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Noah: More Biblical than you’d think

I’ve heard many people say Noah is a controversial film, probably as it’s from the Bible. After credit’s end and some thinking – saying it’s controversial is itself questionable. Within reason, not much has been changed; rather the story has been added to and mostly from the apocryphal book of Enoch. The film makes the effort to elaborate on the story in Genesis and creates a believable rendition of its own. Nor is Noah making a claim to scientific truth (though it does acknowledge, quite creatively, a more scientific creationism). The filmmakers seem to have no illusions about the material and even add their own pinch of mythology. Despite the subject matter, it’s apparent Noah doesn’t have its own philosophical opinion. This is a sincere and respectful work from a director who’s more interested in telling a good story. Especially one of planetary caution.

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Noah doesn’t sneak around its environmentalism. It’s prevalent in the cinematography and script; the righteous are vegetarian while the wicked eat and butcher animals. It’s raw and barren scenery tells a tale of abuse and neglect. Not exactly an inconspicuous reference but certainly relevant. Then again, most of the movie is working off dramatic and ethical haymakers, so in this rare case it gets a free ride, courtesy of its own straight-shooting.

The account from Genesis was a relatively simply affair, nor was it written for film -obviously. Noah fills in the gaps where the original text doesn’t specify, and the otherwise carbon characters given motivations and depth it didn’t indulge.

Regardless of it being an essentially secular film, it proves surprisingly complex theologically. Once the flood came and humanity perished, the author of Genesis didn’t explore what Noah and his family were going through and their unavoidable confliction at being spared. Usually this would be a time to wind down, but Darren Aronofsky takes Genesis’ silence and makes it the nadir of Noah.

Up until this time, Noah had done everything with resolute assurance. His relationship with the Creator undeniable, confidently affirming to him the divine authenticity of his dreams. Noah then has what you could call a crisis of righteousness; realising he and his family have the same heart of darkness God is willing to destroy the world for – concluding the Creator wants to wipe out the entirety of humanity, including his kin. Humankind is to cease existing completely. The God who was vocal and near, now seems distantly silent.

What’s intriguing is Noah’s near-delusional state and what such titanic tragedy can do to a person. Here was a man who had admirably followed everything he was set to. Yet in light of his epiphany that ruptured his worldview, along with the loss of everyone, his suffering manifests in barbarism and hopelessness at what he believes is the Creator’s will – contradicting the gentle ideals he once harboured. A plausible and convincing reaction considering the circumstances. And one that makes Noah a complicated character beyond the initial Bible story.

Inevitably, some are not going to enjoy the creative license. The Nephilim of Genesis are replaced by ‘The Watchers,’ Tolkien-esque rock creatures who are actually angels and there’s a magical mineral that generates fire when struck. Considering this is a story about flooding the planet, and animals from different continents instinctively inhabiting one boat en masse – the fantastical additions aren’t exactly irregular.

Noah even dabbles in fantasy action, and competently so. When the murder and rape community discover there’s a man building an ark they understandably try to take it when the flood ensues. The battle involving the watchers is reminiscent of many scenes from The Lord of the Rings, but it’s not blatantly ripping anything off. By this time the main performance still hasn’t begun.

There’s an undeniable sense of oddity, even boldness about Noah. For a while I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it seems to emanate from Noah’s surety in his convictions and his God. In a culture where almost everything is relative and everyone’s truth is true – a story and main character that assume an objective truth on-screen is very unusual to a post-modern audience. That it had the courage to stick to its vision and not compromise for the ‘intellectuals’, the liberal tolerists, or the literalists is honourable.

Aronofsky’s Noah is not a children’s tale but an unforgiving, inventive deviation from any romantic notions. Sure it has an agenda, but it’s not overly obtrusive and its unsettling pertinence makes it acceptable. Minus a rather bombastic intro sequence, it’s a brilliant portrayal that takes a well-known story and transforms it into a dark exploration of man’s condition. Even if half of it consists mostly of biblical one-liners, this is a film that speaks more strongly with deeds than words. Noah takes the common story of black ‘n white virtue and flips it on its head to become the flood narrative by Joseph Conrad – and fills in the blanks so believably, you’d think they’d been hiding all along.

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