Welcome to the 10th edition of My Fortnightly Movie/TV Thoughts. Last fortnight I reviewed A Good Day to Die Hard (2013). This fortnight I’m reviewing:
- Noah (2014), rated M for mature themes and violence
That’s the Australian rating; in the United States, it’s rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content.
As usual, I’ll include the trailer and a clip at the end. And as usual, the disclaimer applies:
WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD. PROCEED AT OWN RISK.
When I first heard about Darren Arofosky’s adaption of the Biblical tale of Noah and the Flood – and saw the trailers for it – I was excited. Then it was released, and the hugely negative Christian reviews started flooding in. It was inaccurate. It was environmentalist. It was horrible. So, like Exodus: Gods and Kings, I put off watching it for 5 years. And like Exodus, I’m sure as hell glad I finally did watch it.
After an introduction giving the state of the world – corrupted and ruled by the descendants of Seth, aided by the fallen Watchers (a class of angel), the Godly descendants of Seth few – the film begins with Noah (Dakota Goyo) about to “become a man”, in a Sethite ceremony involving the skin of the snake that tempted Eve (not quite sure what to make of that subplot, or what it means). However, they are attacked by a group of Cainites, led by Tubal-Cain (Finn Wittrock), who kill Noah’s father Lamech (Marton Csokas).
Years later, Noah (now played by Russell Crowe) is married to a godly Cainite named Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and they have three sons: Shem (Gavin Casalegno), Ham (Nolan Gross) and Japheth, and are the last remaining Sethites, and among the very last Believers. Noah receives a vision in a dream warning of a coming flood, and telling him to see his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins).
Noah and his family travel to Methuselah’s mountain, along the way finding and saving a young girl named Ila (Skylar Burke), the sole survivor of a massacre. The family are chased by the killers, only to encounter the (rock-encrusted) Watchers, who “guard” Methuselah, and eventually agree to take them to him. Methuselah gives Noah a hallucinogenic berry, and he receives a more detailed vision, with plans for an ark. Watcher leader Samyaza (Nick Nolte) reluctantly agrees to help after a fountain and forest are miraculously created. However, the Ark’s construction draws the attention of the evil Cainite king Tubal-Cain (now played by Ray Winstone), who is determined to stop Noah, and take the Ark for himself. And as Noah witnesses the full depravity of humanity, he begins to struggle with the balance between mercy and judgement.
Warning: if you’re a purist, you won’t like this movie. This film takes massive liberties with the source material. It’s a faith-based fantasy inspired by the Biblical tale, rather than a literalistic adaption. I personally am not a purist, and really enjoyed the script, the storyline, the themes, etc. It’s not really the Biblical story, but it’s a good story.
I rather liked how the movie combined both the Sethite and Angelic theories of the cause of the Flood; on the one hand, the evil humans for whom the Creator sends the flood are the descendants of Cain (who are contrasted with the descendants of Seth), but they are aided – and advanced – by the fallen angels. The angels/Watchers themselves are a combination of the Watchers and Nephilim from the Book of Enoch.
The film is quite thought-provoking, and combines human drama with some exciting action sequences (particularly when the Flood strikes – epic, epic scene). It asks a lot of serious questions, and in the end provides the right answers. Do we deserve to live? Do we deserve forgiveness? Do we deserve mercy? Or is it something that’s given anyway, even though we’ll never deserve it? It’s not an experience you forget in a hurry.
The acting in Noah is stellar. Russell Crowe gives a solid performance as the title character, a man called by God to preserve a remnant of all life on earth from the coming judgement, and who struggles with his calling and role. He is in no way larger than life – just an ordinary human.
Jennifer Connelly does a smashing job as Noah’s wife Naamah, who supports her husband in his calling, but initially turns against him when he turns darker and begins believing an extreme form of environmentalism, although she appears to have forgiven him by the end, after he changes.
The best actor, however, is Ray Winstone, who delivers an absolutely brilliant performance as Tubal-Cain, the human face of the evil that the Creator is destroying. He’s quite believable, but almost impossible to sympathise with (most of the time). He’s motivated purely for survival, and believes the Creator has abandoned humanity.
Logan Lerman delivers a good performance as the teenage Ham (Nolan Gross only playing him in the early parts of the film, when he was younger). He has problems and struggles, some of which you sometimes sympathise with, other times not.
And Emma Watson is quite good as the older Ila, Noah’s adopted daughter and Shem’s love interest. Her character is entirely believable and human, and she delivers some particularly good (and resonating) lines at the end.
A film like this needs a lot of special effects, and they are nailed excellently. From the Creation sequence (unfortunately showing an evolutionary creation – my main beef with the film), to the flashbacks to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the Watchers (and their fall), to Noah’s visions, to the Flood itself, and the Rainbow (beautiful sequence), this film is visually splendid.
No review of Noah is complete without mentioning the controversy surrounding the movie. It is, of course, in accurate, but ALL Biblical movies are inaccurate to some degree. And, it’s just a movie.
The most frequent claim is that the film is environmentalist and/or extreme environmentalist. Actually, I found the extreme environmentalism to be portrayed negatively in the film. Especially given Ila’s speech towards the end, and the film’s final lines spoken by Noah (“Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth”).
Then there’s the frequent claim that the Creator of the movie is cruel. I disagree. Many point to the treatment of the Watchers; however, if you look at the state of the world in the movie, and look back at the opening scenes, you’ll realise that the Watchers are the true cause of all that’s wrong in the world. Their punishment is deserved, despite their “good intentions” (Is it wrong to enjoy a movie that eventually gives some sympathy to the fallen angels, even though the angels in the movie weren’t as bad as their real-life counterparts? I honestly don’t know; what I do know is that I enjoyed the movie nonetheless. Forgive me if that is wrong, Father.). SPOILER And their ultimate fate (i.e. redeemed by God) is ultimate proof that the claim of cruelty is not true. END SPOILER
Despite some questionable creative decisions, I overall found Noah to be a compelling, thought-provoking, at times exciting, and all-round epic fantasy remake of the Biblical tale, with great special effects. I recommend at least giving it a try.