When I heard that director Darren Aronofsky was directing a film version of the biblical story of Noah's Ark I crapped all over it right away. Here you have the director (and an atheist) of films like Black Swan and Requiem for a Dream, two of the most provacative films of the last 20 years, jumping in on the bandwagon of Christian movies hoping to finally secure box office success and go for the easy material in hopes of cashing in on the religious demographic that will blindly support something of this ilk. When I sat at a screening for this film, it was hard to get comfortable in my seat with such a smug chip on my shoulder. It got easier as the film wore on because that chip melted away until I found myself fully enjoying Noah.
At this point, it's cliche to say that this isn't the story you were told in Sunday School. This version is an aggressive tour-de-force that challenges everything you know about the story and about your own theology. The basic tale of a man and his family building an ark to save two of every species on the planet from a global flood is there but there is so much more; some added for the film and some taken right from The Bible, yet most people either don't know or try to forget. It's hard to discuss that any further without giving some major spoilers away but just know that the most ridiculous and shocking part of the film is NOT made up by Aronofsky but taken from scripture. Let's just say it'll be a GIANT ROCK hard detail for some people to overcome but it's the only way a HUGE plot point in the story can be explained.
This is part of a bigger decision that Aronofsky made to set Noah in a world that could have taken place on any planet. The world of this film feels as much like Earth as Middle-Earth does in Lord of the Rings. If you go into it thinking this is a Sci-Fi or Fantasy film, you'll enjoy it even more. And let's be honest, that's the tone that such a fantastical story should be told in. Telling Noah's Ark as an historical non-fiction would've been so crazy that it was a smarter choice to commit to the crazy and make an epic that sells that. This does not mean that it alienates Christians though; on the contrary, this is the tale of faith that they all believe. Fantaics, however, on both the believers and non-believers alike will hate this film. But anyone with a mind open to artistic choices will fully enjoy it.
Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly (A Beautiful Mind, Requiem for a Dream) are great. Connelly especially gives a stellar, Oscar-worthy performance as Noah's wife. But as wonderful as everyone's performances are though, that's not why you see this film. Noah is important just as much as it is intriguing. There are statesments made that are direct messages about how Christians should treat the earth better and how non-believers should think about the importance of miracles. Aronofsky also bluntly makes the argument that the two philosophies are congruent in their beliefs, despite national debates, in a 3:00 segment about the creation of everything that is worth the price of admission alone.
The backlash against Noah will be a tidal wave (pun intended) but that's never stopped Aronofsky before. He's a true artistic auteur who relishes in pushing the envelope in ways that make you affected by what you see. Noah, like so many of his other films, is a movie you don't sit and enjoy; you sit and soak in. Everyone who leaves the theater will be forced into a discussion with each other that is crucial. Questions like "what does 'good' mean?" and "should their be limits to faith?" These are questions that are tackled head-on by a movie that has no true good or bad guy. In fact, since Aronofsky is so aware that everyone knows the story already, he makes a statement about religious fanaticism that forces Noah to do horrible things that you will hate him for purely BECAUSE he is the hero of the story. It's a story we're only used to hearing in black and white being told by a director who injects some much needed and realistic shades of grey and for that, Noah is excellent.