There’s a photo circulating around the internet of a sculpture by Spanish artist Isaac Cordal, one that depicts a group of men, politicians in business attire, neck deep in water, calmly discussing climate change. It’s an appropriate, witty and fairly on-the-nose response to all those videos of icebergs crashing into the ocean and the steady melting of Greenland. And while there’s no overt indication that director Darren Aronofsky’s Noah has anything to do with this current flood-ready situation -- and it would be reductive to assume the film comes equipped with one simple, political meaning -- it’s not outlandish to suggest that there are good reasons why this film exists here and now, ready for discussion; one's as good a place to start as any.
Noah (Russell Crowe) is, after all, depicted here as the ultimate caretaker of creation. He tends to every living plant, admonishing his young son Shem (Gavin Casalegno) not to pick one unless it’s needed, and he doesn’t eat animals. So when those plants begin to spontaneously grow and flower before his eyes, Noah knows that The Creator is telling him something. Something not cool.
What follows is a wild(ish) vision of supernatural intervention, one built on the framework of the Genesis flood story and fleshed out with ideas from other Old Testament sources. Aronofsky, in a recent interview, discussed his vision of the story of Noah as a sort of movie midrash (the scholarly practice of filling in blanks in ancient Jewish literature to enhance meaning, especially when more rounded details are scarce). And at the risk of upsetting literalists, it’s a bold filmmaking move, one that incorporates the trippy, metaphysical details of the director’s weirdest film, The Fountain, and a fairly faithful approach to the Genesis account’s most exacting details of how one goes about building a vessel to house all the hibernating animals in the world.
Along for the forty-day, forty-night boat ride are Jennifer Connelly as Noah’s wife, disgruntled son Ham (Logan Lerman), the now-older Shem (Douglas Booth), Shem’s barren betrothed Ila (Emma Watson), Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) and… well, that’s a spoiler, one you won’t be reading about in Genesis, either, so good luck hunting it down.
Aronofsky is absolutely filling in blanks here, huge spaces, in fact – visually as well, evidenced by the filmmaker’s approach to placing tiny bodies in wide open landscapes and epic environmental disasters – and as the movie rumbles toward its visionary, off-book climax, it becomes a multi-message mess, intentionally so.
Noah, the conflicted man, experiences dreams, disasters, burning rocks, magical healings, the invention of gun powder, fallen angels in the form of rock monsters and every sort of terror and miracle in between. Noah, the film, becomes its own outlandish dream. At times thrillingly wild, hilariously bonkers and crushingly heavy with its own sense of import, it's also unlike any other Bible-based epic you've seen in a long, long time. It's about a world where entitlement and stewardship are locked in an endless war, where human beings have to decide if they’re acting out of holy inspiration or selfish mania, where justice and mercy must co-exist for the sake of life itself. It's about the world right now, in fact, and the stories humanity invented to get us there. Or else it's just about a world-changing flood coming to a 21st century near you. Kind of up to you, really.