Mar 30, 2014

A Spoiler-Free "Noah" Review

Denny BurkBy Denny Burk

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Shall I tread where angels fear to tread and give an evaluation of Darren Aronofsky's Noah movie? Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by angels. In the movie Noah, the frilly feminine harp-stroking caricatures have given way to a cross between Ben Grimm, Peter Jackson's Ents, and Gumby. I guess we can chalk that one up to the mystery of the Nephilim. But I digress. What about the movie? Is it any good? Should Christians go and see it? Should anyone go and see it?

Before offering my opinion, I should warn you that I think Jackie Gleason's role in Smokey and the Bandit may be the finest performance in the history of cinema. I don't think that tells you much about Smokey and the Bandit, but it does tell you something about me and my aesthetic sensibilities. So even I can't blame you if you take these reflections with a healthy grain of salt. Caveat lector!

Russell Crowe

"Noah Is The Midrashiest Midrash That Ever Was Midrashed"

So what about Noah? Is it worth your time and money to see it? The answer to that question depends entirely upon what you think is worthwhile. There are at least three criteria by which I make such judgments: execution, story, and fidelity.

By execution, I refer mainly to the technical aspects of the film. Was it made well? In terms of production value, Noah is not in the same category as B-movie-Bible-epic-would-be thrillers. In other words, Noah is a little less Left Behind and a little more Passion of the Christ. The cast, cinematography, special effects, acting, etc. are all state of the art. It is a bone fide Hollywood feature. We don't often get to see biblical material depicted with such a high level of cinematic execution. That by itself makes this film more than a curiosity. On that level, this movie stands out as one of the best of its genre. And that alone draws me to the movie in spite of its weaknesses in other areas. Grade: A+

By story, I refer to the plot and characters in the screenplay considered on their own terms apart from the source material. Are the characters compelling? Does the plot have integrity? For the first half of the movie, yes, they do. The second half, not so much. In the first half, the main character Noah (played by Russell Crowe) appears as the lone descendant of Seth, a righteous remnant in a world dominated by the descendants of Cain the murderer. Noah stands for what is good, right, and true. He alone is willing to carry out the Creator's will in a world dominated by men in rebellion against their Creator. Noah is good. The Creator is good. Together they will renew the world. In the second half of the movie, righteous Noah turns into a murderous, drunken prig. Thus the main protagonist gets worse not better, and he does so in a way that is not very convincing. In the second half of the movie, the wise Creator is inexplicably absent and mute. So much so, that one wonders if this Creator is really even good after all. It hardly even seems like the Creator that came to Noah's rescue in the first half of the movie. These inconsistencies make very little sense in my view and undermine the story. Grade: C-

By fidelity, I refer to the film's faithfulness to its source material. Does the movie resemble the actual Noah story enough to establish credible points of contact? No, it does not. The director himself has acknowledged that his rendering of Noah is like a midrash—an ancient method of interpreting scripture involving ahistorical embellishments. As far as midrash is concerned, Noah is the midrashiest midrash that ever was midrashed. Aronofsky's Noah is nothing like the biblical Noah, the only righteous man on the planet. More seriously, Aronofsky's god is nothing like the biblical God, a long-suffering sovereign who graciously condescends to reveal Himself and His plans to Noah and to save Noah and his family. By the end of the movie, the righteous Creator turns into a celestial Erasmus—a humanist with a high regard for human nature and agency. The Sovereign Judge and covenant Redeemer of Genesis has no place in Aronofsky's midrash. Grade: F-

Should you see the movie? I've seen and enjoyed more than my share of movies based merely on execution alone. Many a summer blockbuster falls into this category. I liked the movie on those narrow terms, and perhaps you will too. Here's another way to think about it. If you enjoyed Avatar, you will likely enjoy this movie for similar reasons. If you've all but forgotten Avatar, you will likely forget Noah for similar reasons.

If you value lots of action and special effects with high production value and excellent acting, this is your movie. If you value emotive story-telling with anachronistic eco-friendly howlers, this is your movie. If you value truth and beauty and if you define those concepts by God's revelation, this is not your movie. Overall Grade: D+