Noah is the most surreal movie of the year so far on several different levels.
The movie is split into two distinct halves. The first half, as advertised, features Noah (Russell Crowe) following the word of God, building an ark to survive a global flood while wicked men, led by Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), attempt to storm it.
The second half was entirely left out of the advertising campaign and paints a much darker picture of Noah. Chaos ensues below deck on the ark when Noah finds out Ila (Emma Watson) is pregnant. Believing God’s mandate is to wipe out all of mankind, including himself and his family, Noah threatens to kill Ila’s child, should it be a girl who could propagate the species.
Cinematically, surreal doesn’t begin to describe Noah. Director/co-writer Darren Aronofsky’s fingerprints are everywhere on this movie, from the constant repeating refrain to the visual tying all militaries in human history to Cain and Abel to the high-speed montage from the Big Bang to the first human which Crowe reads the Genesis myth overtop of.
Aronofsky creates a completely biblical world. Noah is helped by fallen angels, molten giants imprisoned in the earth they chose over the heavens. Seemingly all of Pangea is a barren wasteland, devoid of trees, water or life of any kind. When the flood comes, water bursts upward through the earth. These days, the flood myth is considered an allegory by all but the staunchest believers, and this film presents it as part of a world science has no place in.
Aronofsky communicates to viewers the way he imagines God is communicating to his characters, and it is spectacular and intense and hugely gripping.
Calling the Noah story a myth isn’t an editorial conceit — that’s what this film treats it as. The most surreal aspect of Noah is the way it treats its source material. For decades, a Judeo-Christian film industry has played it fast and loose with history, particularly non-American history, and any non-Judeo-Christian mythology was treated as something to be gawked at and picked apart and hammed up for that purpose. Aronofsky is offering the same treatment to the book of Genesis.
The movie’s double structure allows it to first play on deeply held religious beliefs and then backstab anyone going along with it. The conflict between Tubal-Cain and Noah goes from an arrogant man who has declared himself king fighting a noble upholder of biblical law to a man fighting for his life against a crazed true believer who thinks God has asked him to personally and completely destroy the human race. Noah is at once a man fighting for what he thinks is right and one who sits and listens to millions whom he could easily save scream their last without a second thought.
The film is designed more to upset than to delight, and this is the case with most of Aronofsky’s work. Requiem for a Dream, for instance, is impeccable, but I hate watching it. It makes my skin crawl. Black Swan is the same, though that taps the erotic thriller vein and is much more enjoyable in that way.
Perhaps the most important reason to see Noah is how hard it was to bring to theaters. It’s Aronofsky’s cut that’s being shown, and he had to fight Paramount hard to make it that way. This movie is banned in six Islamic countries, including Pakistan, as Noah is a prophet in Islam and any portrayal of him is forbidden by the religion.
This movie is worth taking the time to watch and think about. It may be heavy-handed, it may be upsetting to delicate sensibilities, but it will make you sit and think about the nature of right, wrong and the almighty and think about them in new ways at that. Watch it, and do so with an open mind.
Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a senior staff writer for the NT Daily. We have gotten to that awkward point where our tornado sirens are more bothersome than an actual tornado. For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for.