Friday, May 16, 2014


Let’s start this out by saying that I love Darren Aronofsky’s work, ever since I first saw REQUIEM FOR A DREAM way back in the day. He’s got a great sense of story, but even more so, he’s got a great eye for aesthetics, and that’s what primarily drives his films, in particular THE FOUNTAIN.

When I first heard about NOAH, I felt kind of turned off. First of all, it’s a silly Bible story. I love Bible stories, generally speaking. They’re fun. They’re gory. They’re sexy. But the story of Noah’s ark is pretty silly and uninteresting. To make matters worse, it looked like they were going for a gritty retelling, more GLADIATOR than Bible story. Fittingly, they got Russell Crowe to star in it as the title character. Again, I love Crowe’s work, ever since I saw him in THE QUICK AND THE DEAD. He’s better than people give him credit for. But as Noah? It sounded like they wanted to take a silly Bible story and turn it into an action flick.

But then I heard that Aronofsky was going to be at the helm. I have a lot of faith in his work, and I knew he wouldn’t disappoint.

Sure enough, he didn’t. I loved the shit out of NOAH. As much as I love Bible stories, they’re terribly written. This is probably due to the limitations of writing back then. Moses, who is traditionally considered as the author of the Torah, which is where Noah’s story appears in the Bible, had a lot to go over and probably didn’t have a lot of material to write with. As a result, he probably had to keep things short, especially since the laws are more important than the stories. So, in essence, I believe we need fleshed out versions of Bible stories written by experienced authors. NOAH is a great step in this direction. However, Aronofsky managed to piss a lot of people off with this movie. Why?

Let’s take a look at what’s in the Bible. Noah, who is the son of Lamech, who in turn is the son of Methuselah, is a 600-year-old man with a wife and three sons, Shem, Ham and Lapheth. In those days, the Nephilim still walked the earth, and they had a habit of fucking human women, who would then give birth to great men. God became sick with the wickedness of man’s ways, so He decided to kill everything. It should be noted that there is nothing in the Bible about Him deciding to start all over again at this point.

Everyone on the planet was evil, but Noah stuck out as being a good guy, so God decided to spare him and his family. In that moment, He also decided to start over by having Noah build an ark that would contain two of every animal so they can repopulate the world. As a reward for this, God gives Noah and his family (which includes the wives of his sons, as well; so the grand total of people on board is eight) permission to get on the ark and survive with the rest of the animals. Keep in mind, the Bible is very clear on this point: God directly speaks to Noah.

Noah builds this ark to God’s exact specifications (and they are VERY specific) just before the rain begins. Everyone gets on board, and it rains for 40 days and 40 nights. Everything not on board the ark dies. Noah then starts looking for dry land by sending birds out to find it. A dove brings back an olive branch on the third try, and before long, in a very WATERWORLD-type moment, Noah finds dry land. Everyone gets out of the ark. Noah builds an altar to the Lord and starts making sacrifices with clean animals (so, uh, not all the beasts got to renew their species). God loves the smell of these burnt offerings, so He promises Noah that He will never again sentence everyone to death. He chooses a rainbow as the symbol of His covenant with humanity.

Noah becomes a farmer, which is not very important to the story. He also becomes a vintner, which is waaaaaay more important to the story. Noah, it turns out, loved the grape so much that he became the first winemaker by building a vineyard. He was one of the first great drunks in history, and when he drank, he liked to party naked. One day, Ham discovers his father naked and passed out. He’s kind of disappointed in the old man, and he asks his brothers to cover Noah up. When Noah wakes up, he’s furious to find that someone was offended by his nudity enough to cover it up. In one of the biggest overreactions in Biblical history, Noah condemns Ham—the guy who thought to cover up his father’s dick, not the two sons who actually covered it up—and his descendants to a lifetime of slavery. This is the Bible passage that everyone points to when they’re defending slavery in America before the Civil War. It’s generally thought that Ham was black, and that his descendants were Africans. (One of his sons was Egypt, and Egypt is in Africa, so . . .)

Anyway, Noah lives to be 950 years old, and then he dies.

See what I mean? It’s a silly story. It makes very little sense, and there is no mystery to it. It’s very straightforward, even in its goofiest moments. Aronofsky would have to go to great lengths in order to make a great story out of this. And he does. Here’s how he does it.

Take Lamech and Methulselah. There is nothing in the Bible about these guys except their names and their ages. This gives Aronofsky room to play. Lamech, who is also played by Crowe, teaches a young Noah the importance of farming, and he makes it very clear that animals are not to be eaten. Noah and his family are vegetarians, even though in the Bible, God clearly tells Noah that it’s OK to eat animals, that that’s what they’re there for. Interesting development.

It should also be noted that Lamech blesses his son with a snakeskin which presumably came from the devil in the Garden of Eden, since Aronofsky shows such a snake shedding its skin several times in the story. The skin is clearly magical, as it glows when it blesses Noah.

If you’re thrown off by such magic, hold on to your britches. There’s more to come.

Remember that throwaway mention of the Nephilim? They don’t figure much into the Bible story, but in the movie, they’re fallen angels. They spoke up in favor of humanity to God, and they were punished by being kicked out of heaven. They suffered on earth, their golden, fiery bodies becoming lumbering stone monstrosities. Now that they suffer for their choice, they hate human beings and want to kill them. Early in the film, they corner Noah and his family (which consists of his wife and three sons—no wives for them—and the injured little girl that they’ve taken in, who is not mentioned in the Bible at all), but one of them hears Noah’s story and talks the others into helping him.

Here’s another point of difference: God doesn’t speak directly to Noah. Instead, He sends visions. Noah, being just a dude, doesn’t know what any of it means, so he’s on a quest to find his grandfather, who is good at figuring out dreams. This is very important, because this is a story about faith. The problem with faith is that nothing is clear. If it was clear, there would be no reason to have faith. As a result, the message isn’t interpreted properly, which we’ll get to later.

This leads Noah to planting a seed from Eden in the middle of a desolate wasteland, thus growing a great forest, which he then culls to make an ark.

It should also be noted that Aronofsky replaces man’s wickedness with something else: industry. In his version, mankind has razed forests in favor of building giant factories, thus polluting the world and killing most natural things. Hm. Sound familiar? Could it be that Aronofsky is trying to make this silly Bible story, I don’t know, relevant to us?

With the help of the Nephilim, Noah builds his ark. The pairs of animals, birds, lizards and so on come to him, but so does the king of the realm and his warriors. This, by the way, is the guy who killed Noah’s father and now possesses the snakeskin. These guys are savages. They keep slaves, they eat human flesh, they take joy in slaughtering people. Real bad guys.

Obviously, they don’t make it. There are some complications, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. The most important difference between the Bible story and NOAH is Noah’s misinterpretation of God’s intention. Noah doesn’t understand that God wants to repopulate the world with humans, too. He’s of the opinion that God knows He fucked up with humans, and He wants to rid the world of them. Let the animals survive. They did nothing. They’re true innocents. He believes that it’s his duty to end the human race.

Wow. That’s some pretty heavy shit, right? No wonder a lot of people are so upset. Noah knows that he and his wife will be buried by his sons, and then his sons will be buried by his youngest, Lapheth. And he’ll be the last human, and no one will bury him. One problem. Remember that little girl? She’s in love with Shem, but due to her injury, she’s sterile. However, God, through Methuselah, heals her. She’s pregnant on the ark. When Noah finds out, he wants to kill her to ensure his interpretation of God’s plan is carried out.

Any ordinary guy in that situation would take it as a sign from God that he’s wrong. Not Noah. He decides that this is a test. After an argument with the family, he comes to the conclusion that he’ll let her give birth. If it’s a boy, he’ll do nothing. However, if it’s a girl, he will kill the baby.

Heh. As it turns out, the woman gives birth to twins, and they’re both girls. A lot of the climax of the story consists of Noah chasing after her and her babies, intent on slitting the little babies’ throats.

Again, you can see why this film didn’t sit well with most audiences. And you can probably see why this film sat very well with me. This isn’t a Bible story; it’s a horror movie, and it’s a pretty brutal one at that. It is essentially the struggle of one man to help the creator end His own creation. There is a great scene late in the movie when a bunch of violent scenes are juxtaposed together, matching with the first act of violence in history, the moment when Cain murders Abel. This is what Noah is fighting to destroy. It’s the ultimate scorched earth policy. That’s some scary stuff.

Most of the people who hate this movie do so because this is not the Bible story they grew up with. They expected to see a big screen version of it, and they were greatly disappointed. Ordinarily, I would tell these people to go fuck themselves. You can’t get pissed off at a work of art just because it didn’t match your very specific expectations. That’s stupid. However, there are extenuating circumstances with this one, and I’ll get to that in a moment.

I’ve called this Bible story silly many times, but I also recognize that most people don’t agree with me. That’s fine. I understand why that is: everyone who grew up with this story sees themselves as Noah. No one is ever the bad guy of their own story, and while most people recognize their own flaws, they always see themselves as good guys, usually better than most other good guys.

It’s the same thing with zombie flicks. Everyone who fantasizes about the zombie apocalypse assumes that they’re going to survive it. Everyone who identifies with Noah assumes that God would choose them to survive while the rest of humanity ends.

The Noah in NOAH is impossible to identify with. No one wants to see themselves as a guy who wants to stab babies to death. But at the same time, these are the same people who completely miss the point of this massive character flaw.

You all know that I’m atheist. I’m not going to rule out the impossibility of God, since I don’t know everything and all of the evidence isn’t in, but I’m pretty sure, at 99.99999999999%, that God doesn’t exist, which is sure enough to live my life as if He doesn’t. That puts me in the minority.

The argument could be made that God can never give us actual proof of His existence because that would negate the need for faith. I think that’s bullshit, but that’s how a lot of the world looks at it. Everyone else is OK with a creator who plays mind games like a paranoid girlfriend, and that’s fine with me, just so long as no one gets hurt over it. But since 100% of religion depends on faith, that means that God (and that’s a catch-all for whatever deity you wish, not just the Christian one) has to speak through religious documents. This leaves a lot open to interpretation.

Taking the end of Noah’s story in the Bible as an example, people thought this was God giving white people permission to enslave Africans. There are other passages which show why homosexuality is a sin. There are even passages which people used to sentence people to death for witchcraft. Every night, preachers and talking heads use their beliefs to justify all sorts of crazy bullshit.

None of these people EVER wonder if maybe, just MAYBE, their interpretations of the word of God are wrong. You have to be very careful when it comes to this kind of thing. Maybe, instead of wanting help with the end of humanity, God wants your help starting over with people. So instead of jumping the gun and running after your kid’s wife so you can knife your baby granddaughters to death, you should reconsider your interpretations.

That’s the ugly truth that most people who hated this movie can’t face. No one likes being wrong, but people are constantly wrong. Instead of letting things escalate because you’re too afraid of being wrong, you should stop acting like a madman and fix things.

I don’t fault these people entirely, though. Normally I would, but these poor bastards were tricked into seeing this movie by Paramount, or whoever promoted the movie for them. The commercials I saw for this movie were drastically edited to hide a lot of the things I’ve talked about here. I’m astounded by this scam, I really am.

For example, you know the moment in the trailer when Ray Winstone and his warriors confront Noah, and they make a great deal over how Noah’s alone and outnumbered? Noah says, “I’m not alone.” The unspoken implication is that he’s got God on his side, which speaks to the people who are familiar with the story. However, in the actual movie, Noah is not referring to God; he’s referring to the Nephilim, who are hiding as piles of rocks. When the battle begins, they fight for Noah, decimating the king’s men.

Remember the moment when Noah is underwater and surprised? That implies that it is a vision of the coming flood, which viewers understand right away. Edited out of that scene, however, are a bunch of dead bodies floating around. Those expecting the feel-good story from the Bible probably wouldn’t appreciate all of those corpses.

How about the beautiful moment when a warrior throws his sword down and ignites a field with a wave of fire? Well, in the actual movie, the army that was in the field, which also contained the giant Nephilim rock monsters that Paramount is so desperate to hide from potential viewers, and they are ALL EDITED OUT OF THE IMAGE.

There are more moments, but I think you get the idea. Paramount went to great lengths to misrepresent this film in an attempt to get a lot of the people who came out for THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST to come out for this movie. It’s a lowdown, dirty trick, and that’s why I’m excusing all the people who hated this movie for not being what they wanted it to be. I’m disgusted with the studio’s desire to use people’s religious beliefs for purposes of greed.

I don’t think Aronofsky or any of the cast and crew are responsible for this. This is definitely a studio stunt. I recommend the movie wholeheartedly because it’s a wonderful story with great actors and a solid message. But don’t believe the lies of the studio. This is not a Bible story. This is a story. Period.

1 comment:

  1. I've got a request in for it at the library. I know "Requiem for a Dream" was one of the most disturbing movies I've ever seen, so I've got to see this. I have no illusions about the religiosity of the thing, as I read Rolling Stone's review (and now yours). Thanks John.