Monday, July 28, 2014         


 Print   Email   Comment | View 18 Comments   Most Popular   Save   Post   Retweet

Bending the Bible

Darren Aronofsky's controversial yet engaging "Noah" puts a modern spin on the story

By Mick LaSalle

San Francisco Chronicle


At first it sounds as if the wind is making a strangled wailing as it blows through the slats of Noah's Ark. But a closer listen reveals it as the sound of people screaming, of thousands trying to stay afloat and sinking. It's layer upon layer of human noise, piled and piled until it sounds elemental — as Noah and his family sit in the middle of the ark, dry, safe and horrified.

"Noah" is no silly action blockbuster with a Biblical pretext. Rather, it's the product of writer-director Darren Aronofsky's vigorous engagement with the biblical story and what it might mean in our time. The story itself has demands built in: It posits a vision of humanity gone astray, in which those on the side of the creator are pitted against those opposed to the divine will. Right off, that means a filmmaker's choosing sides and making decisions about good and bad, right and wrong.

In Aronofsky's telling, humanity went in two directions after the murder of Abel by Cain. The godless sons of Cain went off and created the industrial world, raping the earth. They became warriors, fashioned metal weapons and began eating animals. They ignored the demands of stewardship and stressed only their dominion over the earth and other living creatures. Meanwhile, the virtuous sons of Seth lived off the land, in harmony with creation. They were vegetarians, anti-industry and proto-environmentalists.

Rated: PG-13
* * *
Opens Friday

Of course, "Noah" is going to be controversial. It was either that or have something dead on screen, and "Noah" is most certainly not dead. Yet even those who think a meal isn't a meal without a hunk of bleeding pain on the plate might be assuaged by the movie's pro-industry statement, hiding there in plain sight: The sons of Cain are living a lot better than the sons of Seth. Ten generations since Adam, and all Noah has to show for himself is a tattered tent pitched amid the rocks.

In fact, as the movie begins, Seth's descendants consist of no one but Noah's family, as the murderous sons of Cain draw nearer. Things are looking hopeless when Noah (Russell Crowe) has a curious dream in which he envisions the destruction of the world. He doesn't know what it means, or what he's supposed to do about it, and so he goes in search of his grandfather, Methusaleh, for guidance. And Methusaleh can only be Anthony Hopkins, who plays the oldest man in the world like a chipper, jovial Welsh Yoda.

The early biblical world is portrayed by Aronofsky as a place of barren desolation, of rocks and hard earth. When characters talk about saying goodbye to life as they know it, one has to wonder what's there to miss. At the same time, the film is full of beautiful visuals, as when two doves suddenly decide to head toward the ark and the camera tracks them above as they fly.

"Noah" provides two striking instances of silhouettes against the sky. In the first, Noah and his wife (Jennifer Connelly) discuss their options, just as the night is cracking and a new day is vibrating a golden glow on the horizon. In another scene, we see men killing each other — time-lapse photography of various silhouettes in various hats swinging various weapons — a succession that, when reduced to spectacle, looks like nothing but madness.

The film's special effects never seem special in the moment, which is as it should be. When every snake and reptile on the earth starts heading in one direction, the viewer's response isn't awe at what can be done on a computer but awe at the abundant forms that life takes. Everything must be saved, Noah says, lest a "small piece of creation" be "lost forever. It's our job to look after them."

Crowe ably conveys the oppressive weight of Noah's responsibility, the burden of enacting God's will. But then, all the performances are strong, which is the mark of good direction. No one postures, no one plays history. Every actor has clearly spent time contemplating and working through the specific and real emotions being experienced by the character. Emma Watson is lovely as a young woman whose inability to conceive makes her an odd match for Noah's eldest son. Ray Winstone, as a general of the house of Cain, is a complex figure — a villain, perhaps, but the one character that sounds most like a modern man.

"Noah" is a great movie until the ark's doors close. Then for a half-hour, it becomes a strange and difficult movie, more interesting than satisfying. But ultimately, "Noah" finds its way back to land. Unlike most action movies, it's the furthest thing from a cynical piece of work. It's a movie to wrestle with and talk about.

 Print   Email   Comment | View 18 Comments   Most Popular   Save   Post   Retweet

You must be subscribed to participate in discussions
By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. Because only subscribers are allowed to comment, we have your personal information and are able to contact you. If your comments are inappropriate, you may receive a warning, and if you persist with such comments you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email commentfeedback@staradvertiser.com.
Leave a comment

Please login to leave a comment.
HCSSC wrote:
The Bible is fiction, so it makes perfect sense...
on March 28,2014 | 02:04AM
palani wrote:
This has nothing to do with your peculiar and irrational fear of the Bible. Many cultures share variations of a great prehistoric flood.

Flood Stories From Around The World

on March 28,2014 | 06:30AM
HCSSC wrote:
Who fears the Bible? It's a work of fiction, like Alice in Wonderland.
on March 28,2014 | 08:11AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Just think the movie as a comedy, like you do with the Bible. And you may enjoy the movie.
on March 28,2014 | 09:37AM
klastri wrote:
The sad thing - and it's a VERY sad thing - is that some people actually believe the story of Noah is true. Ignorance lives!
on March 28,2014 | 07:24AM
Venus1 wrote:
Right on! I will not see this horror story! Bill Maher is correct... Do you believe in a 'god' who throws temper tantrums and destroys women and children!! That 'god' is no friend to humanity! Leave him where he belongs ....mythology! N
on March 28,2014 | 09:01AM
hanalei395 wrote:
Most people don't believe the story of Noah and the Ark, and they don't give it a thought, except fanatical atheists. Just don't worry about it. But I do believe stories about a prehistoric flood.
on March 28,2014 | 09:09AM
seaborn wrote:
The real tragedy of the story of Noah and the ark is that there's the god-thing, that's supposedly omnipotent, but gets so angry at his creation (man) that he is willing to kill them all, and goes through with it, except for a small group. How can anyone follow and worship a god, and say it's a just and loving god, if it's willing to kill all the people on the planet??!! Unbelievable. Also, how can anyone believe the ark story of having two or more of every creature on the ark, when most animals aren't indigenous to the location the ark was supposedly built? And, there is no proof of an apocalyptic flood, so the entire story is full of holes. Someone had a good imagination coming up with that fairy tale.
on March 28,2014 | 08:30AM
Venus1 wrote:
Many churches in Hawaii preach sermons every Sunday about how great 'their god is' . They have their followers believing that 'god' will send them to HELL if they do not join their church !! Most religions are 'scary' and destructive! They do some good but much harm!
on March 28,2014 | 09:07AM
joseph007 wrote:
I'm happy to see the above comments on the "bible". This book, written in the 3rd and later centuries, by MEN, and we all know men never lie, stretch the truth. Tells the "story" of Noah, who build an ark at the age of 500 years old, had two children, at 100 years old, and got all of the animals in this ark. Did they all like in his region? Oh, God made them do it. Buy the way, there were, and are hundreds of different species of animals, insects, fish, mammals, etc.. Then God killed everyone, men, women, children, babies, etc. by this "flood" because they were "bad". And guess what, these same bad people are here on earth again. Didn't God know this would happen? If not, then HE'S no omnipotent. B.S. story!
on March 28,2014 | 08:57AM
d_bullfighter wrote:
Be careful lest you display your ignorance of the Biblical text by ignoring its internal and external reliability.
on March 28,2014 | 11:21PM
AhiPoke wrote:
IF Aronofsky had any real guts he'd make a movie on an interpretation of the Koran, which also has "questionable stories" in it. Doing that would put his life at risk.
on March 28,2014 | 11:13AM
kailuanokaoi wrote:
Geez people - no where does any promotion say this is a "true-story" or an auto-biography - it's a movie based on a book, like many movies. You don't have to believe in God to watch or enjoy this. I personally believe in God which is my choice. A day may come when you are faced with a situation that is out of your control, and you may wish and hope, or change your decision when all you can do is pray and believe that there is a higher power, such as God, that can change a situation, perform a miracle, bring you or someone you love out of despair. For some people it is then and only then that they are open to something or someone like God. I respect people who don't believe in God - this is their choice. I just feel sad that when all else fails, when something is humanly impossible, that they have nothing to have hope in or for. Let's be respectful of each other's beliefs without such negative remarks.
on March 28,2014 | 12:39PM
seaborn wrote:
If all I have left is prayer, then I have nothing. Should a situation occur, what will get results, hoping and praying, or getting off my chair and actually doing something about it?
on March 28,2014 | 12:46PM
hanalei395 wrote:
"If all I have left is prayer, then I have nothing" ..... "getting off my chair and actually doing something about it?". ...... If there is a situation where you can't get off your chair, or bed, being bedridden, and you can't do, or anybody can't do anything about it ..... then you have nothing.
on March 28,2014 | 01:59PM
kailuanokaoi wrote:
on March 28,2014 | 02:51PM
st1d wrote:
whatever, i will vote with my money, and my money will be used to see bad words at the theaters. i will wait to judge noah when it gets to hbo in a couple of months.
on March 28,2014 | 04:32PM
localguy wrote:
As generally attributed to former Minnesota Governor, Navy Seal, and professional wrestler, Jesse Ventura, "Religion is a crutch for weak minded individuals."
on March 28,2014 | 06:47PM