***SPOILERS, OF COURSE***
The first hour of “Noah” is quite something. It’s a biblical story being pulled off as a fantasy/mystical epic. This, essentially, has not been done before, for when you look at the history of religious films they are firmly grounded in reality – which creates the great religious / non-religious divide. If Jesus is played, for better or worse, as an example of man’s inhumanity to man (God’s son in this case), then you have a whole section of people who will reject it, simply because they weren’t inhumane and they don’t particularly find relevance in a 2,000 year-old murder.
Now lookit, when you’re talking religion you’re bound to make someone angry, on both sides, for saying or not saying what they fundamentally, on a basic level, agree or disagree with. So I’m not going to get into that noise, because it’s my nature to NOT offend, to be curious about all people’s views, and to generally live a life of contemplation. So if I do offend, at least accept that it comes from a place of trying to be a good guy. Caveat and equivocation complete.
Back to “Noah”. We all basically know the story, the bare minimum, a flood, animals, God talking (or inspiring) certain actions to cleanse the world. Fair enough so far as all that goes. Director Darren Aronofsky lays out a mystical realism (this is before going for a soap opera “realism”) that does REALLY well to make Noah, the man, relevant. The world of “Noah”, so far as it goes, does need to have some serious Chhh-chhhh-chhhh-aaanges (David Bowie style). And Noah the earnest is a worthy dude to bring the funk on this cause. The fact that they try to make him an action star, complete with “Bourne”-style fighting, is preposterous, but it makes perfect sense in the Hollywood world we find ourselves in. I don’t blame anyone there, though I did roll my eyes.
60 minutes in, everything was really working. It had a lot of “The Fountain” in there, you had plants sprouting on their own, rock angels (physical, not musical) helping out, new rivers hitting the ground running to tell the animals to come on home to the arc. Then, the realism gets mixed into the stew, for the betterment of the film, showing Noah and Co. (my new moving company, slogan: “We won’t take 40 days!”) helping the animals drift off to sleep with some smoke concoction that looks suspiciously like the smoke they shake around in Catholic masses (neither here not there, just an aside to prove I’ve been to mass). The animals sleep and don’t eat each other, and “Creator magic” + “logical explanation” are working well in symbiosis. NO PROBLEMO.
Then, well, then it gets pretty damn stupid all over the place. The film had been pretty unsubtle about the good vs. evil angle, which isn’t a stretch given the Old Testament vibe we’ve got going on here, but it’s taken to its logical extreme. The bad humans are so so sooooo bad. They are stowing away, they are raping, they are EATING each other. I mean, these are the type of people you wouldn’t exactly invite out to brunch (unless you want to be on the menu). This IS a problem, because now we’re back in the movie world / and storytelling style of non-complexity. There’s simply nothing to think about past, “that guy is a jerk. I hope he loses”. Which, you know, is boring as all get-out. The notes needed to be played slightly less, it’s got to be done more subtly, because it completely undermines Noah’s decision. ANYONE would flush these bad guys down the Earth’s toilet, they are the worst. But the tension of the piece is that Noah should be conflicted. Instead, “Noah” transfers the tension to another angle, and that angle becomes preposterous, and the majesty of the film is slowly drained.
Because the tension is transferred from the choice of killing all, to the choice of killing of newborns. Noah gets it in his head that he’s supposed to let humanity die off, because God hasn’t told him any different. Here’s the first issue – God sent him a message about the flood, and sent him trees and animals to re-stock the planet, but it felt to me like his message on Noah’s particular family was rather non-existent. So Noah figuring, “Well, that means we gotta go …” is a stretch. Still, even this would have been forgivable if they’d simply explored the most fascinating idea presented in the film. I’ll just throw it out there, because I noticed it immediately (and was somewhat shocked, because it’s almost never discussed).
**Most of the world’s violence comes from people’s self-interest regarding their own progeny.**
This is a massive idea that no one is super happy to get into. Almost everyone would, if pushed hard enough, kill for their family. Almost no one would “turn the other cheek” (which is why the Jesus story still resonates, it’s wildly and aggressively different). The “bad” people would kill, and Noah would kill, and Jennifer Connelly admits as such in a private conversation. This is man’s great failing, our protector-killer mentality for the things that are truly important. I’m not saying I’m better than this, heck, I’d go to war for my dog, but if you truly look at this view it’s completely illogical. If I will kill for mine, and you for yours, then some people are eventually gonna end up dead.
We don’t see “humans” as things that require the ultimate sacrifice, we see “our” humans as worthy of that. We are all blinded by our own self-interest. We can’t rise above it, though I’ll admit we’ve made inroads, look no further than all the alien invasion movies where we all are bound together in logical self-interest. But the point is, if we’re all willing to kill for our kids like Lions, then no one is any better than anyone else. There can be no emotional evolution.
This is tossed aside rather quickly as Noah makes the EXACT same choice the “bad guys” were all about. Noah drowns everyone, saves his kids, saves his grandkids, and calls it good. “Hey bud,” the movie says, “Noah was chosen by God and that’s that”. Which is the exact same reason we currently have about every war going. My side was chosen by God. So was yours. Let’s kill each other over it. Noah, in the end, is the same dude shopping at the store with you, his exceptionalism crushed beneath a wave of hypocrisy. Noah flat out lets an innocent girl die to save his son. Sure, he feels awful about it later, but that’s the road of every conquering jerk ever. “Sorry about all the dead people, but my son is in charge now.” Boom.
Of course narratively, Noah letting his family die off was never going to fly, Hollywood or no. I get that. But he could have owned the choice. It didn’t have to be this hand-wringing nonsense that was always going to end a certain way. “Noah” spends a good hour trying to get into a paradigm of “You think this guy might murder his grandkids as soon as they are born? Maaaaaybee!” when of course that’s not a tension point at all. There’s nothing remotely difficult to predict in that situation.
It didn’t have to be like this, and they completely jettison the 1) Best idea and the 2) Majesty of the creator. In the end, God isn’t smiting folks, or actively helping to save the innocent, he’s just letting Noah get on it, and Noah is f***ing it up, human-style. The very thing that made God decide to flood the world is what Noah is on about for the entire last hour. Which is a fundamental flaw. Noah got to where he got by God’s doing, but then it’s all about Noah making sucky choices. You can’t have it both ways here. You can have God intercede, and then Noah live up to that blessing, or you can have God take care of everything. You can’t, with any internal logic whatsoever, have Noah plotting infanticide and letting innocents die (both active and passive jerk-hood).
This is where Noah misses a huge opportunity, if not on the huge “progeny war” question, then at least on a chance to make a movie that amazed both religious and non-religious folks. The film pivots toward normalacy, and suffers greatly for it. Unlike every other Darren Aronofsky film it provides no mystery, no momentum as it nears the end, puttering out in a pool of Noah’s own inadequacies. He couldn’t make the tough call, and he agonized over the easy one. He let innocents die while furthering the ambitions of his own. He was a flawed man, killing other flawed men, or what we today know as “the world”. Which doesn’t so much require a movie as it does a sad dismissive shrug and a shake of the head. In the world of violence and self-interest, we’re all drowning, little by little, in our own inability to grow.