At first glance Darren Aronofsky may not seem like the obvious candidate to being a biblical epic to the masses. With films like Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan he has built up a reputation for his uncompromising view of humanity and the destruction we are capable of doing to both ourselves and others. However, The Fountain, arguably his most ambitious film, was undoubtedly about the more transcendent questions of life, death and our place in the universe.
In many ways Noah sits comfortably between all these themes as we see a main character trying to figure out his place within a very destructive and unforgiving world.
The film is based on the biblical account of a man who builds an ark to save him and his family, they being the only righteous people left on the whole planet. In the movie Noah is ably assisted Tolkien-esque rock monsters, angels who left heaven to try and help out humanity as best they could. Can Noah stand up against the evil that surrounds him and follow through The Creator’s plan to give the planet a fresh start?
There’s a jewish term, midrash, for the way rabbis would tell stories to interpret or fills in the gaps that may lie empty in the biblical narrative. The point of these stories was to explore or bring out depth in the text and allow others to find meanings they had not considered before.
In many ways Aronofsky is trying his hand at midrash with his version of Noah. I’ve often said a good adaptation is only such if it prepared to offer its own interpretation, or its own slant on the original work. If an adaptation merely offers us the same story told in the same way as the original, one may as well have just stayed at home and read the original. What’s good about Aronofky’s Noah is that although he adds in some of his own ingredients to the mix, the film still explores the same themes that are present in one of the most well-known of stories of the past millennia.
If nothing else, the story of Noah proves that the idea of an upcoming apocalypse is not something reserved to 21st Century Hollywood films. Many have prophesied that the world is about to end, and many have told stories imagining what it might be like. The popularity of these stories, Noah included, is that they force us to ask ourselves “Is humanity worth saving?” This is the question at the heart of Noah and one explored in detail by the film.
In the film we see Noah being given a vision by God to build an ark to save himself and the animals from the coming flood. This is essentially the extent of God’s instructions to Noah, and he spends the rest of the film grappling with whether he has been asked to save simply the animals or humanity as well?
Through this we see arguably the most important moral principle of justice and mercy. To what extent should Noah allow the rest of humanity to die, as his Creator seems to have willed, and to what extent should be attempt to save him and his family? What is the fair, correct and righteous thing to do? What right has Noah to decide that he is better than everyone else and more deserving of God’s favour?
To me it is that last question that elevates Noah above so much of what we see in mainstream Hollywood today. So often we see a central character who believes themselves to be special and is simply waiting for their ability to be recognised by those around them. We like those films because they appeal to that part of ourselves that believes we are capable of great and amazing things if only giving the chance.
Few films have a central character who has been chosen as someone special and has to genuinely grapple with the question of whether that should be the case or not. I suppose in many ways the steps one must take to have faith revolve around this question: Is it up to me to decide what life is all about, or should I look to something beyond the material world for answers?
Noah then is a film that grapples with these big questions as it explores an individual’s relationship with his family, creation, his creator and the rest of humanity. It’s also bulky in places, has an overly cartoonish villain, and feels overly fantastical at times. However, the questions it asks and thoughts it provokes made it more than worth my time.