Friday, April 4, 2014

Noah (2014)

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Let me get two things right out of the way: (1) I really like this film. (2) I know that plenty of people will dislike and even hate it, for all sorts of reasons. I don't care. See (1).

I'm a tremendous fan of Darren Aronofsky. I like all of his films, to one degree or another. Topically, they all seem very different. Pi is about a mathematical genius; Requiem for a Dream is about various forms of addiction; The Fountain is a science-fiction/love story with deep romantic roots (pardon the pun, those who know the film); The Wrestler is about an aged WWF-style professional wrestler; and Black Swan is about an ambitious, perfectionist ballerina. And now Aronofsky turns his skills onto one of the oldest stories in human history - that of the great flood and the man chosen by a god to preserve life in its aftermath.

I think the movie does a splendid job of it.

We've already heard about the protests against the film. Of course, many of these are being staged by religious fanatics who are upset that the film does anything other than present a literal interpretation of the Old Testament story. These people are horribly misguided. What many of them don't know, or willingly choose to ignore, is that they have no monopoly on the flood myth. It's found in every ancient culture around the world, with one of the better known being that of Utnapishtim of Mesopotamian legend. The idea of one man feeling tasked to survive a divine cleansing of the world is far greater in scope than even the massive Jewish and Christian religions and their mythology can contain. Aronofsky's film seeks to be more inclusive by not restricting his version to Pentateuch canon.

The fellow surrounded by water here is a character that is at least as old as the Noah story - Utnapishtim, whose exploits are told in the Epic of Gilgamesh.

On top of shaking off the constricting details of the Old Testament story, Aronofsky decides to incorporate some ideas that have only been given clear definitions in more modern times. This sets up another element that some people will likely scoff and sneer at - the "vegetarian warrior" aspect of Noah and his family in the film. I admit that I'm still not completely sold on this part of the story, as it seems just a tiny bit forced. Still, it is woven extremely well into the logic of the movie. This version of the tale pits Noah and his family against the "evils of the rest of humanity," which are exhibited by brutal violence and an insatiable desire to possess and/or consume everything in their path. Obviously, this is a concept that is as old as humankind itself; it's just that Aronofsky's Noah includes the consumption of other creatures' flesh into mankind's catalog of evil as defined by senseless destruction.

Probably the final major complaint that people level against the movie is regarding the "rock monsters." If you haven't seen the movie and plan to, I won't ruin this for you by explaining the details. Just know that there are Lord of the Rings-like, craggy creatures featured through the first half of the movie. Before you roll your eyes and dismiss this notion, though, I will tell you that they are explained in an way that I found blends with the movie. Sure, they may have been added simply to mix in some fantastic, adventurous, family-friendly spice to the film, but they represent more than mere eye-catchers for the kids. And even though they figure heavily into some of the more epic action sequences, I hardly found them frivolous appendages to the plot. If one wants to think in terms of the actual story as relayed in the book of Genesis, they make a good deal of sense. And really, if a person wants to obsess over a "deviation from the source," go back and read Genesis. Wrestling angels and women turning into pillars of salt is completely plausible, but some hulking rock creatures aren't?

The twisted rock creatures known as "Watchers" seem to be a contentious addition to the film. 
I found that they added much to the story.

One thing I think most people can agree is excellent about the movie is the psychological and emotional weight that is carried throughout. Through the screenwriting and the strong acting, we do get a sense of how one man and his family's incomprehensibly massive burden is borne. Aronofsky blends in elements of several other Old Testament tales, such as Adam and Eve as well as Abraham and Isaac, which shows the coherence between these mythic prophets of Judeo-Christian belief. The gravitas has always been a large part of these characters, just as they have been with most characters who have endured for millennia. This movie is able to harness and express it in ways more palpable than any film representation that I know of.

And so, with this weighty theme of supreme religious devotion and sense of grand purpose, we come full circle. Just as with Aronofsky's other films, the protagonist is driven to obsession by a single purpose. Such characters often drive stories, and Noah is no different. Though not without some flaws, I think it's merits far outweigh them and make it a strong, thoughtful and intelligent cinematic tale.

I will likely see the movie again, sooner rather than later. I will be curious to see how it holds up to a second viewing. So far, the movie has stayed with me and I enjoy pondering it various elements and the way they were constructed. I recommend that everyone check it out and form their own opinion, for everyone surely should have an opinion on it.