Chet Greason, Popcornucopia
If you approach Noah in the same way one might approach a film like Thor, you’ll find it’s actually a really cool movie.
There are some fine moments of survivor’s guilt, of religious zealotry, and of moral ambiguity that blurs the line between good and evil, which is a sign of a good story maturely told.
The golem-like Watchers move with such jerky movements you’d swear they were stop-motion animated, which is unfortunately not the case. They’re CGI. Still, they’re unlike anything else seen in film today.
Lastly, director and co-writer Darren Aronofsky has gone out of his way to create a realm of fantasy that is contained and succinct, yet alive with colour and creative new fauna.
In short, it’s heavy in its tone, imaginative in its visuals, and thoroughly entertaining.
But Noah isn’t like Thor. While some Scandinavians may bemoan the Hollywood treatment their ancestral mythology underwent at the hands of the American pop machine, there are people on this Earth that truly believe the story of Noah to be a part of human history. That makes Noah carry a lot more weight than a tale based on Norse myth. It also makes changes to the story for the sake of modern tastes suspect and ripe for dissection.
Take, for example, Noah’s son Ham. In the Old Testament, after the flood, Ham is cursed for seeing Noah naked and drunk. His descendants, the Canaanites, are doomed to be enslaved by the sons of his two brothers, Shem and Japheth.
You’d be hard fought to find a modern viewer who considers cursing an entire race fair punishment for walking in on your dad passed out drunk, but that’s what the bible says happened; and so, to some people, that makes it the word of God.
So rather than have audiences struggle with the idea of a purportedly loving God having a third of his people enslaved because some kid saw his dad’s butt, Aronofsky changed the story. Under his lens, Ham is far more treacherous in earning his exile; his punishment, and Noah’s, far more obtuse.
In fact, God’s will in the film is largely open to interpretation. The film implies God meant for humans to be wiped out entirely, and it was cunning and pity that saved us from his wrath. Or maybe not. Maybe he wanted us to live after all and saw to it that Noah was created merciful. Or maybe, by tale’s end, Noah is rationalizing his failure to fulfill God’s wishes and his own selfish desire to see his progeny multiply. Who’s to say?
The film features a none-too-subtle depiction of evolutionary creation, something the creationists will trill about and the secularists will wring their hands over. Meanwhile, the depiction of Noah and his family as strict enviro-friendly vegetarians has already upset some American right-wing types, who see it as lefties trying to co-opt their bible. After all, the book clearly states that man has dominion over the Earth; a belief seconded by the made-for-the-movie villain, a ruthless tyrant trying to stow away on the ark.
And what of the weird armadillo/dog Noah finds at the beginning of the film? Did that species not make it aboard the ark? Or have they since evolved; their offspring becoming something more familiar in the scant span of centuries that young-earth adherents would have us believe have passed since God flooded the entire world?
Don’t get me started on how the fresh water fish survived, or how Aronofsky actually compounded the inherent incestual implications of the story by omitting two of Noah’s sons’ wives; or how a family of seven white people somehow populated the world in all of its diversity.
Now, did anyone scrutinize Thor to this level? Did Thor, like Noah, get banned in Islamic countries like Pakistan, Bahrain, and Indonesia?
No. Why? Because the tale of Thor is an old story, revisited and modernized for contemporary viewing. So what if he who was once the God of Thunder is now an Avenger living in America? Who cares?
The tale of Noah, meanwhile, is found in a belief structure that still influences the policy of nations; that people still die and murder for; that provides a crutch for people to openly practice bigotry or to undermine scientific research. Of course, it also inspires countless others to practice charity, selflessness, and pacifism.
Like I said, this is dense subject matter. Aronofsky delivered by not making it too easy for any of us. There’s something in Noah for everyone, secular, Christian, or otherwise, to both love and hate.