Why I Love Noah (Even If You Won’t)

Noah would be notable to me for no other reason than it’s one of the only movies that my girlfriend and I have completely and utterly disagreed on. For my part, I found Noah to be an incredibly intriguing and committed piece of filmmaking that represents the sort of movie I would like to see more of in Hollywood, even if the end result isn’t perfect. However, being the kind of messy, ultra-ambitious movie that it is, it will certainly alienate as many viewers as it will attract, but I’m just fine with that. My spoiler-filled reaction/justification after the jump:

Darren Aronofsky has never been a subtle or restrained filmmaker (outside of maybe The Wrestler) and Noah is probably the truest example of this yet. It tackles universal (and as a result, sometimes broad) themes and ideas, and does so in a very direct manner that one could easily read as obvious. But much like Cloud Atlas of a few years back, the broad themes being tackled are still themes that bear illumination and repetition, if the state of modern culture is any indication.

Probably the best sequence of the film is after the flood’s begun and the family can hear the screams of the condemned outside the walls of the arc. While the others want to save the momentary survivors, Noah (Russell Crowe) refuses, and instead retells the story of Creation to his family. In the ensuing sequence Noah essentially recites the Biblical creation myth, but the visual representation of it is the Big Bang and evolution- it’s a terrific merging of the two perspectives into one unified whole. Noah then ends the story pontificating about how man spoiled Eden and has perpetuated the failure of Cain over and over again and will continue to do so (set to silhouettes of warriors throughout time) and in the end, Noah concludes that it is only just that all man, including his family, be stripped from the Earth so that the rest of Creation can survive.

On the one hand, we know Noah is partially correct: human conflict is persistent and unending as the visual representations of murder throughout the ages reminds us. But after watching him listen to the screams of the dying so dispassionately (and this also follows Noah abandoning an innocent girl to be trampled by a furious mob), it’s also clear that Noah is losing his perspective, and has no more respect for human life than the rest of mankind had for the Earth. And in the finale, Noah goes so far in his conviction that he considers killing his own bloodline to save the Earth from man’s influence, only to be stopped by love and mercy. In the aftermath of the flood, he exiles himself from his family, driven to despair maybe not just by his near infanticide but also by the thought that maybe there were others out there worthy of his love and mercy also that he dismissed and left to die. This is a good microcosm of the movie at large; while Noah certainly starts in a good place, with clear values, over the course of the movie he becomes so firm in his convictions that he becomes as much of a villain as the entitled and embittered Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone).

In the end, my read of the movie’s message is that mankind is capable of great moral failure, but that such failure is not deserving of damnation. Besides the arc of Noah himself, this is very noticeably externalized by the presence of the Watchers. Oh have I not mentioned the Watchers? The giant six armed rock angels? Yeah they have those here, and they work just fine (portrayed very well through mocap by Nick Nolte, Kevin Durand and Mark Margolis). In the film, the Watchers came to Earth to safeguard mankind after their fall from Eden. They recognized that Adam and Eve’s failure did not mean they should be abandoned altogether and they forsook their place with the Creator to show mercy and love to man. In the end, Noah potentially does the same in his own mind; he risks what he’s done at the supposed request of the Creator out of love and mercy, because he realizes that despite the potential for evil in man, that doesn’t rob them of their right to exist.

Now those are my initial interpretations of the movie, and I feel that if I revisit it I’ll find even more to say. And there’s a lot of other positive elements in the movie as well; besides the performances of the aforementioned Crowe and Winstone and the Watchers, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson and Logan Lerman all do good work, and Clint Mansell delivers another solid score. But I know my girlfriend won’t be alone in her dislike of the movie; while I found a lot to like I wouldn’t disagree that it can be repetitive or overlong or on-the-nose. But honestly I find this sort of dissonance welcome, and I have no problem with a large-scale film that is unafraid to alienate people. When most of the discussion around large-scale movies seems to boil down to “Ugh it’s too dumb” vs “It’s meant to be mindless entertainment!” I’m particularly grateful for a movie that provokes at least some sort of more involved discussion around form or theme. Whether or not people ultimately like movies like this, we should all at least appreciate that movies like this exist and are out there for consumption. Noah may be messy and frustrating but it’s unafraid to be those things in pursuit of its story and message and that sort of fearless filmmaking is a benefit to everyone.

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2 Comments on “Why I Love Noah (Even If You Won’t)”

  1. shiran says:

    Like I said last night, the things I hated and the things you liked have nothing to do with one another. In theory, I think the aspect of Noah’s faith turning him into a monster, his Rust Cohle-esque POV of mankind, and the rumination over man’s capacity for mercy and evil makes for about as good a movie as you seem to think Noah is (though I still disagree that that’s at all unique, even for a bible movie, and I’m not about to give Aronofsky and Handel credit for that type of freshman level complexity, as pretty much any modern & well respected filmmaker would have likely done a similar thing. Internal conflict isn’t new). That’s not at all what alienated me about the movie. I’d love love love an ambitious movie that marries blockbuster appeal and philosophical examination. It’s just that for all this publicized ambition, Aronofsky sure seemed to forget to strive towards making an actual good movie.

    I’ve watched all but one Aronofksy films, and I’ve liked them all, so I have no problems with a lack of subtlety in his or any other movies. But there’s a difference between an exciting bucking of convention and just needless, tone deaf self-indulgence. Why does the movie waste time telling us things we’ve already seen happen? Why am I having characters explain something I witnessed just scenes ago, and then explain it again a scene later, to the same person? Why is so much of the dialogue repetitive to the point where I start to wonder whether or not the same three lines have just been put through a thesaurus? There were some good, intriguing scenes, but they’re drowned out by philosophical diarrhea monologues sandwiched between the same handful of scenes over and over again. For so many scenes, the overwhelming question I had was, “Why did this need to be included?” And much like Noah screaming at the sky, I didn’t ever get a clear answer. There’s nothing fearless or exciting about choosing quantity over quality, and I was really disappointed by a filmmaker whose other movies, while a study of excess in some forms, are all expertly written and plotted.

    Love you.

    • brendanfh says:

      I won’t completely disagree with some of the issues you’re raising (if anything I’m self-conscious about why such clear script issues don’t bother me more, when that’s usually my area of knowledge and concern). But I guess for me it was a mixture of accepting what Aronofsky was putting out there and enjoying the successful more than being bothered by the subpar, which all boils down to an “agree to disagree” result.

      This is a very frustrating situation, not because we disagree, but because it’s hard to pinpoint where I was able to dismiss the flaws and enjoy the rest and you weren’t. It’s the sort of inexplicable dissonance that can make it hard (for me, at least) to debate film sometimes, but it’s also what makes art what it is. In the end, for whatever reason it did speak to someone (in this case, me) and that’s what matters. Mostly this reminds me to be more patient when other people are into movies I can’t stand… as does the fact that you absolutely disagree with me without judging me for my opinion.

      Love you too!


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