Directed by Darren Aronofsky
I'm going to start off this review and let you know, if you didn't know already, I am a Christian. I believe in God, the Bible, and all the stories in them. And I'm sure you've all heard (Christian and non-Christian alike) about all the 'controversy' and 'backlash' this film has garnered. This film had been on my radar for a few years. And while I haven't watched many Aronofsky films (the only one being Pi, which I was forced to watch in English Class and did not enjoy it), I've been aware of, more or less, how biblical/unbiblical this would be.
First, I'd like to clear up the idea that this film was made because studios love controversy, don't care about keeping it accurate and only care about making money. Aronofsky, you can readily read, has been wanting to make this film since he was a teenager. While he is a professed Athiest, he has always been fascinated by this story, and he and co-screenwriter Ari Handel had a very clear vision of this film. However, the studios disagreed with said vision. They wanted it shortened and more "safe" (aka more "biblical"). They released various cuts of the films to various religious audiences, with all kinds of mixed reviews. The studios seemed quite eager to try to please the audience and deliver the film they wanted, rather than let their director make the film he wanted. On the contrary, studios do not like this kind of controversy. However, the cut we now see in theatres is Aronofsky's original cut.
Noah is a very different blockbuster and envisioning of this story than most people, mainly the Christian community, expected. As a Christian myself, hearing how "controversial" this film was, and how divided everyone seemed to be, made me become extremely interested in seeing this film. I read review upon review, Christian and otherwise, to see what everyone was saying. And finally, 3 weeks after it's release, I watched the movie, along with my husband and 3 friends from our weekly Bible study group.
I tried to critically watch this film both through a Christian standpoint, but also in a view that separates the film from any Bible knowledge and just to watch the film as it was. This was difficult at points, but it was a truly interesting experience.
And when I came out of the movie, myself and the others I attended with, sort of all had the same feeling about it. We didn't really care for the movie one way or the other. Though one friend seemed particularly off-put by the amount of "magical glowing", but nevertheless, we all seemed a little indifferent to the film as a whole.
I have since read the passage of Noah over and over again both before and after watching the film. And the only thing I can really think of that directly contradicts the text is that all of Noah's sons boarded the ark with wives. Pretty much everything else in the passage is included in the film. Which, seriously, is not hard. However, not giving a specific voice to God/The Creator made for some narrative shifting, but overall, everything in the text is in the film. But it's just a matter of reading between the lines and Aronofsky and Handel did a lot of this. However, another point to remember, specifically for this story, Noah is not exclusive to the Bible. There have been all sorts of legends, religious stories, etc of a flood, an ark, Noah, etc, and are part of Juddaism, Islam and various other mythologies as well. This is something so many Christians seem to forget and I would like to send out as a reminder.
Personally, I more or less didn't have problems with the filling in of the blanks in this film. The scripture itself is very brief, so this was obviously necessary to some extent. While most things worked, there were a few that didn't. What didn't work particularly well was the extended use of the Watchers. Large rock creatures who are cast out of Heaven for wanting to help humans, they are introduced quite early on. While they later go on to find their place in the film (as illustrated in the next paragraph), they more often come off gimmicky and a little silly. I had very mixed emotions over the Watchers and felt their role could've been reduced. As well, the inclusion of the "evil stowaway" on the ark added pretty well nothing to the story and could've been eliminated completely. However, what I felt most mixed about is the third act, and final narrative. SPOILERS AHEAD. While I thought the idea of Noah being determined that all of human kind should die, including his family, was an interesting question to be raised, I felt the film took it a little far that it became unrealistic. Noah, threatening to kill Ila's children (if they are girls) seemed somewhat out of place, and not fitting from what we've seen of Noah thus far. Noah, while powerful, cares so incredibly much for his family, and is very loyal to the Creator. Noah never had a specific vision that his family should die out, and when Noah asked the Creator, he received no answer. While Russell Crowe played out the mania expertly, the extent the story line went to toed the line on melodramatic and felt out of place. End Spoilers. In fact, I felt several things really toed the line on melodrama. Ham's quest for a wife was understandably quite dire and he felt strongly about it. But the lengths he goes to while angry at his father is a little much. But this goes along with my dislike of the inclusion of the stowaway. While most of it stayed afloat and not overly dramatic, it often got a little close.
The things that worked best was the inclusion of Ila. Ila is a young girl whom Noah's family finds wounded near the beginning of the film, her family dead. Noah and his family take her in, and she grows up with them. Destined to be barren because of her injury, she and Noah's eldest son have fallen in love and are essentially (it is not explicit whether they are or not) married. Played thoughtfully by Emma Watson, Ila provided a very different and tender voice to the film, that, without it, might've left the film way too dark. And while I wasn't overly enthused with the Watches at all times, they found their perfect place when helping building the ark. Seeing how large this ark was, it seemed entirely plausible that Noah and his family would need some "big help". As well, many interesting questions are raised throughout the film (justice vs mercy, the will of the Creator, who is "deserving" of grace, etc), and while these are specifically tied to the scripture story of Noah, they were biblical and thought-provoking questions all the same.
However, what worked the best, was how horrific the flood became. Between Noah's visions of being underwater, surrounded by corpses, or to the shot of Noah sitting in the ark, the water rushing around him and you can hear the screams of all those outside, trying to cling to life. They story of Noah is very different, in reality, to what we learned in Sunday school. It's not a happy little ark with Fisher-Price animals in the plastic ark. It's a horror story of mass extinction and eradication of humans. And Aronofsky captured this element perfectly. And while Noah knows he did the right thing, we see Ila and Shem starting to beg their father to rescue those outside, that they have so much room. They have such compassion, but Noah knows he has followed the Creator's commands, and this is incredibly powerful. If the film did anything right, it was this, by far.
The visuals in this film were incredibly stunning, that I can say with certainty. The cinematography (mainly those stunning silhouette shots at the beginning of the film) were gorgeous. While I felt some of the visual effects were a little hit or miss, the overall effect of all the animals and the ship were stunning. As well, all the acting was fairly solid. Russell Crowe is an understated powerhouse as Noah. And Jennifer Connelly brought such power and peace to the role. And while she is white (unlike her real life counterpart would've been) I felt she was one of the best casting choices. Emma Watson has never overly impressed me with her acting (though she was so fun in the Bling Ring), I felt she did some good work here, in the end. However, some of the cast looked a little too pretty. Mainly Emma Watson and Douglas Booth as Shem were the main offenders. Emma Watson looked a little too perfect to be believable, and Douglas Booth looked like a Biblical Model. As well, some of the costumes were a little odd (specifically Noah wearing a modern looking jacket with a hood).
Overall, I understand the controversy. This was not what Christians were expecting, and it's not exactly the film the trailer was promoting (or at least the one or two trailers I watched). I felt much of the problem arose from slightly false advertising of the film, via the trailers. The trailers make this out to look more or less Biblically accurate. Again, I haven't seen all the trailers released, but the one that played in theaters felt misleading after watching the film. However, a recommendation for Christians regarding films: Do your research! This is not something I can stress enough. If there's a Biblical/Christian movie coming out, look into this film. Who is in it? Who is directing it? Just looking at the director can tell you a lot about what to expect, if they have a large enough or prominent enough filmography. The amount of the people I know who don't realize that the Son of God movie is just the Jesus section from the Bible mini-series (plus deleted scenes) astounds me. Even just read reviews! I know too many Christians who went into this blind and came out angry and disappointed. They felt they had been mislead and mocked with this unexpected story.
However, this was a film, in the end, I did not feel like I'd ever need to revisit. This is not because of some Christian blah-blah of thinking this adaptation "ruins scripture" and Aronofsky is "mocking Christians". I feel none of those emotions towards the film, and felt the film was incredibly creative and original. However, Aronofsky is a filmmaker I am realizing is just not for me. Some things worked in this movie, but the mania went a little too far, and some of this felt unrealistic for where the plot and characters had been going prior.
Would I recommend this movie? I'm not sure. I don't have really many feelings to it and I feel it was (extremely ironically) a little forgettable. It's a film that is definitely an "experience" and definitely raised some interesting questions. But was it a good movie? That, I'm not terribly certain on.