Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” is a singular piece of work, especially when it comes to films inspired by The Bible. No matter your opinion of the film, I think we can all agree there’s nothing else quite like it.
There’s nothing quite like it within Aronofsky’s body of work, either. He’s examined the spiritual and the metaphysical in profound ways before with “The Fountain,” but never has his work reached such an ambitious and grand scale as he achieves with his fantastical interpretation of the story of Noah and the Great Flood. “Bold” is certainly the operative word when it comes to pretty much every one of his films, but there’s an ambition present in “Noah” that’s a level above anything else Aronofsky has made. That we’re seeing his full vision in the theater feels like something of a minor miracle.
I have to admit that there was a part of me that was resistant to Aronofsky’s vision. I’ve been going to church for (quite literally) as long as I can remember, and in that time the story of Noah in Genesis has always been a mainstay, especially in my younger years where the character and story were often reduced to smiling cartoon characters on a classroom wall or a catchy song about arky-arks. Going from those ingrained images to a film that prominently included giant rock monsters, large-scale battles and imagery and concepts from the Book of Enoch was honestly a bit jarring. I also don’t think there’s ever been a Bible-inspired film that’s hit so many dark notes, either.
But as I pushed aside that resistance and allowed myself to become absorbed by the texture and tone of what Aronofsky was after I discovered a film that was remarkable, not just for its artistic achievement but for its spiritual acuity as well. “Noah” addresses the nature of faith and belief and obedience and the concept of grace versus justice in a way that I’ve seen no other film accomplish.
The world we’re introduced to is stark. Still one gigantic landmass, the planet is on the verge of desolation. Humans have run amok, unbridled in their selfishness and have put the planet on the verge of destruction, to say nothing of the wickedness they inflict upon each other. For those who always question how God could move to destroy his creation via the flood, Aronofsky actually does the best job I’ve seen of illustrating just why God would consider it a necessary move to save one portion of his creation from another
Noah (Russell Crowe), however, finds favor with The Creator (as God is so referenced here) and is tasked with building an ark to save that which is deemed worthy of preserving. Noah’s struggle, however, comes from how he interprets The Creator’s intent. He fully understands the evil that has consumed humanity, and he sees in himself and his family the same potential and capacity for evil and becomes convinced that he and his family must all die once the animals have been safely disembarked from the ark following the flood.
This was perhaps the most unexpected path the film took. I was mostly prepared for the wild visions and the fantastical depictions of fallen angels. I expected the bold visuals and the pondering on the metaphysical. What I didn’t expect was for Aronofsky to present such a thoughtful presentation of a man’s struggle to understand God’s will.
Noah is steadfast in his certainty of what he believes God has called him to do, but he’s also disturbed by it. The weight of it drives him to the brink of madness and God remains silent, even when Noah begs for a sign that he’s wrong in his perception. I’ve never felt God was calling me to do something as unthinkable as murder my family, but I’ve certainly felt the confusion and frustration that comes with struggling to understand God’s will and the despair that accompanies his perceived silence.
I’ve yet to see another film that is so riveting and honest in its depiction of a man’s crisis of faith and obedience. That Aronofsky ties this in to a message of choosing grace and love makes it all the more poignant.
Yes, creative license is taken. It’s kind of necessary when the original story is only a few short chapters long and its central character doesn’t utter a word until after the flood. But any perceived major deviations are always in service of the ways Aronofsky wants to examine the nature of faith and the necessity of choosing the path of grace and love. Aronofsky may be an atheist, but he’s crafted a film that champions Christian tenets better than any other expressly “Christian” film I’ve ever seen.
It pains me that far too many people are going to miss the forest for the trees with “Noah.” There is so much excellent craft on display and so much wonderful thematic material to chew on that it deserves to be seen and discussed by everyone who loves film and everyone who wants to see Biblical material treated seriously by Hollywood.