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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Noah review: The Bible Episode IV: A New Hope

Noah green light

A Biblical action disaster fantasy epic that is completely bonkers, endlessly entertaining, and actually religious in that inspiring-and-instructional way that you don’t need to take as literal truth to see the wisdom of.
I’m “biast” (pro): mostly love Darren Aronofsky’s movies, love Russell Crowe

I’m “biast” (con): I worry about people who think this is based on a for-real actually-true story

I have read one of the many versions of the source material (and I recognize it as an important work of literature but nothing else)

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

If Sunday school — or as it was for me, Wednesday after-school — had been this much fun, eight-year-old me probably wouldn’t have gotten into arguments with the nuns about how silly it all was: I would have just shut up and went, Wow o wow o wow. Cuz Darren Aronofsky has made a Biblical action disaster fantasy epic that is completely bonkers, endlessly entertaining, and actually religious in that inspiring-and-instructional way that you don’t need to take as literal truth to see the wisdom of. “Don’t break the planet, humans,” is the message here, “or you will get a smack upside the head, big time.”

It’s like an ancient The Day After Tomorrow. It’s The Day Before Yesterday. Or maybe The Day After Old Testament? Whatever you want to call it, it’s kind of awesome.

You don’t even need to believe in Aronofsky’s The Creator — and you won’t want to; she, he, or it is a mean bastard, even without making an appearance at all — to see this as good advice. Because the world the filmmaker drops us into may be full of terrible examples of humanity, all rapin’ and bein’ mean to animals and stuff, but even without the Flood that The Creator promises is coming to wipe them out, it’s pretty clear that the world they’ve ruined is going to kill them eventually, and soon. The lands are ravaged; the trees are dead; the rivers are spoiled. We glimpse the towers of cities in the distance — or are those the towers of Mordor? — but we never visit them; we are beyond Thunderdome here, folks. This could be the same dying world of The Road. This is a world like our own but not our own: Noah stops a gang of postapocalyptic thugs from hunting a weird, not-of-our-Earth scaly beast for its meat, which they ain’t had in they dunno how long. The food is running out.

(Spoiler! The scaly wolfy-piggy things apparently didn’t make it to the ark Noah later builds. Also: no brontosaurs, and no T. rexes. Damn. Maybe the prequel will explain why. Except… right. This isn’t really Earth. Like how Middle-Earth isn’t really Earth, either. Unless you want to squint real hard and hold your breath and wish it so with all your little heart. And then… no, it still won’t be real.)

But there are stars in the sky at daytime. I mean, more stars than just our sun. If you look up, it’s a beautiful place. And Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Fountain) — who also wrote the script, with Ari Handel — does look up. This is not like any Bible movie you’ve ever seen before, all people in robes and sandals in the sand staring beseechingly into Jesus’ beneficent face and seeing nothing beyond that. This is a movie that is big. In an earthly way. Aronofsky frames his people against big landscapes and big skies in a way that inspires awe of the natural world, and fear and shame that people have destroyed it. (If that has a certain relevance for today’s world, well: yeah. Suck on that, Bible believers who think the only way to bring your B.C. beliefs into the modern world is by being mean to gay people and shaming women who like sex.)

And for everything that’s beautiful here, there is something deeply crazy-ass. You have not seen the Watchers in any of the ads or trailers or posters or anything for the film, because they are so audacious that Aronofsky is probably going to be chased by torch-wielding mobs of fundie pastors back into whatever heathen cave in Brooklyn spawned him. I think they make perfect sense in the context of this story: they are a magnificent and awful depiction of the punishment The Creator meted out to those angels who defied her/him/it and came to Earth to help humanity when The Creator expressly forbid that (or so we’re told). But they do also look like something out of Galaxy Quest. I love that Aronofsky has not been guided in almost anything here by preconceived notions about that this literally hoary story is “supposed” to look like.

Anyway, Russell Crowe (Winter’s Tale, Man of Steel) is Noah, who is basically the only decent person left on this planet, except for his family, which features Jennifer Connelly (Winter’s Tale, The Dilemma) as his wife again, so another explanation for this whole implausible story is that it’s just a schizophrenic fantasy of his beautiful mind. He has a dream about the world being destroyed by water, and goes to his grandfather Methuselah for advice, and then The Creator magically makes a forest spring up in this dead land so there will be wood for the enormous ark that Noah takes it into his beautiful mind to build, with the help of the Watchers. (When Noah was climbing the mountain to visit Methuselah, I was all: Oh god please let it be Ian McKellen playing Methuselah. But it’s Anthony Hopkins [Thor: The Dark World, Red 2], which is almost as good. Also: Marton Csokas [Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Alice in Wonderland] plays Noah’s dad, which is like: finally! Someone notices that that is a perfect pairing of actors who could be blood relatives.)

I used to piss the nuns off in Wednesday after-school by asking questions like: “But how come the animals on the ark didn’t all eat one another?” And the nuns would only sputter and get angry. Aronofsky has an answer for that, and again: bonkers, yet perfect. It’s certainly no more ridiculous than anything else we see here.

There’s not a lot that’s happy here. I mean, apart from the whole destruction-of-humanity thing, which is a feature of many disaster movies, there’s a pretty undeniable streak of “yeah, but humanity deserves to die” that is hard to refute from the evidence offered. The nasty bitterness of the Old Testament is in full force. The apparently joyous subplot of Ila, the orphaned little girl rescued by Noah and his wife, who grows to become a wife (Emma Watson: This Is the End, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2) for their hot eldest son, Shem (Douglas Booth), descends into jealousy from sullen, wifeless middle son Ham (Logan Lerman: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, The Three Musketeers), and later pushes Noah into perpetuating that “humanity deserves to die” meme. (Emma Watson is scarily good at crying in terror.)

So: coolness. But also darkness. It’s kind of like the Silmarillion of our world. And that wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs. But monsters and miracles? Always an entertaining story.

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Noah (2014)
US/Can release: Mar 28 2014
UK/Ire release: Apr 04 2014

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated OTRWOGTS (contains Old Testament, Real Wrath Of God Type Stuff)
MPAA: rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate violence, injury detail, threat)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • MimiB

    I sort of agree… yes, I’ve seen it… but no, the stone watchers just took me out of the story. Otherwise, hell yes. It’s a trip I’m glad I took.

  • Hmm.


    Well, Aronofsky is a genius… THE FOUNTAIN is one of my favorite films ever. I guess this one’ll be on my radar for when I can see it at home.

  • Darrell Birkey

    By the way… the animals didn’t eat each other because animals that would eat each other were separated on the boat.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    The animals don’t eat each other because the logistics of the interior of the boat are not the point of this particular piece of 5000 year old folklore.

  • Aronofsky has a much better explanation.

  • How were the Watchers any less plausible than everything else going on?

  • Anthony

    Personally, I found them a little TOO similar to the Ents, and would’ve preferred to see the gray-skinned, tattooed, six-armed giants from Aronofsky’s original graphic novel. I loved the explanation WHY they were jerky stone monsters in the movie, though.

  • Believer

    You should consider that if most people that exist weren’t some form of Christian or at least Old Testament God believers this movie wouldn’t have even been an idea because it wouldn’t make money. Calling God a “bastard”in your critique of a religious movie despite the fact that the people delivering it have no intention of spreading actual truth and faith is pretty rediculous. Cursing in a critique at all is probably immature. You’re supposed to be good with words as a critic. Anyone can curse to portray an emotion or express an idea. Seriously.

  • LaSargenta

    The word “bastard” is not a “curse word”, it is a vulgarity. There is a difference. A “curse” invokes a deity’s name.

  • Bluejay

    You should consider that if most people that exist weren’t some form of Christian or at least Old Testament God believers this movie wouldn’t have even been an idea because it wouldn’t make money.

    So… Clash of the Titans was made, and made money, because most people believe in the Greek gods?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    You should consider that if most people that exist weren’t some form of Christian or at least Old Testament God believers this movie wouldn’t have even been an idea because it wouldn’t make money.

    Yes, just like all those Norse pantheon believers explain the success of the Thor movies. And all the Hellenists explain why we’re getting not one, but two Hercules movies this year.

    Or, you know, not.

    Calling God a “bastard”in your critique of a religious movie despite the fact that the people delivering it have no intention of spreading actual truth and faith is pretty rediculous.

    Anyone else able to parse this sentence?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Ack, I’m too slow. >.<

  • Most people are not Christian. Maybe only a billion out of the seven billion on the planet are. And I’m sure Hollywood is hoping this will do well in China, which is a big new market for its movies, where Christians are a tiny minority.

    Anyway, Jedi are an even tinier minority on this planet, and that didn’t stop the *Star Wars* flicks from making billions.

    ETA: “Bastard” is an awesome word. I should use it more.

  • Allan Bassil

    No sane person, having read the bible, could come to any other conclusion than that god is a bastard. And that’s being generous.

    I’m thankful daily he does not exist.

    As a critic, MaryAnn is good with words. And ideas. And she expressess them well in any way she pleases. Save your typical christian holier than thou finger waving for your Sunday school sessions.

  • Allan Bassil

    Whatever language is used, I’m guessing you are of the opinion that Believer has the option of exercising his secular based constitutional right not to listen to said language.

  • LaSargenta

    Actually, I’m opposed to “bastard”. It is a word of the patriarchy — for starters — and has to do with so-called legitimacy for the purposes of inheritance and whether or not the father of said “bastard” recognizes the child as his. The mother didn’t get any say in this.

    Shit-head is a better pejorative. In fact, I can think of many, many descriptive terms that I’d prefer to use than bastard. Of course, bastard rolls off the tongue nicely in english.

  • Of course. If someone is forcing him to read this web site, he should tell them to stop.

  • Jim Mann

    Thanks for the review. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to see this, but based on what you had to say, I went and quite enjoyed it.

    In many ways, Noah is taking the Bible story of Noah and turning it into proper fantasy. What I mean by that is that fantasy readers expect a level of detail and explanation that makes the fantasy seem real. Middle Earth feels real. So does Westeros. There are enough details there to do that.

    The Bible story of Noah is short on detail, ignoring lots of questions, which fundamentalist simply answer with “God,” but which makes the story feel far less real than many other myths, legends, and fantasy stories. How did Noah and his sons build an ark big enough to hold all the animals? What did the animals eat, and how did Noah keep them from killing one another? When it began to rain, didn’t other people try to pile onto the ark, and if so what stopped them?

    The film, unlike the Bible story, fills in these details, giving the film a reality (or a willing suspension of disbelief) that makes it work for even those of us who view the Bible story or Noah as about equivalent to the story of Hercules (a film for which those of us who saw Noah in the theater near me saw a trailer for).

  • Beowulf

    Everyone should read R. Crumb’s animated book of the complete Genesis. I’m not sure “bastard” is a bad enough word for the God of the Old Testament.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Yes, yes he does.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    From a storytelling logistics perspective, they solve so many problems it’s amazing.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    This is a brilliant film. OK, it’s not perfect; it’s a little to long, mostly due to Ray Winstone, and I’m not at all sure what Ham’s story is. But it’s beautiful. And it’s very clear on the morality tale it’s telling: how can there be such a thing as a “good person” when you know that people are no damn good.

  • Bluejay

    Just saw this, and thought it was excellent.


    I think the whole storyline about Noah intending to fulfill what he sees as God’s will by killing Ila’s infant daughters — and then deciding not to go through with it, even if he believes he’s failed God — is a brilliant (intentional?) counterpoint to the Biblical story of Abraham, who is willing to sacrifice his son at God’s request without a second thought. Ila’s take on Noah’s decision is that God left the ultimate choice to preserve or doom humanity in Noah’s hands — and it’s a choice that remains ours to make, whether we believe in a deity or not. The movie keeps hitting the theme of human judgment and responsibility, and I think it succeeds powerfully.

    I also appreciated how the film is willing to question God’s judgment on humanity by showing that innocent people perished, as Ham points out. Then again, God only speaks to Noah in enigmatic dream-images, so it’s on Noah to interpret the message and decide whether to rescue people or leave them behind. Human responsibility again.

    I loved the Watchers. They seem to be a fantastic spin on the Genesis passage “there were giants in the earth in those days” (or, in other translations, “Nephilim,” who seem to be the offspring of human women and the “sons of heaven” — so a connection to “fallen angels” could plausibly be made).

    I kind of wish that THIS had been the Noah story in Genesis, rather than the story that’s actually there.

  • Bluejay


    Ooh, another thing I loved: how Noah recites the Creation story, but what we see is basically a sped-up version of the scientific account of “creation,” from the Big Bang to the formation of galaxies to the impacts that created the Moon to the rise of life, to the point of showing creatures EVOLVING onscreen (at least until we get to the Garden of Eden part, which shifts to a more mythic, fairy-tale style). Great way for Aronofsky to give a shout-out to science and not placate the Biblical literalists at all.

    And then the silhouette of Cain slaying Abel superimposed with rapid-fire silhouettes of men in various military uniforms across the ages, wielding various weapons, performing the exact same gesture… Just brilliant visuals all around.

  • asimovlives

    This film is barely crazy at all. It’s actually suprisingly extremely conventional to the tropes and narrative beats of a conventional action movie. That for me was the movie’s biggest suprise. And by far the greatest disapointment of Darren Aronosfsky career. Save from some cool details, like the stars visible at daytime, an alien sky at night, the pangea like earth surface continents, and the pretending-they-were-traditonally-animated CGI of the watchers, the way the animals are put to sleep to avoid the old problem of why didn’t hey eat each other nside the ark, pretty clever stuff, but the movie could had been directed by anybody else, there is none of Aronofsky’s trademark crazy camera and sound editing. I have loved all his movies so far, but one comes as quite a disapointment.
    The enviromental algle is risible. It could had been the potential for a good premise for a reinterpretation of the story of the flood, but then Aronofsky goes for the most simplistic and dumb decisions imaginable. God not just is angry with mankind’s destruction of the world, he also hates mankind because they like to eat beef! What crazy nonsense is this? This is vegetarianism sanctimonious bullshit! Made even funnier since vegetariamism started in a completly different tradition from the one that generated the myth of the Deluge, it was created by the hindus as religious pietry to avoid people eat other people reincarnated as animals. Noah makes a whole tits ass of this!
    And this passes as clever? also, the way the movie mistakes the Watchers for the Giants, both were different things althogether. The watchers were not cast from heaven, they were SENT to earth to teach mankind, and they took a liking to the “daughters of men”, aka, the women, and had intercourse with them and from them the giants were born. This giants were the main reasion for God’s desire to reboot the creation with the flood, spreading Adam’s seed through the line of Seth to Noah because they didn’t participated in that abomination, as the bible called. So, God wanted to awash the wlorld clean because there was giants and monsters in thw world, not because of enviromental difilement and meat eating!
    And the thing is, with the very premises as find in the jewish and christian apocrypha, a great kick-ass story could be made. It could had been included issues of enviromentalism, war, atrocities, crime, murder, and cannibalism and sexual depravity (rape, sexual slavery) into he mix to give the story a richer subtext. Instead it leaves and deturps already cool narative concepts for the easiest and laziest possible notions! It’s sad, really!
    I’m an atheist but that doesn’t mean that using the actual apocrypha stuff from the flood myth couldn’t make for a kick-ass movie. It could. In a funny way, this movie is actually more insulting to the old myths, even from the point of view of an atheist like me, then denial of the existence of the flood in the first place.
    And the blockkbuster conventionalism of the movie is mind boggling in it’s stupidity: Noah and Tubal-Cain have a fist-fight INSIDE THE ARK at the climax of the movie??? What kind of bullshit is this? This is Michael Bay/JJ Abrams territory right there. few things could had been dumber! And who actually believed that Noah would kil the babies? Who was dumb enough to fall for such an easy dramatic cheap trick? C’mon!!

    And yet this movie gets a green ball while a truly daring film like Under the Skin gets a red ball? Lady, you are sold to the mainstream something fearce! You better start admiting that to yourself starting now.. You don’t have the endge anymore, you grew old and complacent, you have surrendd to the studios. Just be open about it and put that in the begining of all your revies already: “I support the studios and all that is confortable unchallenging mainstream”.

    Ypou have lost your edge, my dear Maryanne, you lost it. You lost it the day you fell inlove with the first Abrams Trek movie and you have jst gotten worst since then.
    I truly miss the old Maryanne, i truly do. I’m not going to get her ever again.

  • For the last fucking time: I am not your dear. Fuck off with the “lady” condescension, and fuck off with the anti-Star Trek shit.

    No more warnings for you. Next time you fucking mention Star Trek or JJ Abrams in a thread not *directly* connected to them, you are banned.

    I do not belong to you. I am not yours. Get over it.

  • Bluejay

    I really think he’s just doing the “lady” condescension thing to rile you up, MaryAnn. He’s been doing this for a long time, he’s been warned before, and I don’t think he’ll change. I suggest you just ban him now and we can all forget about him.

  • Christian

    If u are a Christian, don’t waste your precious time. It’s not scriptual fr the first line saying :”In the beginning was NOTHING. “GOD was in the beginning…This is blasphemy throughout & should have NEVER been released. Horrible!!

  • KingNewbs

    Ah, excellent. Blasphemy is my favorite.

  • Good thing we don’t live in a theocracy in which blasphemy is illegal.

  • bronxbee

    actually a curse involves the calling down of harm on a person. in chinese, for instance, there is a curse: eat yellow dirt (which is much worse than it sounds in english translation). it involves no interference of a diety.

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