A Second Look At Darren Aronofsky's Noah

Andrew Kotwicki takes a second look at Aronofsky's latest, Noah.

"Who wants a yummy apple?"

Having seen what is coming to be known as writer-director Darren Aronofsky's most divisive personal project since his 2006 metaphysical fantasy epic “The Fountain” (also co-written by frequent collaborator Ari Handel), I found myself less hung up on its shortcomings (which are still there) than I was in awe of its spectacle and rich ideas missing from most multimillion dollar Hollywood blockbusters flooding the multiplexes. That Aronofsky was granted a second crack at an expensive, quasi-religious art film after the financial failure of 'The Fountain' is nothing short of miraculous, whether the final product lands smoothly or not. 

No secret to anyone who has read the Bible or heard the tale through children's books (and a comical take with Donald Duck in 'Fantasia 2000'), “Noah” is the story of a man who receives a mission from God (though his name goes unmentioned here) to build an ark that will house all of the world's animals safely before a massive flood will wash the Earth clean of mankind.  It's a familiar story with several oversimplified low budget renditions that have come and gone through the marketplace, including Aronofsky's own admission production for his film was delayed by a version produced by none other than Hallmark Entertainment. 

"Who let these m@#$%&! f'in snakes
on this m@#$%! f'in boat?"
What separates and gives controversy to Aronofsky's take on the mythical figure is what caused incredible upset in the Christian community and world entire with Martin Scorsese's 1987 take on Jesus, “The Last Temptation of Christ”: an attempt to purvey the mind of the man as he takes on a seemingly insurmountable task.  By painting internal conflict within a man others would prefer depicted germ free, we see the prospect of Noah (and likewise with Scorsese's Christ) teetering on madness as he struggles with God's mission of death as redemptive salvation.  Also germane to Aronofsky's work, particularly “Pi” and “The Fountain”, is his seemingly infinite fusion of ideas about religion, faith, science, ecology and the fragility of the moral human mind at grips with it all into a unique, eclectic mix.  We don't just get a purely Christian take on Noah, but a pastiche of many as one.

This is solid fodder for Aronofsky to explore his tropes of obsessed figures driven to either emotional and psychological heights that either propel his heroes (depending on your point of view) into transcendence or plummet them into oblivion.  There's also, fantastical as the sight of rock giants housing fallen angels and flowers sprouting instantly from raindrops are (no doubt an ode to the Tree of Life finale concluding “The Fountain”), an underpinning of fantasy reflecting the mental state of his protagonist.  As strange and unrealistic as the world of “Noah” may seem, it's an apocalyptic nightmare Noah experiences that gives rise to his new purpose in life. 

"Okay, kid. Call me Odin one
more time and I'll make sure
you don't get on that boat!"
The real error in judgment here (and I stand by this after seeing it again in IMAX) is the inclusion of one character: Cain.  In an attempt to contrast Noah's purity with mankind's contamination, we're provided a sword-and-sandals villain who hurls an army of minions at Noah's ark and the giants helping to build it.  Whether or not you can trace Cain to the Biblical texts, seeing him stowaway on board the ark to provide a final climactic showdown with Noah can't help but diffuse the power of another, more important story arc: should Noah kill his family as well as himself to truly fulfill God's mission?  The sight of Noah from within the ark hearing millions of disembodied human voices screaming for their lives as they cling to a coral reef before being washed to their deaths was more than enough to signal to an audience the weight of such survivor's guilt lending itself to psychological deterioration.  It was a strong, very Aronofskian story thread that, frankly, is interrupted by Cain in such a way that hinders the story more than it was probably intended to.  A real shame and a testament to how one element of a story line can make or break a film.

That said, I'm willing to forgive Cain's trespasses into an otherwise beautiful tale full of heavenly sights and sounds, with far more at stake than simply generating millions of dollars at the box office. Here is a filmmaker that invites believers and non-believers alike to rethink one of the Bible's most iconic chapters in a way that enriches the story and illustrates how deeply it can resonate within our own lives.  It takes an ancient, archaic fairy tale and gives it a modern thrust without insulting the text or average moviegoer's intelligence.  It goes without saying that Aronofsky's mind and passion on an IMAX screen is a rare and wonderful thing.

-Andrew Kotwicki