It looks like for the second Director’s Week in a row, I’ve been tasked with defending a generally maligned film. This time, it’s Darren Aronofsky’s misunderstood gem, Noah. There was a lot of confusion in the wake of this film’s release, as people could not make sense of Aronofsky’s fantastic take on the biblical epic. The way I often like to describe it is The Ten Commandments meets The Lord of the Rings.
Though it may seem offensive to say, were you required to put this film under a genre umbrella, it would most easily fall under “fantasy”. Put down those pitchforks, you crazy Catholics! (It must be noted that, being rooted in the Old Testament, the story of Noah is not one solely of Catholicism, but also that of the Jewish faith.) What I’m saying is that Aronofsky is using biblical mythology as a launching pad for his own fantasy adventure. This is evident from the opening title cards, where this world’s population is described as descendants of Cain and Seth, sons of Adam and Eve. I can’t help but think of Warcraft and that world’s population being split by human and orc.
“Heresy! He’s comparing the Bible to some children’s video game!”
Dammit, zealots, wait your turn and hear me out!
Nowhere is this fantasy element more prevalent than in Aronofsky’s interpretation of the fallen angels, or The Watchers. In Noah, they are portrayed as beings of light who were cast from Heaven and imprisoned in cumbersome bodies of stone. They are chained to the Earth as a reminder of their recalcitrance towards the Creator. They serve, in design and function, a similar role as the Ents in The Lord of the Rings; the anthropomorphic trees of Tolkien’s Middle Earth.
Oh, and before I move on from the fantasy aspect of this film, can we not just agree that this approach gave us one of the most badass shots in all of filmdom?
Fuck, I could look at that all day.
Anyways, perhaps what’s most interesting in this film’s portrayal of the biblical figure is in how it casts Noah, not as a hero, but as a complex human being who struggles with the Creator’s command. The word “Israel” means “he who wrestles with God” and Noah, in this film, fails to do just that. He is a blind servant to a deity who has forgotten mercy and is murdering people in the billions. Noah, although sensing the weight of this decision, never questions the orders of his God, instead serving loyally. In doing so, the cries of the damned haunt him and his family aboard the Ark.
Noah is not an aspirational figure. He is a man. And for his role in the death of billions, he must redeem himself in the eyes of the Creator and his family. It is for this reason that the final portion of the film has a drunken Noah stumbling, alone in his cave, unable to meet his family face to face. Noah fails to reach a spiritual compromise with God. He refuses to stand up for human life.
It is spiritual compromise which is at the heart of this film. Nowhere is this more evident than in the film’s central creation montage. This beautiful bit of cinema marries the seven-day story of creation with our modern evolutionary understanding of our universe. Words fail in capturing the magic of this moment, for it is Aronofsky’s own struggle with God. Here, he is wrestling with the stories told to him and marrying them into one gorgeous sequence that makes sense of it all.
Darren Aronofsky created a film where science and faith are one and the same. He created a world where a man is not a hero for being a blind servant to God. He created a masterpiece that is both universal and deeply personal.
And it was good.