At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Noah “2014”

“This film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”

This dear reader, was the text that could be seen on the official website for this film at the time it was in theaters 6+ years ago and honestly I can’t really argue with what the statement is saying. This is because Noah is most assuredly a movie where the creators have taken quite a pretty penny in the way of creative liberties with the source material for both dramatics as well as to create a way to distinguish between the 2 schools of thought in the film which are to either wipe away man and save the world or to control the planet in order to improve mankind. It should also be noted that the text above is quite correct in saying that in the Bible Noah’s story is very much “a cornerstone of faith.” This is because for all intents and purposes, the tale of Noah, to say nothing of the Old Testament in general, is what resulted, according to several significant world religions, in the world being washed and, due to the axis of the Earth, spin dried in order to make way for a young Jew named Jesus and a new covenant which would come to have a phenomenal impact on the world as we know it to this very day. Indeed while quite a bit can be read into this adaptation of the iconic Biblical tale beyond simply “wooden boat, a lot of animals, and a giant flood” especially when it comes to ideas revolving around protecting the environment, but even when taking into account all the radical changes made to the story, this film does, to its credit, at least give us the same story of a man being told by God (or a higher power if you prefer) that it intends to destroy the world through a giant flood and is commanded by this power to build an “ark” to house two of every animal and his family so that they may survive. It just adds a lot of ingredients that will either make you hate the film or wonder if they might have brought some grass onboard that wasn’t for the animals if you get my drift.

The plot is as follows: A long, long time ago, but not in a galaxy far, far away the Earth is still fertile and beautiful though man has long been ejected from a paradise given to it by a Creator and scattered on the planet. Into this world we are soon introduced to a man by the name of Noah, a man who, unlike his neighbors, actually appreciates the Creator and everything that he has done for the people of Earth and whose life is seriously thrown for a loop when he is given an unnerving omen for some bad things to come for the planet and all her inhabitants. Thus to get some clarity about what he saw, Noah seeks the wisdom of his grand pappy Methuselah and, through the power of drink (not even the weirdest part of the movie by the way) is shown a clearer omen and learns that the destruction of the world through a massive flood is imminent. To that end, we soon learn that Noah is being instructed to build a huge vessel or “ark” to hold both pairs of every animal as well as his own family although everyone else is to die in the disaster. Thus we soon see Noah alongside wife Naameh, sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth, along with a young girl they rescue from marauders and take in by the name of Ila, start the construction of said vessel courtesy of a “magic seed” and acquire assistance courtesy of a group known as “the watchers” aka a group of cynical and cantankerous angels that fell from heaven to aid man, but when man fell to sin, found themselves wrapped up in stone and who see in Noah a chance for them to redeem themselves for their previous failure and a chance to ascend back to Heaven. However as their work moves along, we soon see our intrepid group having to deal with a human nemesis in the form of a despot by the name of Tubal-cain who schemes to both take the ark for himself and save humanity from the coming calamity. Thus a battle of wills is soon underway while all the while the clouds above continue to get darker and darker until at long last a drop of rain falls from the sky thus setting in motion the greatest natural disaster ever told…..

Now the idea of the land of movie magic playing loosey goosey with source material is nowhere even close to being new and as a general rule it’s not too astonishing whenever a new film decides to rewrite some form or another of history to either fit the studio allotted budget, appease an audiences, to spread a specific agenda onto the masses or whatever. Suffice it to say that Noah does just this which although not a factor that makes this a bad film at least not from a technical perspective, but it most assuredly does guarantee a lot of people won’t give this film the time of day. Indeed this film may take the broad strokes of the story from the Bible, but it most certainly is not a faithful retelling. Rather it is film helmer Darren Aronofsky’s interpretation and as such the additions are there to, as he sees it, fill in important blanks, better characterize certain characters, as well as on both a low-key and over-the-top manner fill the movie with analysis on everything from being a good steward of the environment to questioning just how humane is the Creator’s desire to destroy the Earth. Indeed the risk with a film like this isn’t in the creation of a message within or even taking liberties with the narrative itself. Instead the risk lies more in the bold challenge of retooling something that a lot of people hold dear and then adding a fair amount of material that the original text never even implies let alone brings up. Indeed by doing so, a film helmer is all but graciously welcoming the chance to both criticize their film and have it be met by a fair degree of controversy. This therefore soon opens the door for a question to emerge of just who exactly was this film made for? Indeed I get that this film most likely aspired to bring in the crowd that is the extremely faithful Christian crowd, but this film, as is plan to see, is never able to get a firm grasp on that particular foothold or at least not in the same vein as either Passion of the Christ or other 2014 religious release Son of God were able to. By the same token, those who don’t believe might enjoy this movie for both how entertaining it is and how phenomenal it is from a technical perspective, but they also might be hesitant due to its Biblical ties. Thus this really does feel like a kind of film that finds its audience through “word of mouth” which is quite unusual for a film with this budget, source material, and especially this cast. Yet despite what kind of person chooses to sit through this film and watch it, I still feel that both every individual should form their own take on the film. I mean it’s not like it’s an extremely graphic be it in language, sex, or violent content and to the film’s credit, it is quite lovely to look and it does do a few things reasonably well including giving us perhaps the biggest in terms of scope retelling of a timeless story and an integral moment in religious history to date.

Maybe just maybe what the helmer of this movie is attempting to pull off just what Noah was attempting to do with the ark and that is to construct something entirely on the power of faith. An intriguing theory really since the tale of Noah is one that at its’ core entirely revolves around faith and accomplishing something based off the power of belief of something that you can’t see, you can’t touch, and a lot of the time you can’t even comprehend, but you still do it all the same because of the power of belief. As it stands, this film, an intriguing mix of both Biblical and other material, goes out on a limb of faith with this material and it really is up to each of you dear readers to figure out if this film is done with the best intentions or not. Indeed in the eyes of this reviewer it isn’t that difficult to see why this film has sparked so much in the way of debate. This is because a lot of ways, this film manages to get to the very core of human nature by constructing something on a rock-solid principle, but then finishing it off the faith that what you are doing is right pure and simple.

Now as for the tale that is at the heart of this movie, it is easily one of the more intriguing that I have seen in a while. The reason for this is because the movie gives us a take on the character of Noah as a guy who, despite being assertive in his beliefs, nevertheless has struggles with figuring out where he fits in. A challenging thing really since it seems like Noah is literally the last man to both be in good standing with the Creator and who has a vast respect and appreciation for the planet and what it gives us as a species. Indeed it is that devotion to nature that makes him being the one to, for all intents and purposes, oversee its annihilation so intriguing, but it also fits the character wonderfully. Indeed in his eyes, he was chosen for this task because the Creator knows he will see it through no matter what. Yet despite his love for the world around, he still is able to comprehend just how crucial this annihilation is in helping the planet become reborn. On the other side of the coin however is Noah’s nemesis Tubal-cain. Indeed here is a leader of the world of man who, as opposed to our protagonist, is someone who sees the world as something that he has full control of and to heck with Mother Nature. Thus it is to the film’s credit that it is able to make these men with differing perspectives into quite complex people. Indeed beyond the riveting look at both the flood and the building of the ark, it is this confrontation that makes for the best positive in this film’s corner. Now on a bigger canvas, the most intriguing element in play is the question of if the annihilation of our planet is representative of a conclusion or a new beginning to say nothing of if this flood is putting our planet out of its misery or if it’s the Creator’s way of hitting the big red reset button? To that end, the film does answer this question when we see Noah charged with perhaps the most complicated decision he has faced thus far. In addition, we also see that the movie chooses to devote some time to other open-ended, discussion-worthy concepts as man’s position on this planet be it lord of all or one with nature as well as the power that comes from having a sense of morality, and the ability to resist when evil comes a’knocking on your door among others. Indeed in a lot of respects, this is a very relatable film and in that regard it is an engaging sit, but the big error on the part of the filmmaker is that he is trying to wash away the vast majority by so deliberately retooling a tale that a lot of people hold very near and very dear thus causing everything else to fall by the wayside to the onslaught of dialogue about this film’s accuracy to the source material.

Finally when we choose to just look at this film based solely off what it does technically then it should be noted that film is actually fairly well-done. Indeed not only does it function exactly on the level that it is supposed to, but it also functions as a poster example of a big budget film that has been made with wonderful degrees of both subtlety and taste in equal measure that help the film feel a whole lot more than the fantasy elements at play would have you realize. It also doesn’t hurt the film that the performances are actually pretty good as well. Indeed in the titular lead role, Russell Crowe does wonderful work at, besides looking the part, also showcasing both the dogged determination and iron will you would expect from someone who has been asked to do this crucial task. Just as terrific however is Ray Winstone who, despite a madman-style exterior, is actually quite the calculated individual on the inside. Indeed Tubal-cain is just as determined as Noah, but whose motives are completely different as showcased by his explaining where he stands on life to Noah’s son Ham and we learn that this man is just doing what he feels the Creator has instructed him to do. The rest of the cast, as to be expected, all do wonderful work, but it is the work of the dynamic duo above that are largely responsible for shaping the movie and giving it both a pair of riveting performances, but also a chance to sit back and really think about what the movie is asking you to consider.

All in all Noah most certainly will never be seen as a suitable replacement for the family Bible, if you are of that faith, but nothing should ever be able to accomplish that feat (and yes I am looking at you 1956’s Ten Commandments which airs every Easter). Indeed if nothing else, it is not that hard to see why this film was received the way it was since it is nowhere close to the original tale. At the same time however, there really is no way possible to make a film based on the story without adding or negating ingredients from the source material otherwise you are left with a very short movie or one which will fail to get as large of an audience as possible. Thus the question then becomes: why make this film to begin with and why make it so wildly different from those who have heard this story since they were kids may have been expecting? In all honesty, I feel that this is something which is better asked to both the film’s helmer and distributor Paramount, but at the same time this film did do decent business so really who knows? All I can tell is that if you are able to take this film only at face value, this is an engaging and gorgeously put-together film. However if you take it as a literal adaptation then yes there is no denying that this film is a colossal misfire and should be tossed on a burning bush for all eternity. Thus I leave it up to you, dear reader to figure out which of these pair of camps you belong in. After all you can read my words, and decipher my thoughts, but at the end of the day only you have the ability to choose to put your faith in this film or not.  On a scale of 1-5 I give Noah “2014” a solid 3.5 out of 5.