The Book of Noah
Thanks to my Catholic school education, I grew up reading Bible stories. One of the first books that I owned was this hard-bound, three-volume, richly illustrated compendium of Bible stories, covering the creation of the world up to the resurrection of Jesus. This was my mother’s gift; I read it over and over again. At that age, I had decided that I liked the Old Testament better than the New largely because of the stories that can be found there. Just recently I read an interview of Jessica Zafra where she said that the Old Testament was more fun than the New Testament because of “all that murder, incest, and fire and brimstone”. My thoughts exactly.
The story of Noah is one Bible story that have always captivated me. It’s in my top 3, ranking up there with the parting of the Red Sea (including the ten plagues) and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha (including near gang-rape of the angels in the hands of the Sodomites). And while my child self was immensely thrilled with the story’s film rendition in “The Bible: in the Beginning” (1966), I was unsure if my current old self (with my own baggage) will enjoy this latest incarnation of my loved story.
I guess it’s because of the film’s director. I love some of Darren Aronofsky’s films, like “The Fountain” and “Black Swan” because I think they are rich portraits of the imagination. There is also a mystical quality in his movies. Even if the stories are grounded in reality, you can sense an aspiration to transcend to something spiritual. He is clearly artistic but sometimes, no matter how I try, I just don’t get his “art”. Add to that the enormous amount of bad publicity that this film has received well before it was shown. However, as it turns out, I’m glad I didn’t stay away.
With “Noah”, Darren Aronofsky successfully combined the thought-provoking elements of an art film with exciting battle scenes of a blockbuster adventure film and came up with a visual spectacle that is compelling to watch and difficult to forget. There are many awesome visual wonders to be beheld here.
Like many of his film’s protagonists, Noah is a man struggling to do right by the ones he love after having been touched by the divine. This Noah is much gritty and weather-beaten–and more violent than John Huston’s older, more quiet, and grandfatherly Noah from “The Bible: in the Beginning”. This internal crisis, absent in the old film depiction of Bible stories, will probably rile those who has memorized the Bible word for word–as what happened when “The Last Temptation of Christ” (1988) was shown. But let’s remember that the source material didn’t really give a lot of details of the story. Its telling was the equivalent of a story written in bullet points.
The writers (Darren Aronofsky and frequent collaborator Ari Handel) filled these gaps with elements that fit well into the narrative, addressing key (narrative, practical, and logistical) issues. I’m glad they added the character of Ila (Emma Watson) because aside from being a very useful plot device, her presence also significantly reduced the ick factor of thinking of how this small family can repopulate the earth. Well, at least for the first generation that is.
Russel Crowe as Noah fully embodies the role; you can feel his inner turmoil through his eyes alone. This film is the second time I’ve seen him with Jennifer Connely (Naameh), both times as a couple, and they must be good friends or colleagues at least because they seem so attuned to each other. There is much intimacy in their scenes, especially the harsh ones. As the sons, Douglas Booth (Shem) and Logan Lerman (Ham) are not only easy on the eyes, they also have real acting chops–especially Logan Lerman, who I last saw in “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters”. Emma Watson is competent in her role, although I’m wondering how Dakota Fanning (a better actress, in my opinion) would’ve played Ila (I read she was the first choice of the director).
While I was watching the movie, I kept on thinking how the movie, in some ways, was in the middle of different debates, such as the Bible-thumping masters of the earth versus the tree-hugging environmentalists, the Paleo dieters versus the Vegetarians and Vegans, and creationists versus evolutionists, to name a few. There was that scene where the ark’s stowaway and main antagonist Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) was seducing Ham to take action against his father Noah. While doing that, Tubal-Cain cut open an animal and ate the meat. Towards the end of the conversation, as Ham seemed to be hooked, Tubal-Cain offers him a piece of meat. At this point I thought, “So this is why we call cured pork ham!”
I was delighted to be thinking this much while watching a movie that included a battle scene between gravelly-voiced rock-giants and men, scenes of murder and mayhem, trippy visions/ hallucinations (courtesy of the great Anthony Hopkins, in a small but scenery-chewing role/ performance as the grooviest grandfather of all time), and natural wonders and disasters–the trappings of an action-adventure movie. Plus much more.
If you haven’t seen “Noah”, I suggest you catch it.
Posted on June 18, 2014, in journal, review and tagged Anthony Hopkins, Dakota Fanning, Darren Aronofksy, Douglas Booth, Emma Watson, Jennifer Connely, john Huston, Logan Lerman, movie, Noah, Ray Winstone, Russel Crowe, The Bible: in the Beginning, The Last Temptation of Christ. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.