Darren Aronofsky takes a very different approach to the Biblical epic in Noah, a film both earthy and mystical. This isn’t the Old Testament prehistory we’ve seen before—Aronofsky draws from both Christian and Jewish religious texts to fill out the story (which is actually quite short in the Bible) and offers bleak, poisoned world before the flood quite different from the Mediterranean deserts and forests of previous films—and it accomplishes something quite powerful, vivid and unexpected as a result.
Russell Crowe is Noah as God’s moral man, the last of the faithful who lives his life as Earth’s steward. He keeps his family (wife Jennifer Connelly, sons Logan Lerman and Douglas Booth, daughter-in-law Emma Watson) away from Cain’s offspring (Ray Winstone as a brutal tribal warlord) and the despoilers of the Earth. The creator (as God is called throughout the film) doesn’t speak in the dramatic voice so familiar to other films. He communicates through visions and they are violent, confusing things that Noah must take on faith. Noah undertakes his task as a solemn duty, helped by a race of rock-like beings who were once angels that were cast out of heaven and anchored to Earth. They actually have a basis in scripture but Aronofsky and his co-writer have taken some license with them. And they do add a sense of wonder and a glimpse into God’s wrath and mercy.
Ancient mythology and modern cosmology come together in the story of Genesis, told in Noah’s own words and illustrated with imagery reminiscent of Cosmos, a wedding of science and religion in a way respectful of both. Even the Ark itself looks different than we’re used to, which is curious considering it is actually designed according to the dimensions specified in the Bible.
The producers were clearly nervous about such a different approach to a story to central to the faiths of billions of people, so they added a sort of disclaimer: “While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.” It was banned in some Middle Eastern countries (because of Islam’s prohibition of depicting sacred figures; Noah is in Qu’ran and the Torah as well as in the Bible) and attacked by some Christian critics for taking liberties with scripture. Aronofksy himself described Noah as “the least biblical biblical film ever made” in an interview for The New Yorker, hardly the kind of comment to calm the faithful. But it is an epic canvas for a human story and Aronofsky shows great respect for the faith of the source while taking a creative approach to dramatizing the story and the world.