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posted by Barbara Gohl

Film Review: “Noah”

April 8, 2014

Starring Russell Crowe as Noah; Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Reviewed by S M Chen

From time to time, Hollywood seems to become enamored with biblical stories and religious motifs as topics for its once celluloid output.  Some decades ago it was Cecil B. DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments.”  Then William Wyler’s “Ben Hur.” More recently, Martin Scorcese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” and Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”  And, particularly recently, Christopher Spencer’s “Son of God.”  And now, Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah.”

It was probably inevitable.  Numerous societies recorded a tale of the Great Deluge. And the narrative of the destruction of earth by a God sated by the iniquity of man, save for eight humans and various numbers of animal species, holds a fascination for most, perhaps excluding those who deny its veracity.

Darren Aronofsky (director of “Black Swan”and “The Wrestler”) is a self-proclaimed atheist, so it is no surprise that his “Noah,” with Russell Crowe as the redoubtable protagonist, plays fast and loose with the spare historical account of the global catastrophe recorded in the book of Genesis.

Viewers familiar with the biblical account will find much at which to wince.  A certain artistic license is a given, but there are so many deviations from the story of Noah, his building of the ark according to divine instructions, and the subsequent Flood that the suspension of disbelief at some point is insufficient to sustain the bridge that any film director hopes to build between his oeuvre and the audience, if that audience be Bible believers.

Aronofsky apparently deemed the account in Genesis insufficient, in either interest or detail, to justify a feature-length film, so he and co-writer Ari Handel composed a script incorporating Watchers (giant, grotesque anthropomorphic fallen angels who helped build the ark and fought off hordes of humans who sought to take the ark once the rains began to fall).  Like reverse lightning, their souls return to heaven when they die in righteous combat.

The demise of Lamech, Noah’s father, when Noah was but a boy, at the hands of Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), the nemesis of Noah who successfully manages to board the ark and almost corrupts Ham, Noah’s second son, is a contrivance that might work on a story board but is at variance with the biblical account of Lamech’s longevity (age 777).

So is the presentation of the three sons of Noah:  Shem, Ham and Japheth.  According to Genesis, all had wives when they boarded the ark.  Not so with Aronofsky’s version.  Shem’s inamorata Ila (a flawless Emma Watson) becomes pregnant with twin daughters, whom Noah vows to kill upon birth, so convinced is he that only animals are supposed to survive; humans are to be exterminated, so God can start afresh with the one species that chose evil over Him.

Ham is a troubled lad with a grudge against his father having to do with Noah’s failing to save Ham’s love interest before the rains came.  Tempted to betray his father, he partially does so, but, in the end, saves Noah in his fight with Tubal-Cain.  Japheth is a mere boy.

Anthony Hopkins, although having little more than a cameo role, is fine, as usual, as the aged Methuselah.  His most memorable achievement is healing the barrenness of Ila, who was rescued as a young girl by Noah after her family was slain by wandering marauders.

Jennifer Connelly’s portrayal of Naameh, Noah’s wife, is convincing and touching.

In sum, Hollywood has proven, once again, that fire and fireworks trump hewing to the accurate telling of a compelling story recounted in the world’s best-selling book, which has survived for centuries.

One redeeming message of the movie is the ending:  Noah’s injunction to be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.  This includes humans, as represented by the twin daughters of Shem.

An earlier scene in which Noah is on the verge of knifing to death his two granddaughters (against the protests of his wife, son and daughter-in-law) is reminiscent of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his only son Isaac.  But the two situations differ in that, at the last moment, as Abraham’s knife is raised, God tells Abraham not to sacrifice Isaac; he has passed the test of loyalty.  In the case of Noah, Noah tells God, as he puts down the knife, “I can’t do it.”

But, according to the Genesis account, he was never asked to.

Missing was the depiction of a post-Deluge full rainbow, symbolizing God’s promise to never again destroy the earth by water.  Only a small arc of a rainbow appears at the film’s terminus.  The significance of this truncation may be greater than that intended by the auteur.

S M Chen