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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Watching “Noah”

Let’s give “Noah” some credit. This film inspired me to read a little bit of the Bible. After watching it, I was like, “Hmmmm. Maybe I’ll take a look at Genesis and see how that whole thing with the ark really went down.” I was fairly certain that director Darren Aronofsky had taken some liberties with the story when adapting it for the screen.

Now, I don’t really care whether “Noah” is or isn’t faithful to the original story, and I thought Aronofsky’s interpretation was pretty interesting — an intellectually provocative, highly personal re-imaging of a very famous Bible story. I didn’t always understand Aronofsky’s choices — why, for example, did he think it necessary to portray Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family as vegetarians, sustaining themselves through foraging? — but I was never bored by “Noah,” and I appreciated his refusal to turn a sometimes dark and morally complex tale into a children’s fable.

After all, the story of Noah involves cleansing the Earth of civilization — literally washing away the evil wrought by humans — and setting Noah and his family adrift on an ark filled with animals for 40 days and 40 nights. Of course, Aronofsky spices the story up with angels that look like the Ents from the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, father-son conflict and a villain, named Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), who stows away on the ark, and tries to corrupt Noah’s angry second son, Ham (Logan Lerman, of the “Percy Jackson” movies). “I don’t remember a villainous stowaway,” I thought, as I watched “Noah.” But it doesn’t matter. In the context of Aronofsky’s vision, the character of Tubal-Cain works.

“Noah’s” aesthetic borrows heavily from Peter Jackson’s J.R.R. Tolkein movies and Ridley Scott’s gritty 2010 version of “Robin Hood,” which also starred Crowe. But it also bears Aronofsky’s unmistakable stamp. It’s loaded with flashy touches, such as dreamy communications from God (usually referred to simply as the Creator), a time-lapse retelling of the beginning of the world and impressive CGI depictions of the great flood and subsequent boat ride.

I’m not sure a movie can completely capture the sheer awe and wonder contained in the book of Genesis, but Aronofsky certainly tries. He also seems to understand that there’s a lot of scary stuff in the Bible, and that God is more than willing to kill almost every creature on Earth, including children, because he’s displeased with humanity’s wicked ways. Numerous critics have noted that “Noah” is a weird movie. And it is. But you know what? The source material is kind of weird.

Over the course of two hours, Aronofsky fleshes out the character of Noah. His Noah is an obedient subject who never questions whether he should carry out God’s orders. And since we know the flood is coming, his action seem totally reasonable — if I knew God planned to wipe out everything on earth with a great flood, I’d be out there building an ark, too.

But once Noah is on the ark, he starts to go a little crazy — think “The Shining” on water rather than in a creepy hotel. He believes God intends for the human race to die out completely, and when his son Shem (Douglas Booth) announces that his wife Ila (Emma Watson) is pregnant, he declares his intention to kill his unborn grandchild. Naturally, this freaks out everyone, including his loyal wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), who just wants her children to be happy. The drama over Noah’s homicidal impulses is a dramatic embellishment, but Aronofsky didn’t pull it out of the sky. It’s reminiscent of one of the Bible’s more disturbing stories: God’s order to Abraham that he sacrifice his son Isaac. Eventually, the orders are cancelled. But not until after Abraham has bound Isaac to an altar.

Aronofsky is one of the more intellectually restless directors out there. His first film, “Pi,” was about a numbers theorist who became obsessed with finding a mathematical formula that could predict just about anything — that could find hidden patterns in the stock market, for example, and be used to get rich. Much like Noah, the protagonist of “Pi” became so consumed by his quest that his mental health deteriorated.

Which raises the question: Could the key to understanding what Aronofsky is trying to say in “Noah” be contained in “Pi”? Because “Noah” is often quite inscrutable. It’s a personal film, and it’s very well made. But I was never quite sure what drew Aronofsky to the material, or what he was trying to say. Which doesn’t mean “Noah” isn’t worth seeing. It is. It just means you might not understand what you’ve seen, or why you’ve seen it.

Ranking Aronofsky:

6. The Fountain
5. Black Swan
4. Noah
3. The Wrestler
2. Pi
1. Requiem for a Dream

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