Noah is a bold and ambitious film to make for a modern audience. Christianity in pop culture is usually relegated to the realms of extreme moralism, intent on reaffirming the beliefs of those who consume it and hoping to proselytize to unbelievers. However, Noah is both a call-back to an earlier era of film-making and a reimagining of the Biblical epic using modern technology. It’s like someone took the debaucherously true-to-scripture The Ten Commandments and made it using the stylistic sensibilities of The Lord of the Rings. This is the Bible used as the source material for a fantasy epic, yet never ceases to take itself or its biblical origins seriously. And this is a film that reimagines fallen angels as monstrosities encased in stone, looking like a troll’s shambling extra-limbed cousins. It’s a little insane that director Darren Aronofsky managed to pull this off, but he does so beautifully.
For those unfamiliar with Abrahamic mythology, Noah is the story of man commanded by God (or as the film calls it, The Creator) to build a massive ark in preparation for a flood that will wipe out the rest of humanity for being so corrupt. Two of every animal is gathered and placed inside, so that new life may emerge and thrive after the flood recedes. Where the film tends to focus, however, is on the human characters. Noah and his family are the last remaining descendants of Seth, the brother Cain didn’t kill in the Biblical tale. The rest of humanity is the descendants of Cain, an industrial society with no regard for the world they live in, so much so that the world is near-dead in their wake. The film masterfully sets up these two factions so that understandable tensions mount between them when Noah refuses them admittance to what would essentially be their salvation from the flood, and as Noah prepares for the coming storm, the followers of Cain prepare for war.
The action scene that results feels right at home in a post-Peter Jackson blockbuster, which is an incredible feat for a story that derives its origins in the Bible. But that isn’t even the climax, though. The battle between Noah and the rest of humanity is an important turning point in the film, for we transition from looking at the ark as a vessel of hope to a vessel of psychological torment. I won’t spoil what makes the third act so powerful, but the film’s final hour is harkened by the screams of those drowning outside, a starkly horrifying contrast to the righteousness Noah proclaims for his cause.
The film taken as a whole is a thesis statement on the nature of humanity, its internal struggle between good and evil, and how Noah can reconcile his warring feelings about the people he saves and those he leaves behind. It’s a powerfully thought-provoking film in that respect, leaving behind the black-and-white moralism that religiously-based media seems to revel in, and instead paints the world in shades of gray, and humanity as subject to the whims of a higher power, regardless of that power’s claim to righteousness or indifference thereto. This is all beautifully captured in Noah’s dream sequences from which he interprets the end of the world, but also in images from biblical mythology, including a surreal take on the Garden of Eden and a scientifically accurate montage of the creation of the universe, set to narration of the Christian creation myth.
In other words, Noah is the very definition of epic, in its scope, ambition, and visuals. This is the type of film that biblical literalists will hate for all the wrong reasons, and religious naysayers should see for all the right reasons. This is a fantasy epic with the most epic of origins, and it’s not trying to convert anyone or tell anyone their beliefs are the right ones. Instead, it tells a damn good story about the faults of humanity and leaves us more questions to ponder than answers.
Have a favorite biblical epic? Let me know in the comments below.