Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ floats as art

Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ floats as art

By Karsten Burgstahler

At first glance, director Darren Aronofsky’s retelling of “Noah” (Rated PG-13; 138 Min.) looks like a Ridley Scott epic, in the same vein as 2010’s “Robin Hood.”

But when giant stone monsters begin talking to Noah, Aronofsky’s mark is unmistakable.

There’s quite a bit of controversy concerning this adaptation, mostly surrounding Aronofsky’s status as an atheist. A report in The Telegraph quotes Aronofsky as saying he has created “the least biblical movie ever made.” But either he’s being deceptive or he doesn’t realize the force he’s created with this movie. It’s a biblical exploration that stays within the realm of the Bible while presenting a philosophical argument Christians themselves have wrestled with for years. It takes a daring approach Hollywood would have been afraid to take back in the days of biblical epics like “The ten Commandments.”


The basic outline of the story remains the same: Noah (Russell Crowe) is given orders by God to build an ark, because the world will soon be wiped out with a great flood. God intends to cleanse the Earth of all evil, specifically those in the line of Cain, led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). Noah and his kids — and those giant stone monsters, just a slight deviation from the Bible — get to work building the boat while Tubal-cain tries to lead his forces to take it from Noah.

Perhaps the biggest difference between the story audiences heard in Sunday School and the one they heard Sunday morning on the big screen is the way Noah is given the modern superhero treatment. Like Bruce Wayne/Batman in Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, Noah is burdened and believes he must sacrifice everything because he is not worthy. He’s a conflicted anti-hero, but to say why would spoil the film.

Arnofosky’s quote might be referring to the way he takes “righteous” Noah and turns him into a nutjob by the film’s climax — as cabin fever sets in “Noah” starts to resemble “The Shining” on a boat. Okay, so he’s shown that the men in the Bible were human. So what? Noah himself exists to show the free will of choice God gave man, at least in Aronofsky’s screenplay.

Aronofsky doesn’t do anything sacrilegious to the material, portraying the Old Testament God as harsh and jealous — which the Bible said he was, until he sent His Son to take our place and save mankind — and instead uses a biblical story to look at biblical themes in a new light. Almost all important conflicts in film date back to the Bible; the classic good vs. evil owes its beginning to Eve eating the apple and, the ultimate struggle, Jesus surviving temptation from the devil in the desert. Whether one believes the Bible or not, that’s filmmaking 101.

Aronofsky understands that. He has sweeping visuals that tell the story of creation (notably insinuating that evolution occurred at God’s behest) and how man’s struggles against each other in biblical times are the same today. He suggests God gives Noah the final decision over who lives and who dies and trusts he will make the right decision. And the movie posits that no matter if only the righteous are saved from a disaster the world will fall back to its evil ways, as man can be corrupted.

Beyond the subtexts and allegory, Aronofsky seems to be clear he’s mixing his art-house preferences with a Hollywood blockbuster, beautifully crafting action sequences and keeping his disorienting spinning camera. Extensive use of tracking shots help the audience feel confined in the ark with Noah’s family, waiting for someone, anyone, to help them.

Crowe’s performance isn’t anything revelatory; he might as well be playing Robin Hood again, but at least he gives it his all. Jennifer Connelly gives a wonderful performance as Noah’s wife Naameh, but is unfortunately relegated to role of dutiful wife and Winstone is perfectly cast as Tubal-cain.


Some of the film’s most baffling sequences come from Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather and the man with the longest life span in history. He has a subplot involving berries that’s quite bizarre and clashes with the rest of the movie. If his story is indeed what scholars suggest, that it’s Aronofsky saying we’re destroying the environment, then it’s probably the least subtle way to the deliver that message. “Noah” also has the tendency to drag in its first third, but quickly picks up the pace once God gives His orders.

“Noah” just about breaks even adhering to the source text versus the liberties it takes, but within the storytelling and visuals lies a piece of art worth appreciating no matter the viewer’s religion. And in today’s Hollywood, that’s about all you can pray for.

Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter @kburgstahler_DE or by phone at 536-3311 ext. 254.