[PRELUDE: Before we begin, I would just like to establish right off the bat that I am indeed a Christian, and that I do believe in what the Bible teaches. However, I don’t entirely believe in all of the different interpretations of the Bible’s meaning, nor do I take credence in the messages that some people think they have gotten from it, such as that gay people are an abomination, or that women must be submissive to men. I live my life fairly and honestly, I treat all people with kindness and understanding, and there are many great important lessons to be learned from what the Bible says. Therefore, anything that I say from here on out will be from the stand-point that I do believe in God and that I believe the story of Noah could have actually happened in some form or another.]
The concept of movie adaptation baffles me. Not in that I don’t understand why we do it, but in that I don’t understand why we don’t do it more.
It’s been said many many times within the past five years or so, that Hollywood has run out of ideas, and therefore that is why we see so many sequels, prequels, reboots, and adaptations being made from other mediums. But then if Hollywood has run out of ideas, then why don’t they just look to everything else for them?
Maybe they do. But what confuses me is why I don’t see things like Cowboy Bebop, or Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends, or something like the graphic novel Bone being adapted into films or TV mini-series. Because why the hell not? Bone is an excellent story with likable and familiar characters, a decently developed world, and a style reminiscent of both anime and 1980s fantasy films like DragonSlayer and Willow. And Fosters was a highly unique and fairly original concept that I had never seen before, and had enormous potential for story and character development on many levels.
But the issue that comes in is Marketability. Books and old TV series don’t get adaptations (most often) unless they have a marketable and familiar name. But then again, we still have people making original films with relatively original scripts and getting the backing they need to bring those films to life. So if we can adapt recognizable shows and novels into films, and we can still effectively produce original films, then why can’t we adapt lesser-known or obscure titles and just pass them off as original to the uninitiated?
If we were to adapt, let’s say My Life As A Teenage Robot—a show about a young robot girl having to deal with high-school drama while also saving the world on a daily basis—the film would bring in all of its loyal fans (however big or small they are), and then if the film is well crafted, it would also bring in anyone else who thinks the idea is cool, even if they have no idea what it is. A film’s marketable name shouldn’t really matter in the long run as long as it’s a catchy and memorable title and the film has a drawing power with good performances, a quirky or interesting premise, and good writing. Yes, a well-established and popular brand name does wonders, but if we can still make original films, then at the end of the day all that really matters is whether or not the film looks good, sounds good, and is good.
So then I ask you now, ladies and gentlemen, why must we continue to remake the same freaking bible stories over and over and over?!
Why must we have only three major Ester films, and yet have nearly six about Joseph? Why must we have a new version of The Ten Commandments every fifteen to twenty five years when David and Goliath have had maybe one? Why is it that we only have one live-action and one VeggieTales version of Jonah, the story where a man gets swallowed by a fish, and yet have more retellings of the life of Jesus than you can count on both your fingers, and your toes?
I honestly do not know. You could say it’s because Jesus is our most important religious figure, and therefore we must continue to perfect his life story on screen (and yet not a single person has tried to depict him with short hair). You could say we adapt Moses so much because Moses’ story takes up three whole books of the text. And you could say we adapt the few other main tales like David and Goliath, Sampson and Delilah, and Joseph because they’re the next most memorable stories. But there are plenty of other people and historical events to talk about. Like why don’t we have more recountings of the life of St. Paul the Apostle? Or a big screen adaptation of Elijah and his life as God’s prophet, with his drenched yet brilliantly burning alter? We have so many ridiculous film series about the end-times and revelation (Left Behind, Apocalypse, The Moment After), so why don’t we have a film about the man who received the largest number of trippy visions in the whole of the bible, Ezekiel?
Ultimately I ask these questions because it seems odd that a religious group such as Christians, who claim to live and die by the bible, and therefore should know the thing cover to cover, require that movie adaptations of biblical tales be all of the stories that found their way into children’s illustrated bibles. There are far more epic stories and interesting images to behold? So why aren’t we doing them? If people seem to not like Biblical films much these days, then why are we still trying to bring them into the theater with the same old bits? It’s complete and utter pointlessness.
So that then brings us (finally) to today’s subject, Daren Aronofsky’s Noah: a film trying so hard to make a simple story epic as hell, that they had to dig up old forgotten books of the bible that were banned from our current canonical tomes (due to their extreme liberties and inaccurate depictions of Jesus and angels), in order to add some interesting drama and dynamics going on during the sub-plots. Or to put it in simpler terms, this movie gets “bat-$#!t” insane.
Now admittedly, I became very fascinated by the imagery and ideas featured here. I thought a lot of the liberties and imaginative changes taken with the original biblical text were quite inspired, brilliant, profound, and perhaps some even logical and could have actually been the case.
The story of Noah is a rather short, sweet, and simple one. There’s not a whole lot to it. In fact the entire story fits on just two pages of the bible, which is why the creation story is often coupled along with Noah in film adaptations, and is usually recounted by Noah himself. This was done both in the John Huston film, an old 1990s animated short film (part of a series called Testament: The Bible In Animation), and now in Darren Aronofsky’s version. And because Noah’s tale is so short, there’s so much possibility and room to expand. You might think that’s blasphemy, but think about it for just a moment.
The bible says that man became wicked in his ways and was so evil and violent that there was no turning him back. And therefore God felt he must cleanse the Earth, like a grease-encrusted plate going into the dish-washer, and soaking the grease until it comes off. And yet we see later on in the bible, as in all times and eras, man continues to be cruel, evil and spiteful (but perhaps a little less so). But in those later cases we are given much more context and more description. We know “why” Sodom and Gamora were evil, because there was all manner of perverseness and adultery and brutality going on there, and so both of those cities were burned to the ground. The tower of Babel was constructed after Noah’s time in the ark. And God stopped them in their tracks by confusing their languages because the men who were building it had become arrogant and spiteful, hoping to bring themselves up to God’s level by literally building up into the heavens.
So you can see, we know why these people were stomped down or were destroyed, but we have no specific context for the sons of Caine in Noah’s day. And so this movie tries to answer that.
We also have to ask ourselves “how long did it take Noah to build the ark?” “And how did he build it all with just his one tiny family.” If you see it in the movie, the ark, by its exact measurements, is enormous: a feat for any man to construct. And while it does still take about ten years for Noah to build the ark in the film, I would imagine in the Bible it must have taken him decades on end. The film cuts down on this time and answers the question of the ark’s construction for two reasons: one, so that Noah’s children can be teenagers and young adults when the Ark is completed, which gives characters for the younger audience members to relate to. And two, because the movie needed something for the Watchers to do.
Who are the Watchers? A very good question which we’ll get to in a moment. But first some context.
According to the bible, the earliest days of man’s time on Earth are shrouded in mystery, mostly because a lot of those earliest legends had to be passed down by word of mouth, as most old tales were. So the version of Noah’s story that we have in the bible is the most recently drafted version of the recounting, which is probably a couple thousand years old. Back in those ancient days we could have had many animals species that we do not have today, which the film takes into account. We could have had a closer connection with God, which is evidenced by his direct correspondence with Adam, Abraham, and other early Biblical figures. And there’s a chance that the world itself could have been much much different in its composition. It’s been said that the world didn’t used to rain, and instead just had heavy fog that misted the ground. And it was only after the great flood that rain became a common weather pattern. The Earth could also have had a different consistency. There could have been plants that use to exist, but then got killed off by too much water. The atmosphere could have been thinner, which would have allowed us to see the stars much more clearly, even during day-time. And this film, again, accounts for all of that.
Something else I quite liked was the film’s explanation for how all of the animals found Noah’s ark. Now the film doesn’t stay consistent with how God works his ways, as it both has God giving subtle clues and hints, and also having him make things appear from nothing. For Noah to build the ark, God creates a forest in under 45 seconds.To flood the world, God brings geysers of water up from the ground, and water from all sides, rather than having the rain itself bring all of it. But then God also uses a small geyser, which creates five distinct little streams that go off in all directions, which then gives all of the birds, reptiles, and mammals something to follow back to the ark. A rather clever concept that I haven’t seen before.
But then we have the Watchers. The Watchers are, by name, those who watch over man, and guide them in their ventures. They were originally angels, who decided to disobey God, and fell down to Earth in order to help early man to survive and build civilizations, after Adam and Eve were banished from Paradise. In all typical accounts, throughout the bible, Angels are depicted as men with very fair features, a commanding presence, and a visible glow about them. But I don’t believe wings have ever been a part of their physiology according to scripture: this was a pagan add-on. However, in the film, they are depicted as fallen angels who were cursed to live as lava-encrusted “golems,” who wander the Earth along-side humans, with glowing faces and a multitude of twisted limbs.
Now obviously this concept of “fallen angels who become golems” is not (entirely) from the bible. The Watchers seem to have been mentioned a few times as a specific group of angels that messengered between God and man, but they certainly were never rock giants. No, instead, this is an idea from the apocryphal tome known as the Book of Enoch: a group of tales written after Jesus’s death and initially entered into the Biblical canon, until it was thrown out by a great council of scholars sometime around 400 AD. This was done both in order to standardize the Bible, and to ensure that all the writings in it were of good standing, and were based on reasonable understandings of biblical stories and their figures.
The Book of Enoch, and its many brethren are called the Apocryphal books, because they are complete hogwash, and are nothing more than sensationalized ancient fan-fiction based on the times of Adam and Eve, the youth of Jesus, Judas Iscariot, Mother Mary, and much more: and they all are filled with fantastical embellishments.
Now those of you who may not believe in the bible, I’m sure could argue that the entirety of the Bible is one big fictional story, with only some basis in historical records. And therefore there’s really no honest distinction between one group of books and another group of books with relation to the Bible’s contents. What makes one book any less worthy than another if they were all written by mortal men?
Well imagine for a moment, if instead of the Bible, you were looking at The Lord of the Rings, with its five well crafted, well researched, and well established books: Fellowship, Two Towers, Return of the King, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion. All of these books have a rich history, all hand-crafted by one man over many decades, designing and creating a world with many languages, many civilizations and kings, and many dark tales and ancient mythologies all inside of it. Every character has his or her own established personality and life-story: meaning that no matter when these characters appear, we know what they’re supposed to be like and what they are capable of. And so if they should ever do something out of character, we know that something must be wrong.
So now imagine for a moment, if instead of the book of Enoch or the book of Judas, you were also dealing with some nerd’s Lord of the Ring’s fan-fiction.
Now this guy’s fan-fiction is really really interesting, and brings up some new and fascinating ideas within the realm of Middle-Earth. Except, in one of his chapters, his fan-fiction says that Gandalf, at one point in his life, conversed with the powers of darkness and did some unspeakable deeds for them in his younger life before he became Gandalf the Gray. Or maybe it says that Aragorn was not the true King of Gondor and was actually a fraud. The real King was much too content with his nomadic life and the safety behind closed walls. And so he found Aragorn one day and paid him a life-time in gold in order to take his place, rule Gondor, and fight off the hordes of darkness. Wouldn’t that just piss a Tolkien purist off? Wouldn’t that just irk you to no end? And then what if this fan-writer wanted to enter his crazy fan-fiction into the official Tolkien canon? The Tolkien scholars would go absolutely mad with rage and would fight off its inclusion at all costs.
Therefore, if you look at the Bible and the Apocryphal books from that same stand-point, you can see why it would have been very important and would have taken a lot of care and debate in order to decide which books and stories actually made it into our current biblical text.
This then is what makes the Noah movie so strange and bizarre compared to other on screen adaptations. It takes a lot of liberties with the source material, embellishes it with imagery from other ancient flood myths and legends, as well as passages from the Book of Enoch, and then undoubtedly adds its own original fanciful concepts.
Take for example Methuselah: who has now been turned the Bible’s version of Obi-wan Kenobi, complete with a flaming sword and Jedi mind powers. At one point in his life, he was a war hero, who stood up against the children of Caine (the boy who killed his brother) in order to protect the Watchers. And later, when we see him in his old age–living atop a great mountain–he has lost some of his sight, but still has his wits about him. He can concoct potions that make you dream when you’re awake. He can put people to sleep by pressing his thumb and fore-finger against your head. And by the grace of God, it seems, he can grant the gift of child-bearing to barren women. I did like his character, and the small role that he played in the story at large, but his endless abilities seemed a bit too much augmentation for me on the biblical story. The Watchers I can almost take, if they weren’t so strange and twisted looking. But a man who can knock people out for seemingly no explainable reason, who also owns a flaming sword, is a bit too much.
The setting of Noah is strange and ambiguous: never really giving much historical grounding to anything, because it all happened before historical records were kept. But even though all of this is pure speculation, the filmmakers take the setting so far outside of reality that one could argue this is happening sometime in the far future.
And in fact, there is a scene that flashes by depicting the images of different soldiers from all across time, falling over dead. But I tend to not think in those terms. I’m much more inclined to believe that this is an alternate universe, where the stories from the Book of Enoch actually happened, and because of that, the Watchers came down and helped man develop much faster than we would have without them. This then is why the children of Caine have managed to build cities all over the world (which is depicted as one big land mass), why they have the ability to build large mechanized machines and tools, and why they can craft armor and weapons out of plate iron, when iron was not in common usage until 3000 years later in the Roman Empire.
It also tends to look ridiculous when we’re supposed to believe that all of this stuff is happening just a few hundred years after creation, and yet everyone in Noah’s family is wearing clasped parkas and hooded cloaks. They look like Viggo Mortenson in The Road, but with clothes made from yarn with frayed edges. They literally look like they’re just wearing modern clothes, but that were crafted from different bits of fabric, sewn together from the outside with no hidden seams, and were left with the edges rough. If these people just put a little bit more time into making their clothes, they’d have some good looking summer fashions here.
Something else that the movie throws in but never explains are these strange glowing stones that seem to be incendiary, and can be struck to light a fire, or can be blasted into the air and used as either a signal flare, or a fire-bomb. What the hell are they? Is there some historical or geological basis for them? The movie never says what they are, why they’re there, why they serve any significant importance, and they just seem to be a strange means by which the ensuing evil forces of Tubal Caine can have some incendiary fire-power. And so that Noah can light a fire in a really cool way. (sigh)
By the way, Tubal Caine here is apparently the latest in a long line of the Caine family, and has proclaimed himself the King of everything, including Noah and his ark. And he becomes the main antagonistic force during the latter half of the film. Even though one would think the flood would have been enough.
One of my biggest issues with the movie, despite all of the little issues with imagery and concepts, is its tendency to be rather violent and gritty during the 2nd half. Noah goes to look for a wife for his younger son Ham, but ends up experiencing the horror and despicable deeds of man (beyond himself). And what he finds are people suffering, dying by the hundreds, having to trade their own children in for food, people tearing living animals to shreds and eating them raw, and all manner of depravity and brutality. The music during these scenes certainly made them hard to watch, and I imagine if the music wasn’t so on edge, it may have been easier to sit through. But as it stands, it was a far too much violence all at once. And for only one scene during a film that has nothing like it the rest of the time, it literally felt like a punch to the gut.
The movie also manages to make the flood seem so much more traumatic and tragic by showing us that despite the high water level, there are people still clamoring for their last chance to live by gripping the sides of high rocks and mountains, trying to brave the waves and high winds, all of them crying, wailing, and very likely starving to death. And yet Noah does nothing to save them, whether or not they may also be good people.
The point of the bible story was that Noah and his family were the best of humanity, and they were meant to get in the ark and save themselves with all of the animals while the rest of the world was buried beneath leagues of water. There’s no account that says there were any other people near where Noah was living, or that Noah had to fight off an army of disgruntled people while trying to seal up the ark, because the rest of humanity simply doubted his word that a flood was coming. They didn’t pay him much mind at all. So while Noah rose up on the water, everyone else went about their business until it was too late. There was no time to save themselves or anyone else. But the movie instead takes the ugly road, and instead wants to make Noah look like a bad-guy by having him actively refuse to save all of the people hanging onto the nearby mountain for dear-life. As a Christian myself, this is a really difficult concept to take, because not only does it spit in God’s face by making Noah look like a villain, but also underestimates God’s ability to be clean and thorough when he wants to get something done. If he was going to kill everything on Earth, he would do it in such a way that there would be nothing left. There would be no survivors, and there were none. Noah and his family were all that were left. I understand this change is all to make Noah a more 3-dimensional person, but it only serves to turn an initially admirable character to the dark side. And in fact, his actions get worse.
Just a short time before the flood hits, Noah becomes convinced—after witnessing the atrocities of man first hand—that God wants all men wiped off the face of the Earth, including himself, and his family. And he comes to this conclusion not by anything that God said to him, figuratively or directly, but because of his own sick delusion that all men are evil and terrible creatures and must not deserve to live on the Earth. He even begins to doubt himself and his own moral goodness, which soon turns him into a monster, and turns his own family against him. He even goes so far as to say that if his adoptive daughter Ila has any children (which she was granted by Methuselah when he fixed her womb), that if the child is a girl, he will kill it. This then starts to turn his whole family against him and make them just as morally twisted as he is. His two eldest sons attempt to kill him, his wife swears to leave him for dead, and yet in the end, his daughter allows him to kill her twins—who happen to be both girls—because she knows she can’t stop him.
Thankfully though, Noah regains his sanity and realizes that he cannot kill his granddaughters, for upon looking upon their faces he only feels love in his heart. This he then takes as a sign that he has failed God, and once the ark makes land, Noah takes himself away from the family to live cold and alone, because he has surely failed the Creator. It is only when his daughter Ila speaks to him and explains what really happened that Noah understands that this was all a test: a test to prove that he was better than the men who had drowned in the flood, and that he had the compassion and the wisdom to make life better for his family and their descendants.
Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is perhaps the strangest, fresh, and most imaginative retelling of any biblical tale. But perhaps a bit too much so. It takes far too many liberties with the source and with additional material to take anything too seriously, and it’s message becomes so muddled in darkness and depravity that it is almost entirely lost amongst all of the violence and fighting. Noah is made into a dark character in order to create some extra suspense while on-board the ark (which isn’t needed), and the film actually tries to put the out-and-out villainous characters in the right (at least some of the time) by having their deaths seem unjust and unlawful, and by having Noah’s duty to kill the newborn child seem much more cruel than the other atrocities of man by comparison. Why try to create such a dynamic if not in an attempt to ruin the point of the story of the flood?
If this film were half as violent as it is, and were about on the same level of PG-13 as say the National Treasure films, then this probably would have went over much better with parents, the unlucky children who may have ended up watching this, and me. And I would have far preferred this had it been more tame.
I recently found these two comic strips on tumblr, that perfectly encapsulate some of my feelings, and doubtless the feelings of many people who went to try and see this film with their kids.
I’ll admit I was still endlessly fascinated by the film. The photography and visuals shot in Iceland–some of the newest and most original land on Earth today–was breath-taking, and unlike anything I had ever seen before on film, even compared to New Zeland. And many of the visual concepts, production design elements, and shot and scene design were amazing to watch. But as for whether or not I think this is something to recommend, I would simply have to say “tread lightly.”
If you’re not someone who is easily offended by secular re-tellings of biblical stories, then give it a watch if you’re curious enough. But if you’re a very devout Christian, and you’ve actually made it through all of my ramblings, then I would stay far away. This is wll beyond your wheel house my friend.
But if you’ve stuck with me so far, we are not done yet. Oh no, because there is a completely different adaptation of Noah out there, that is far more awkward, far more confusing, and way more potentially blasphemous than this film is. Don’t believe me, then stay tuned for my next review, where we take a look at Juan Pablo Buscarini’s Argentine animated epic, El Arca (Noah’s Ark).
•••••If you’re interested in getting some finer details into the back-story and research for this movie’s unique imagery, I suggest you start >>>HERE. Brad Jersak clearly had more time than I to read up on the Book of Enoch itself and discover more about what went on during the writing of this film.
•••••And if you’d like a slightly more humorous take on the problems with this film, take a look at this Cinema Sins review: Everything Wrong With “Noah” in 13 Minutes or Less