It should seem abundantly clear that 2014 is the year that the Bible gets its day in theaters. Religious stories and stories told from a religious point of view are slated to hit the cineplexes in a way that I cannot remember. However, the real question is whether or not these stories are worth telling. Christians know these stories like the back of their hands.
So, are we just making these films so that we can tap into the desire to see our favorite biblical characters on screen? Are Christian film makers just seeing if they can convert more people to their ideas? Are they using movies as a way to lash out against their detractors with their own religious counter points to a secular world?
I’m sure there is a bit of that going on in some of the smaller films being produced by right wing organizations, but that is certainly not what director Darren Arnofsky is up to in his epic take on the story of Noah’s Ark. As a matter of fact, he has been getting serious back lash and down right hatred from Christian organizations for a while now. Which is kind of funny to me because this is very close to the story from the Bible.
Yet, it is the things about ‘Noah’ that deviate from the original text that make it such a deep and resonant movie. This is no simple story about a guy who builds a boat and saves the animals in a great flood. This is a film that is much more interested in figuring out whether or not human beings deserve to exist in the first place. It’s a movie interested in exploring the way men destroy everything around them and it’s very much a movie about murder.
Truthfully, it is at times so vicious that I thought someone was going to write REDRUM on the walls of the ark. Especially when Noah starts going all Jack Torrence on his family in the third act. Yes, I wrote that correctly. Noah is not some standard issue good guy in this film. He is a haunted and troubled man, who feels like his creator has tasked him to help rebuild the world because human beings have destroyed it. Sadly, after seeing the atrocities of man up close, Noah feels that perhaps the creator wants all men gone. Which means he may have to kill his family.
I’m getting a little ahead of myself here though. Let me start from the beginning. Most of you know the story of Noah well, but you don’t know Noah as a man. This movie captures who he is from moment one and makes him more complicated than I could have ever imagined him being portrayed on screen. It all begins with a little flower that blooms within a matter of seconds. This flower is taken by Noah as a sign from the creator. He then has a dream of many dead bodies under water and feels it must also be a message.
This leads him on a journey to find out the rest of his dream. Why is he having these dreams and what is he supposed to do? He gets these answers from his grandfather (played by Anthony Hopkins). Who essentially tells him that he is correct in assuming that the world is coming to an end and that he is the only one who can save the world from itself. Then he gives Noah a piece of the original garden of Eden that he uses to sprout the trees needed to build his ark.
After 10 years pass, things get much more complicated. Noah’s adopted daughter is unable to bare children, his sons want the companionship of a women, the leader of men wants to take the ark, and he is also really concerned about whether men should exist in the first place. It is pretty crazy to see Noah grapple with the concept of murdering his family. Who would have expected that.
The performances are all fantastic across the board. Russell Crowe goes from family man to possible psychopath in such a brilliantly subtle way that it’s hard to ever hate the guy. He really makes this movie his own in a big way. The same can be said for Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, and Logan Lerman as well. They are all good enough in their roles that I think many will be moved to tears by their performances.
Still, the real hero here is Darren Arnofsky. What he does with this movie is almost a miracle. This movie is a vivid depiction of characters over plot mechanics. Which is crazy for a Bible movie. Not even the supposed greats ever really dug into the minds of their characters. They just hits the notes that were in the Bible. Which are pretty thin (just ask anyone who has ever read it).
This movie is a totally different ball game. Arnofsky is working at the top of his game here. The cinematography in this movie can be a little shaky, but it’s mostly really beautiful. As is the original score that remains constantly engaging. Then there are the shots Arnofsky and cinematographer Matthew Libatique use to pass time. I won’t ruin them for you, but let’s just say that you will not look at Genesis the same way after you see this movie.
You shouldn’t see anything the same. This is a movie that means for you to ask questions and take no easy answers. It is an exciting, but rough drama that does not shy away from the violence of its time. Bottom line, this is the biblical movie to see this year and I don’t think any other will come close this year.
Review By Nathan Ligon