Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ rocks the boat


Logan Lerman and Russell Crowe prepare to set sail in ‘Noah.’ (Paramount Pictures)

If you’re looking for a retelling of the biblical story of Noah, then Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” opening Friday, is most certainly not for you. If you’re looking for a visually lush, profoundly moving, thoughtful exploration of the story, then I know what you’re doing this weekend.

Some people — mostly a few Christian fundamentalists who figure that if they shout loud enough they’ll drown out more reasonable voices — are already angry at the film. It’s true that Aronofsky (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Ari Handel; God does not get a writing credit) takes Peter Jackson-level liberties with the source material. I would have been only mildly surprised if Legolas had shown up.

There’s still a flood and a boat, but some characters have been eliminated and others added, the women wear pants, and Noah (Russell Crowe, in the best performance of his career. You’re forgiven for Javert, sir.) pushes an environmentally conscious agenda (he’s even a vegetarian!). If your main argument with the film is that it’s not as good as the book — or in this case, The Book — fine, but that’s not judging the film on its own merits.

It’s also unfair to condemn a film because it doesn’t live up to whatever version of Genesis 6 you have in your head, especially since what we often hear about the flood is a very easy telling of a very hard story.

Noah’s story is often one of the earliest ones we teach our kids, because boats are fun and animals are cute. We tend to skim over the genocide committed by the Almighty; we think of Noah and his family hanging out inside the ark, not of the people drowning outside. People that, since we’re talking about the entire rest of humanity, includes little kids. One minute a 5-year-old is playing with her 3-year-old sister; then it rains; then they’re drowning. “Noah” doesn’t ignore the collateral damage the flood caused; it focuses on it and takes a good, hard look at the choices Noah made in his pursuit to do what he thought was a holy mission. “Noah” goes beyond telling a familiar story; it examines it from a different angle, that of an imperfect man trying to follow what he believes is a perfect plan. The film wonders if Noah screwed up. It wonders if God did.

“Noah” asks whether it’s right or just for Noah to bar the door against that 5-year-old and 3-year-old we discussed earlier, and it imagines what it’s like to be the man on the dry side of things. It’s about the lines between faith, trust, human fallibility, mercy, justice and madness. It forces people to think about the story anew — an opportunity people who consider this story sacred should welcome, not run from.

It is easy to worship a God whose sayings fit on a bumper sticker. It is easy to worship a cuddly God who sends a rainbow and gloss over an angry God who sends a flood (especially since so many of us are sure we’d be on the boat and not caught out in the rain). Similarly, it’s easy to look at a film and dismiss it out of hand because you think it might make you uncomfortable.

Maybe you won’t see “Noah” because you don’t like Russell Crowe or you can’t find a sitter or you hated “Black Swan” and therefore don’t want to see anything Aronofsky does. All fine reasons to skip it. What is not a good reason is having a faith that leaves no room for wrestling with God.

 

Kristen Page-Kirby covers film for The Washington Post Express.
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