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Movie Review - 'Noah'

Monday, 5 May 2014  | David Cahill

The first thing you will realise very quickly about Darren Aronofsky’s retelling of the classic biblical tale of Noah’s Ark, is that we’re not in Sunday school.  Hollywood has stumbled across a golden formula of late, combining thematic elements that guarantee a big payday at the box office. The first of these vital elements being that of a gritty, foreboding darkness pervading films which gives viewers a ‘real world’ sense they can relate to on screen through conflicted characters. Post-9/11, post-GFC, recession-conscious audiences have embraced movies like the Dark Knight series, 'Star Trek: Into Darkness', 'Thor: The Dark World' and a plethora of other titles revealing the obsession with all things grim and gloomy. The mysterious inner complexities of flawed characters, anti-heroes, psychopathic villains and the reasons behind their inner conflicts and demon wrestling is gripping movie-goers the world over including large amounts of the church going type regardless of their denomination or Christian affiliation. This brings me to the second vital ingredient in the golden recipe, basing films directly from the Holy Book itself, the Bible. Hollywood let the scriptures lay dormant for a while but now they’ve literally landed right on the money again with ‘The Bible’ series, ‘Son of God’, Ridley Scott’s ‘Exodus’ due for a December release and more to come. The market was ripe for a dark, ‘bible-based’, visual epic on a big budget and out of this context the new Noah was born.

But this is certainly not the Noah we knew. Gone is any notion of biblical accuracy or theological correctness. Gone is the pure, holy, righteous, good guy Noah with the only innocent family left on the earth, shepherding them to safety from the seismic storm. Gone even is a major focus on the animals and the gigantic and miraculous vessel which we’ve grown so accustomed to being in the title of more child friendly versions of the story (Noah’s Ark). No, this time Noah stands boldly alone against the tide, dishing out his own interpretation of divine punishment and declaring God’s verdict on all remaining citizens of the planet. In large part this film is a character study of Russel Crowe’s overzealous, self-righteous, suicidal, axe-wielding, manic, right wing religious warrior, on a one man mission to wipe out the wicked from the wasteland of earth and make sure the job gets done at all costs, even to his own flawed family. This is Westborough Baptist Church Noah, picketing at his own floody funeral.

The Director is an atheist and he has very much approached Noah with his mythological take on the story, if not superimposing more mythology upon it somewhat unnecessarily which will no doubt raise the ire of more conservative types. I thought the so called ‘watchers’ (fallen angels who disobeyed God by descending to earth) were almost laughable as giant stone creatures: at best acting as a poor man’s version of the talking tree Ents in ‘The Lord of the Rings’; at worst something out of a fan-made version of Transformers. To be fair to this epic, there is also much good to be found if we can lay our discerning scriptural accuracy lasers aside. With as much objectivity as I could muster, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. It is a fascinating film with a grand scale. The cinematography is staggering at times. With the barren merciless wastelands of earth’s landscape beset with the dreaded doom of a planet on borrowed time, the environmentalists will be cooing.

Despite the ‘artistic’ alterations to the biblical account (which throws up a few surprises, to say the least), rarely does a film explore with such depth the themes of human depravity, responsibility to ‘the Creator’ and his creation, divine judgement and the need for ultimate justice, cleansing and renewal. A superb cast led by our own Russell Crowe also includes Jennifer Connelly as Naameh, Noah’s wife, and Emma Watson (of Harry Potter fame) as Ila, an orphan Noah adopts who has a big part to play in the end. An honourable mention must go to Sir Anthony Hopkins whose effortlessly nuanced performance as Noah’s grandfather Methuselah provides a little light-hearted humour to an overtly serious film. But don’t take it too seriously or you might miss the boat of entertainment and be left scrambling for air amidst a sea of ultra-religious critics. Take the opportunity to engage with people on the source of the material, where the answer to the issues of Noah’s day to the present time is a man who also spoke of human sin, divine judgement, ultimate justice and a way of escape from death to new life, Jesus Christ.

3.5 Stars

M Rated - Not Recommended for Children, Stay in Sunday school

Warning: Some scenes are very disturbing due to the wickedness of mankind portrayed and the horrific scenes of death during the flood.

David Cahill is a 25 year old Bachelor of Communication and Media Studies student at the University of Wollongong. A version of this review first appeared in Imagine April/May (2014). Imagine is published bimonthly by New Day Church, where David and his wife Meredith enjoy their journey of faith and life together.

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