Reviewer: Charity Bishop
Bible-based movies are always controversial. This one takes enormous risks that depending on its audience, will either create interesting discussion or outright hatred. I found aspects of its story incredibly moving, but other choices put me out of my comfort zone until I realized that was intentional. This is, after all, a story about sin.
Ten generations after the Garden of Eden, Noah (Russell Crowe) is trying to live a good and simple life in the midst of an evil, fallen world. Humanity has turned to brutality and his old, respectful ways as the caretaker of the earth are considered outdated by the vicious surrounding towns. Then, Noah has a vision from the Creator that the earth will be cleansed through a flood. This inspires him to pack up his family, including his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and travel to the mountain of his ancestors, to consult with his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins).
Methuselah tells him that the Creator has a plan for him and gives Noah a precious seed from the Garden, to help bring about the new life that will allow him to build an ark to carry his family and two of every animal to safety. Fallen immortal beings known as Watchers (not angels nor demons) agree to assist Noah. Years pass and his children grow to adulthood -- Shem (Douglas Booth) has fallen in love with the young woman they rescued from death many years later, Ila (Emma Watson), and Ham (Logan Lerman) longs for a wife of his own. But their construction of the ark has drawn the attention of the neighboring king, who dislikes Noah's defiance and threatens to destroy him and his family. As the ark is completed, Ham's struggle against his father comes to a head, Ila mourns her barrenness, and Noah faces a mighty battle with doubt as to whether or not his family is righteous enough to live.
Nothing about this movie is simple; everything has the potential to divide viewers. Those who like movies straight out of the text are going to struggle to accept the many changes, expansions, character development and inventive ideas that flesh out the plot, create drama, explain Ham's relationship with Noah, and include miracles not mentioned in scripture. That is perfectly all right -- but I believe if you look for God, you'll find Him, and even though He is a silent presence in this film, His messages are incredibly profound. The underlining theme of the film is salvation -- the ark is not only a metaphor for Christ, but the entire film is about the depravity of fallen beings, including the sin in Noah and his family. Noah isn't perfect. He isn't the saintly man we want to remember from Sunday School. He misreads God in a big way in the second half, leading him to struggle with his belief that none of them are righteous enough to live. He takes "innocent life" in his hands with the intention of killing it -- and can't, because in that moment, all he feels is an incredible, overwhelming love -- a lot like the love that redeems us from our depravity.
If you can accept the story as a mythological retelling more than a literal one, you'll have an easier time enjoying the sheer creativity and intelligence behind the film. It presents ideas that aren't in scripture but are valid enough to consider -- like how the animals remained docile throughout the flood (is that made-up explanation miracle harder to believe than then coming two-by-two to the ark of their own accord?). I loved its representation of blessings as having actual supernatural authority. The God of Noah, and the God of Noah's world, is limitless -- harsh yet forgiving. It's a story about evil and redemption -- the redemption of humanity through a sinful man (Noah), his redemption in the eyes of his family, even the redemption of the Watchers. It's uncomfortable to watch at times because it doesn't involve perfect characters -- all of them are human, make mistakes, and even, on occasion, do evil things. Its truths are profound but unsettling, and the actions of Noah at times don't fit our idea of "godliness," but that's the point. It makes a blatant statement that the flood didn't eradicate evil -- it lives on, in us. And that's why we need a savior.
A couple kiss passionately in the woods; he kisses her bare
stomach and she stops him; later, they embrace and start
pulling off one another's clothes (there's no marriage, but
their marital union is understood); men drag around women by
the hair in a camp (no rapes are shown, but it's implied
that's their intention); we see a far-off shot of a naked
man lying on a beach; we see glowing silhouettes of Adam and
Eve in the Garden.
Several uses of "damned" in the Biblical sense (as in, being damned).
Humans destroy the natural resources, brutally kill one another (occasional blood), and tear animals apart -- sometimes while still alive. Noah winds up killing several people to protect his family / the ark. One girl is trampled to death after having her foot caught in a bear trap. Humans die by the dozens at the hands of the Watchers (who are torn apart and blown up), and thousands drown (we hear them screaming for awhile).
Other:Audiences may be confused by some of the supernatural aspects of the story; there are magical items that assist Noah (a snakeskin endowed with the powers of a "Caretaker" of the earth, a seed from the Garden of Eden that sprouts and grows a forest within minutes, a man's ability to bless a woman and heal her barrenness). There is an implication that animals are not "fallen." Confusion exists over the role of the Watchers (Nephilium) -- but they are not represented as fallen angels (demons) that find redemption; rather as unidentified spiritual beings apart from angels/demons. Noah considers killing two infants, but can't out of profound love (a subtle but profound pro-life statement).