Movies almost never stand up to the books on which they are based. How much more daunting is the challenge with the most widely read book of all time? That question is likely why you haven’t seen Daron Aronofsky’s “Noah” yet. Don’t let it stop you.
There are plenty of other reasons not to see “Noah.” The star-studded cast somehow manages to overwhelm the greatest story known to man. Russel Crowe, despite being a leading man rather than a character actor, cannot seem to escape his more famous roles. Nowhere in the Bible do I recall reading, “My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, and I will have my revenge in this life or the next.” I do recall that Noah wound up drinking himself into the proverbial diving duck after the flood. Then he cursed his son for covering his nudity. Cursed in the biblical sense, which involves enslavement of your lineage forever. When there are only six people on earth, personal slights have real consequences.
Crowe, who plays Noah, does manage to capture some of the insanity of his character. But the principal conflict in the movie revolves around whether man deserves to be saved along with the animal. Noah’s antagonism comes from within his own household, where his wife Naameth (Jennifer Connelly) and his daughter-in-law Ila (Emma Watson) have colluded with Noah’s grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) to continue the species, with or without him. Though the drowned are represented by the sons of Cain, their wickedness makes their demise inevitable from the opening scene.
All this does not make for terribly compelling characters. Crowe retains his halo even when contemplating infanticide. Meanwhile, fertility in such close quarters inevitably skirts so close to incest that neither Watson nor Connelly are able to lend any sexuality to their performances. Reproduction is so ritualized and clean that there might as well be a sheet with a hole involved. All the middle-aged Harry Potter fans waiting to be absolved of lewd fantasies will have to wait for another picture. The powerhouse actors seem lost against the ineluctable story and the awesome CGI. The ensemble feels like a middle school rendition of Antigone performed in the credit reel of a Michael Bay movie.
As theology, however, “Noah” succeeds. For those unacquainted with Genesis, the world had existed for all of five pages before God decided to wipe it out and start over. Although the time in that ellipsis adds up to millenia, there are only about four events noted: creation, expulsion, fratricide, and finally some bit about “the sons of god” reproducing with “the daughters of man” that also involves giants and causes men to die young (120 years instead of 900). That last episode is the reason for The Flood. Yet it is described in its entirety in five sentences. What could possibly have gone so terribly wrong?
Answering that question is the reason to see “Noah.” The reasons provided are hubris and environmental holocaust, cardinal sins that do not require elaboration because they are so endemic to all human society, especially America in 2014. That the Lord smiles upon “progress” is taken for granted by every preacher of the gospel of wealth, today’s religious undercurrent. Yet it does not comport with the story of Babel, nor that of the Tree of Knowledge. Although the tale of Noah is longer than all that proceeds it, nothing in the Bible can be interpreted out of the context of all that comes before and after.
The innovation of this iteration of the flood story is in its telling the story of the fall of the rebel angels, inserted into the Book of Genesis according to Christian theology. Aronofsky’s vision does not pale next to those of Hieronymous Bosch or Milton. “Noah” is visually stunning, but more importantly, it plugs one of the largest plot holes in the most contemplated book in all history.
“Noah” cannot be understood without reference to all the other pieces of the Book of Genesis, and so might be mistitled, though it can certainly be watched. It manages to condense an unfathomable yet familiar storyline into a modest 138 minutes. Such is the price and the reward an infallible main character exacts on his audience. Too bad Russel Crowe thought he was it.