For a Dream,” “The Fountain,” “Black Swan,” “The Wrestler”) has done just this. For those unaware, “Noah” is not a strict biblical adaptation, rather an interpretation of the story that pulls from several different religious scriptures such as The Old Testament, The Book of Enoch, The Kabbalah, as well as Aronofsky’s background in Jewish mysticism. Despite the flood of controversy attached to the film before its release, audiences flocked to Paramount Pictures “Noah” the weekend of March 28th, where it made $44 million in North America alone, perhaps maybe even overturning its initial Christian backlash from it deviations of Genesis?
If you’ve been conscientious of all the discrepancy and fuss about what happens in the movie, you might have heard something about a certain rock people, a sniffy message about environmentalism, or a final act where Noah (Russell Crowe) falls victim to a psychotic break in his dedication to appease “The Creator.” The film actually never refers to God as “God,” but instead, “The Creator.” This is a change many were offended by, but felt right as a creative choice in the context of Aronofsky’s world. There’s a certain blend of both creationism and evolution implemented that’s openly refreshing and adheres to both outlooks without issuing superiority towards a certain belief. In one scene, Noah narrates the story of creationism under a scientific comprehension of Darwinian evolution through a visuals template that’s indistinguishable from Aronofsky’s spiritually zen drama, “The Fountain” (2006). Likewise, Noah’s dreams and vision are haunted by images of a serpent, an apple in the shape of a human heart being plucked in the Garden of Eden, and Cain striking down his brother Abel with a stone against a silhouetted sky. If there were more to fill the gaps, these images alone would make a beautiful silent short film of Genesis.
Paramount’s marketing of the film has been sly to say the least. In nowhere of the films ad campaigns is there any mention of “The Watchers.” Very much alike to something you’d see in a “Clash of the Titans” or “Lord of The Rings” film, these mammoth sized CGI-Rock Giants are Aronofsky’s version of the sons of the nephilism. The identity of the nephilism is still being argued in Christian circles, but a much agreed upon interpretation is that they were fallen angels who fornicated with human women. Genesis 6:4 reads “There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bear children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renow.” Aronofsky’s version of these beings is a bit deviating. In the film, they are angels who have been forsaken by “the Creator” and condemned to live on earth in a misshapen form of molten gravel. “Rock and mud shadowed our glow,” they tell Noah. After baring witness to a one of the many miracles Noah encounters, they’re convinced he’s been appointed by The Creator and help assemble the ark with him alongside his three sons (Ham, Shem, Japheth), his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson) who’s been left barren by a severe laceration that’s rendered her infertile. Initially jarring in their design, “The Watchers” wind up being one of the most spectacularly fascinating additions to Aronofsky’s film.
In the scripture, we’re exposed to all the evil humanity has caused thus being the reason God floods the earth. The film portrays this primitive behavior and even depicts humans resorting to cannibalism. Noah and his family do not eat meat. Upon observation, this felt like an eye-roll inducing, overbearing plug towards vegetarianism or veganism, but after re-reading Genesis, in a post-flood passage, Genesis 9:3 positively suggests that Noah did not eat meat. God speaking to Noah proclaims, “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” Those who’ve voiced their disapproval on the film have commented saying that this is an agenda driven film since its director is also a vegan, but from this standpoint, it clearly looks as if he’s just pulling from scripture.
Man’s dominion over the planet is a heavily dwelled on topic. Tubal-Cain, a descendent of Cain in the Hebrew bible, and also the films antagonist, is described as a builder of cities who dominates the land with his followers. This is where the much talked about anti-industrial environmentalism motif creeps in. Noah teaches his children that animals are innocent because, “ They live as they did in the Garden.” Tubal-Cain and his adherents are sinful for their self-perceived, high-and-mighty value over all Gods creations. Tubal-Cain keeps reminding the audience that man is made in God’s image. This is the guy who’s supposed to be the villain! This in turn has lead right-wing commentators like Glen Beck to deem the film as “strongly anti-human.”
All the pandemonium is somewhat expected, but Aronofsky’s film genuinely takes Genesis seriously as a text and ultimately sticks to the meaning of the scripture, maybe even more so to the happy-go lucky Sunday school version we’ve been brought up on. Not indifferent to Martin Scorsese’s controversial 1988 film “The Last Temptation of Christ” that explores a humanized version of Jesus struggling with the role appointed to him, Aronofsky’s film also chooses to depict Noah’s ubiquitous faith-based internal ponderings that all believers face at one point or another. In Genesis, Noah had a very clear understanding of what God wants him to do. In the film, the Creator is very distant from Noah, only prompting him to build the ark through muddled visions and apocalyptic hallucinations. Noah presumes the will of the Creator is to see Humanity die out, including himself and his family. His final task asked of him is to shepherd the animals to safety where they can repopulate without the immoral plague of mankind. Unwilling to comprise in his spiritual devotion to God, the mental weight eventually takes a toll Noah and incites moral inquiries of just how far one is willing to go to fulfill Gods will, at one point turning into “The Shining” on an Ark.
The replication of the Ark is modeled to meet the blueprint described in Genesis. Going back to what God tells Noah in the Bible, “three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.” The dimensions and exact cubits of measurement are directly lifted from scripture, though it’s less of a boat and more of a gnarled wooden box. The production designers worked vigorously to bring audiences something that matched the scope of the ship. What they’ve managed to pull off is extraordinary. The movie really peaks when the ark sets off.
Aronofsky’s “Noah” holds no punches and manages to go full-on Old Testament with its unrelenting intensity at times. One discomforting image of flood survivors clamoring up the peak of a mountaintop before being violently ripped away by the ocean’s chaotic surge practically had me recoiling in terror. Many will take issue with the artistic license, but I found the film to be abundantly faith-affirming, propelling myself to re-read Genesis again and discuss it with my family. Aronofsky pushes expectations to the breaking point, but by no means does he alter Genesis’ meaning. If anything, he enhances it. Compared to the film, the biblical tale of Noah is much more abridged. For instance, in Genesis 9:18 there’s a bizarre scene where a post-flood Noah gets drunk and lies naked on a beach before cursing Ham’s newborn son, Canaan. It’s a much-speculated, vague segment that Aronofsky gives clarification to through his expanded rendition.
The central character of the movie is Noah, but this is also a film about God, and how he eventually reveals his mercy and love for human beings and mankind. That is a very spiritually comforting message that many Christians will find solace in. Those who are not offended to see an alternative interpretation of the story will most likely find it unabashedly rejuvenating. But conservative-minded evangelicals or Bible literalists, who are seeking a direct translation of the scripture, may end up disappointed. With “Noah,” Aronofsky has made a film that translates the beauties of scripture into allegories about our contemporary times. While it’s indeed true that the film applies major alterations from it’s source, some fantastic and others just plain bonkers, this is easily one of the greatest big-blockbuster, Bible tales that matches the magnitude “The 10 Commandants” has created.
If you enjoyed “Noah,” keep any eye out for Ridley Scott’s (“Gladiator,” “Blade Runner,” “Black Hawk Down”) upcoming 2014 film, set for December 12th, “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” another Old Testament film of Moses leading the Israelites slaves out of Egypt, staring Christian Bale and Aaron Paul.
Rob Gabe is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RG770214@wcupa.edu.