Movie Review of Noah (2014)

by JoHarrington

This Biblical blockbuster cuts across faith to deliver a nail-biting two and a half hours of emotive action. I was rapt from start to finish.

Wow!

If I could get away with it within the Wizzley word-count, that single exclamation would form the whole of my review. I really didn't expect anything quite like that!

I did the usual - 'just watch five minutes and see if it's any good' - then hung onto every second, wishing there was more when it delivered us to a stunning end.

I'm not a Christian, but 'Noah' is much more than a religious tale. It's a dark narrative, fashioned within the action/fantasy genre, yet its legendary messages are just as stark in today's world. The first thing I did after the end credits rolled was to recommend the movie to an Atheist. I thought he'd love it.

As did I. Wow!

Noah Adds Realism to the Apocalypse

We think we know the story of Noah. But the end of days never felt this brutal in Sunday School.

Image: Noah Movie PosterIf it wasn't for the fact that Noah turns up in the Bible, Torah and Koran, we would be positioning this film alongside epic global disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow or 2012.

I didn't realize that. I entered into my viewing expecting to watch something evangelical dressed up as entertainment.

After all most of us have already heard of the prophet Noah, in vaguely sanitized stories told in childhood. Like a fairy tale, wherein terrible things are told in such sweet tones that the actual horror barely penetrates. 

Little Red Riding Hood can be devoured whole by a wolf, or Hansel and Gretel abandoned in a forest by their parents, to the accompaniment of delighted squeals from the rapt pre-schoolers listening. They are bedtime stories, not meant to frighten, even as children are betrayed, tortured, neglected and killed. It's all in the calm presentation and the laughter.

Noah built an ark, and the animals entered it two by two. He and his family sailed around until a dove found dry land. And everyone was saved.

It's the fine detail which makes the story horrific, and director Darren Aronofsky did not stint on the fine detail. Did you ever actually notice that THE ENTIRE WORLD'S POPULATION was destroyed in the background? Writer Ari Handel did and Noah the movie tells that story too.

Noah (2014) Official Movie Trailer

Buy Noah on DVD, Blu-Ray & Download as Digital HD

The Real Story of Noah

It's the scale of it that throws us off.

Josef Stalin is reported to have quipped to Winston Churchill, 'When one man dies it is a tragedy, when thousands die it's statistics.' And frankly he should know all about that. His companion - to a lesser tally - too.

In the legend of Noah, every living thing on Earth dies.

Except those able to exist underwater, and those safe inside a single boat. One family - a nuclear unit at that, none of the extended relations secured a passage there - and one pair of every creature that walked, flew or crawled.

Think about it. Really think about it. Or watch the movie, because Aronofsky and Handel seriously spell it out.

Noah is portrayed as a gentle man, a kind, compassionate individual in a darkening world. He's given terrible orders from above. He obeys them because he sees no other choice. It hardens him, pushes him to the brink of insanity.

A man who wouldn't harm a single living thing is charged with assisting in the destruction of all. His very complicity creates psychopathy. He doesn't merely build a sanctuary and sail it, he fights off all he deems unworthy to survive.

Those doomed to obliteration do not go quietly to their Fate. They fight with everything they have to find physical salvation. Noah condemns them all, with unflinching righteousness, to the abyss. Extinction on a scale so massive, that it can barely be comprehended.

Of course, it's easy to see Noah as a religious fanatic, so lost in his own interpretation of divine revelation that all other considerations pale into insignificance. But there's another telling here too.

It's the story of everyone who ever blindly followed directives from their superiors. A fact that is underscored when Noah sees humanity reduced to silhouetted figures of soldiers flashing through the ages. Brother against brother finds expression in Cain and Abel, but that is merely a metaphor for all war. Nation against nation. Religion against religion. Race, ideology, all that ever caused one human being to feel that another had to die for their perceived difference.

In Noah's marionette display, those soldiers weren't merely contemporary. They wore the uniforms of warriors throughout the ages. They exist right now.

And it's that two-dimensional vision which presented humanity at its darkest edge. It was the petty violence that pushed Noah into supporting an act of absolute violence - the annihilation of all. 

Only one man here is deemed worthy (by himself) of surviving the Flood.
Only one man here is deemed worthy (by himself) of surviving the Flood.

Aronofsky's Noah Graphic Novel Edition

Noah's Flood as Told by Handel and Aronofsky

There's been much talk in the media as to the accuracy of the movie Noah, as placed against the yardstick of various religious texts. Personally, I thought it was spot on.

It was the Flood as recounted in the Atra-Hasis. It owed as much to Lord of the Rings as anything found in the King James Bible. But it was the story as I've read it a dozen times over in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the legends of Uriel, the Apocryphon of John and other Gnostic sources.

In short, it was the story of Noah before it ever became watered down (forgive the pun) in most modern day teachings.

It is brutal. It requires a family to sit around eating a meal, while all around them the population of the Earth screamed, drowned or died silently of hypothermia.

As for the desperate fighting which preceded it, I'd like to say it was as anachronistic as anything, but who can know what came before the Flood. It could have been a world precisely like our own, or a Medieval bloodbath, or the primitive beating of sticks and rocks from tree-dwelling societies. And that, I think, is the point.

Emma Watson, when interviewed about her role as Lla in the movie, said that Noah could have been set in any age. It could be thousands of years in the past, or thousands in the future. I could see that. There was a timelessness about the graphics that didn't necessarily place it a decade of generations since the beginning of time.

But those legends dated back to the dawn of history, insofar as history means that which was written down. I knew those stories. I've studied them. I just didn't expect to find them actually being told here.

That they were stunned and delighted me, before I was so lost in the sheer grandeur and emotional roller-coaster telling, that I no longer cared for source analysis. (And let me tell you that it is emotional. There was one scene in particular which left me in bits, but that would be a spoiler. Best to discover it for yourself.)

The Flood may be one of the oldest stories of all, but you will feel like you're discovering it for the first time. Aronofsky and Handel's story-telling is that good.

Lla and Naameh in Noah (2014)
Lla and Naameh in Noah (2014)

Noah (2014) DOES Pass the Bechdel Test

It's one of the lowest standards in assessing the role of female characters in movies, nevertheless most fail. But not Noah.

Thousands of Hollywood directors really need to take note here. Despite Noah's cast ultimately reduced to just one family, it managed to pass the Bechdel Test with the last two women on Earth.

The Bechdel Test asks that there are two named female characters, who have a conversation with each other on any topic which doesn't involve male characters. Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and Lla (Emma Watson) have several. Nor are those discussions trivial. They hold great significance within the story itself.

While nominally subservient to their men (as the source story indicates was the case), neither Naameh nor Lla are weak, fawning, two-dimensional beings. You couldn't replace either with a pretty lamp-shade. There's a sense that they are both important for much more than their ability to conceive children. They are true partners for their men.

And if they get to be the Mothers of us all, I for one am quite pleased about that.

Watch Noah on Amazon Instant Movie

Noah

Russell Crowe stars as Noah in the timeless story of courage, sacrifice and hope. This visually stunning, action-adventure is hailed as "one of the most unforgettable Biblical epics ever put on film." *Richard Roeper, Chicago-Sun-Times

View on Amazon

Read Noah the Novel Based on the Movie

Noah: The Official Movie Novelization

ONE MAN’S QUEST TO SAVE MANKIND When he has a vision about a flood sent to destroy all life on earth, Noah knows what he must do. Together with his family, he must save two of e...

View on Amazon

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Updated: 08/25/2014, JoHarrington
 
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JoHarrington on 09/20/2014

The book sounds interesting. I'll have to look it up.

And thank you again for the informative explanation of the Bible's origin. You've corrected some of my misconceptions.

frankbeswick on 09/16/2014

The Hebrew and Greek text is unchanged, but ever since there were translations there were disputes over words. Strictly speaking a Bible should be for everyone, and popular translations aimed at a specific readership are suspect, as some of the subtlety of language is lost. Readability without loss of the power and nuance of language is a major problem for Scripture translators, and if we Christians think we have a problem translating the Bible, translating the Quran into a readable text while keeping the power of its language has been well nigh impossible, which is why most Muslims like to keep it in Arabic.

The content of Genesis became fixed about 450 BC, when the present text finally came together. However, the Septuagint translation into Greek was from the first century BC and that tended to fix the Greek wording of the Old Testament. The Latin Vulgate was from the fourth century and that fixed Latin wording of the whole Christian Bible. The Jews, though, do not accept the Vulgate, as it is specifically Christian.

I have just finished reading The Origins of the World's Mythologies by Witzel. As a scholar of history and paganism, this is a book that you could fruitfully read. It says little about Cain and Abel, but sees the tale in the light of certain myths about brothers. The book is a thick tome, but it is well written and informative, certainly of benefit to a scholar

JoHarrington on 09/16/2014

I hadn't linked Cain and Abel with Romulus and Remus before. That's certainly a lot of food for thought. Thanks!

So when did the current content of Genesis become fixed? When I was talking about updates, I was thinking more of the modern day, when different Bibles have different wording, each catering for different congregations or modernising the language. I hadn't contemplated the ancient text. I'm glad you did though!

frankbeswick on 09/16/2014

The first eleven chapters of Genesis contain a selection of ancient tales drawn together and given a single religious theme. One influence might be the myth of Dilmun, the happy land in the past. Cain and Abel is an ancient mythical theme dealing with the conflict between brothers [Romulus and Remus] but it is mixed with the conflict between farmers and pastoral nomads, whose side the Hebrews took for obvious reasons. There is the strange and mysterious tale of the sons of God and the daughters of men and the ill-consequences of their unions. Then comes Noah.A few mysterious figures enter the text, Enoch, who was so holy that he was taken up to live with God, and Lamech, Noah's father, who seems a brutal thug. We move on to a tale about the origins of wine.

After all this in Genesis 12 comes the Abraham story, which seems to me to be folk history composed of legends about a famous forefather, but many tribes claimed descent from Abraham, so he seems to have been a towering figure.

What is interesting about the composition of Genesis is that the editors showed respect for sources, so they would include slightly different versions of the same tale so as not to leave out any of the four sources that they were incorporating into the Pentateuch, so editing after the main combination of sources has been minimal. We find the same process happening in other books, and this goes as far as the New Testament, where John's Gospel and Revelations show signs of editing by addition of extra material. There is no evidence of subtraction.

JoHarrington on 09/15/2014

I love when snippets of older stories survive the updates.

frankbeswick on 09/15/2014

The desperate fighting is hinted at in the Bible, for it says in Genesis 6:1 that human wickedness was great on Earth, and yet again in 6:10 that the Earth was corrupt and full of lawlessness, and that corrupt were the ways of all living on Earth. There is no mention of Noah being nearly mad.

JoHarrington on 09/15/2014

I do love it when you come in with all of the relevant information. *happy dances* Thanks for this.

frankbeswick on 09/15/2014

The flood myth is one of the most ancient of all myths. It belongs to the very earliest mythological stratum, according to the book, The Origins of the World's Mythologies, a weighty tome which I have just finished reading,which is why I have not been writing much recently. All mythologies have a flood tale . The myth has become fused with various historical flood tales, such as the endemic flooding in Mesopotamia, whence the Noah tale originates.

The Bible has had many translations, but the content is unchanged. There are two flood tales in the Book of Genesis, both of which tell of Noah. The earlier [Yahwist] account was from about 900 BC, and this has animals going in two by two. The later [Priestly] account, about 450 BC, has unclean animals in twos and clean ones in sevens. This tale seems to show more connection with Babylonian myth than the earlier tale does, so it is likely that the earlier tale stems from oral tradition in the Middle East. There were other flood traditions in Israel, which add to the Noah tale, but they tend to come in later, specifically Jewish Scripture, rather than the Scriptures that Jews and Christians share.

Bear in mind that Genesis is a combination of myth and folk history/legend. The first eleven chapters are myth, but when we reach chapter 12, Abraham, we get into folk tales about a historical personage, but these are all that we know of him.

JoHarrington on 09/15/2014

It really does depend upon which Bible, as there have been so many versions over the centuries. Plus Noah turns up in wider religious texts than the Christian ones. The movie draws upon ALL of the traditions, therefore it might not be what you heard in church.

I thought it was an outstanding retelling of the story. You have a great day too!

happynutritionist on 09/15/2014

Thank you for your review, it was interesting to read how you viewed the movie. I have yet to see it, many tell me it doesn't line up with the historical Noah in the Bible, I don't remember him becoming mad in the process of obeying God, but wow, the world sure was a dark place at that time. BUT, can't fairly say much until I see it myself:-) Have a great day!


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