The Lord said to Noah, “There’s gonna be a floody, floody.”
Controversial and polarizing, Darren Aranofsky’s long-time labor of Old Testament love brought to the screen a mix of fantastical imagination and a heavy-duty exploration of man’s relation to the Almighty. What a bad-ass movie.
As the recently created human species runs wild through existence, destroying, consuming, spoiling and generally being humongous a-holes to each other, the Creator looks upon His work and, exasperated and disgusted, decides to hit the reset button. A great flood is on the way to cleanse the Earth of most of humanity and one man has been given the dubious honor of building a gigantic ark to fill with animals and float away from the madness. That man is Noah (Russell Crowe, Gladiator) and when the Creator starts raiding Noah’s dreams with visions of blood and water and cataclysm he begins to realize his ultimate destiny: make the final call on the fate of mankind.
The Noah story was never one of my favorites. Over the years, it’s been diluted, reduced to a Sunday School felt-board activity. That atrophy dulled my appreciation for what it actually was: the gruesome, cosmic tale of God’s relation to man. As such, I paid little attention to Aranofsky’s looming blockbuster until it was suddenly upon us in a deluge of controversy and frenzied opining. Between the befuddling rock monsters and the unmistakable eco-happy message, there was plenty of grist for the outrage mill to grind through.
Now, I have made it a self-governing statute to not dump on people for disliking a movie that I like, or liking a movie that I hate (except, of course, for Avatar) — but the pushback Noah got, particularly from religious groups left me baffled. I’m a God-fearing homeboy myself and I’ve watched enough Christian movie dreck to know that is should be lauded when someone with the epic talent that Darren Aranofsky possesses opts to tackle one of the biggest Bible stories out there. I mean, as long as he doesn’t go totally off the rails and reveals God to be the hallucinated result of a methane gas leak or something, I’m fine with artistic license.
Which he takes, for sure. And that’s because the Bible story doesn’t have a ton of meat on its bones to begin with. Despite the major stakes and payoff of the Flood, the real estate the story earns in Genesis is sparse. Enter Aranofsky and his imagination, the fruits of which served only to enhance the narrative and, frankly, make it an enjoyable movie-going experience. This isn’t new territory; Aranofsky has pursued his own version of midrash, the traditional Jewish exegesis used to fill in Talmudic gaps. That it leads us to rock monsters and industrial waste and plate metal and magic Heaven orbs is it’s special own kind of crazy.
I won’t get too deep into this stuff because I think it’s genuinely great to discover the mythology he’s created. I will say that I loved nearly all of it. The rock monsters can make sense in the context of the Creation story and the relatively advanced nature of humanity (strip mining, metal-working, even proto-rocket-launching) squares with a Biblical timeline that could have seen an entire period of human micro-history transpire before God threw up His hands and finally said “Screw it!”
From a Christian point of view, I wish to offer this to the Brethren: we need more of this, not less. I’ll take a talented atheist treating the material seriously and with verve than an endless parade of Son of God productions. There’s a place for this safe stuff, but in my experience these films largely preach to the choir; let’s get some quality cinema that confronts these tough issues and struggles with Biblical truth in a fresh, artistic, exciting manner.
Okay, off my soapbox. From a straight-up moviegoer’s point-of-view, Noah is dynamite. Even if you scoff at the notion of the Flood and have like thirty Darwin-eating-the-fish decals on your bumper, there is much to be thrilled with here. From the outset, Aranofsky creates a truly transportative world and paces his action perfectly; you know the Flood is coming and the build-up works perfectly. When the rain begins to fall, he unveils one of the most exciting action sequences I’ve seen this year.
But the real punch happens once the water has overtaken the Earth and Noah, faced with the utter degradation of man — and the Divine judgment they’ve received — takes events to their logical conclusion. It’s dark stuff and, in fact, turned off more than a few of my friends, but that’s why Noah is so singular; Noah’s plan of action makes brutal sense and slots in with the justice vs. mercy dynamic that courses through the film.
Some more good news: if you missed it in the theater, the home video experience comes tantalizingly close to replicating the sound and fury. Paramount’s Noah (Blu-ray) serves up a stellar 1.85:1/1080p transfer, rich in detail and brimming with clarity, rendering Aranofsky’s vision with reference quality visuals. The Ark looks great. The CGI looks great. A filthy Ray Winstone looks great. It all looks great. It sounds even better. Sporting a too-rare DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix, the disc offers a fantastic aural experience that peaks with the insanity of the Flood. From stem to stern, this is A/V bliss.
On the surface, the extras may seem to underwhelm — three featurettes on shooting in Iceland, and the exterior and the interior of the Ark — but these are well-done, and when strung together total a 60 minute documentary that gives insight to both the practical execution of the film and the passion that made it reality.
Finally, a word about the environmentalism aspect. Yep, the corruption and pollution of the world is front and center. No, mankind doesn’t get obliterated because they didn’t recycle. Their destruction of the environment is an expression of their utter depravity, just like their wasteful slaughter of animals and their treatment of the frail and infirm of their own kind.
Not Guilty x2.