Thoughts On: Noah (2014)
A loose adaptation of the Genesis flood narrative.
I’m a huge fan of Darren Aronofsky’s work, he’s one of my favourite directors and has made some amazing films, but, this is a pretty terrible film. Before getting into all of this and eventually providing something of a re-write of this story, I have to say that I will of course be talking about and around a religious text. If you’re not into hearing about that or don’t like people to criticise, poke or prod at The Bible, then this post is probably not for you. That said, the main fault in this film is its source. The story of Noah’s Ark is just a pretty dumb one. We all know the main critiques and there’s not much worth in outlining all of them. All I’ll then leave you with is a link to Joe Rogan’s Noah’s Ark bit:
Now, whilst there are a plethora of holes in the story of Noah’s Ark, Aronofosky’s Noah does attempt to fill a few of them. One of the obvious holes is, how does Noah build this ark? Well, not only does he get help from God with a magic forest, but he gets help from angels – The Watchers. And in this, we see the most sensible way to handle this story; just say it’s all magic. Whilst this sounds satirical, I say this genuinely. Noah is obviously a fantasy. And I mean to talk about the film, not the religious text, here. With Aronofsky’s Noah being a fantasy movie, it should certainly embrace this idea of magic and divine power – something we will return to.
Another hole this movie tries to fill is, how do the animals inhabit the ark for 40 days? Well, we see that they’re put to sleep. This is a half-assed solution though. They’re still going to need food and, how did they get there? You could say magic, but, this is certainly a plot hole nonetheless. Next. How does civilisation rebuild itself? This is a crucial point that is kind of answered, but not really. With the ending, we get the disturbing implication that the two baby girls will be impregnated by their uncle – maybe their father and maybe their grandfather. Not cool. But, we also see Ham, one of Noah’s sons, leave. What is implied here is that he’s going to search for people that survived the flood. If this is true, then it is also implied that the flood wasn’t meant to, or just failed to, wipe out all humans. This is a huge problem. The first and most faulted reason why is the fact that God is said to be giving humans a new start. However, he does this with murder; by abandoning hope for the vast majority of humans and refusing to teach or see them evolve. To let some survive with a silent ‘assertion’ that they are better than everyone else is ridiculous. Moreover, who gets to survive? Well, in this story it’s clear that God decided that it’s just Noah’s family. However, with Ham going off in search of others whilst Noah, the enlightened one with a direct line to God, stays, we get the implication that, as Joe Rogan says, those with boats, their shit must work. In other words, some people must have survived by the force of their own will – by getting in boats and riding the storm out. If Ham encounters a civilisation of these people, won’t they (at least some of them) hate God? Won’t they be exactly like Tubal-cain? They survived in face of God, they are their own higher power, they are the rulers of their lives. Why should they love or respect a God that failed to kill them?
This is quite a big issue with the film’s final act. However, if incest isn’t humanity’s only hope, then the film does imply that the new start that humanity has been granted is one in their own hands. This is the profound diamond in the rough (a whole lot of rough) of this story. The implication with this version of Noah’s Ark with Noah having to decide to see the good in people and love them is certainly its strongest attribute. What Aronofsky then tries to say with this narrative is tantamount to him stitching the Genesis stories of the Old Testament to the lighter Jesus-centric stories of the New Testament. In such, he takes aspects of Jesus’ teachings that are accepting of people, that love unconditionally and so on, and mixes them with ideas of an Original Sin and humans being inherently broken. Whilst there is still a lot of debate in this film to do with God staying silent and humans being self-sovereign – as posed by Tubal-cain and possibly the survivors of the flood – this is the main redeeming factor of Aronofsky’s Noah.
To round off the positive aspects of this movie, I have to say that I like the inventive insertion of the angels – even a few of their action sequences. Whilst I don’t think that they’re used to their full capacity, I like the idea of them. Moreover, there’s quite a few interesting plays with time lapses as well as the dream sequences across the film. It’s in these small moments that Aronofsky demonstrates why he’s considered a great visual storyteller. And finally, we do get a few good performances out of Connelly, Watson and Hopkins. Having said that, let’s dive into what’s not so great about this movie.
Beyond the logic problems we’ve begun to touch on, this is a terrible script. Ari Handel also collaborated with Aronofsky to write The Fountain, and in both of these scripts I see a common problem. This is simply to do with the execution of a great idea. Whilst Noah’s Ark is pretty much just a dumb story, I think most screenwriters would jump at the chance to work some sense into this as a film. This is because, whilst a lot of ancient stories, especially religious ones, have their many faults, they have inherent attributes that talk to people in a profound and lasting manner – a manner which lasts hundreds or thousands of years. There is certainly the fact that people propagate and force these stories onto one another and children that contributes to this, but there is also great scope and fantasy captured by religious stories that mimic other ancient forms – like Greek myths and legends. This is why a screenwriter would love to jump on this kind of story. And this is what Ari Handel has done; he’s tried to tackle this monumental beast of a story, but, unfortunately, just hasn’t put enough detail, thought or scope into this film for it to work. Moreover, the dialogue is just full of constant bland aphorisms or exposition – which is pretty grating. And added to this, most of the characters in this film are entirely forgettable. I like the arcs of Noah, Ham and Ila, and I also like what Tubal-cain represents as an antagonist. However, all of these characters are mere devices. They very rarely jump off the page and seem like real people. In such, there is always a distance at which we’re held at when it comes to characters, which gives this film a particularly stiff texture. And this is something we see in a vast majority of adaptations of old stories or costume pictures. It’s incredibly rare that we get something like Aladdin, Gone With The Wind, Cries and Whispers, Braveheart or My Fair Lady. These films go back in time, but don’t become stagnant, formal and boring – as many other costume picture do.
As we are already, we should continue to bridge the gap from script to film and take a look at Aronofsky’s direction. Not only does he direct his actors to spew boring lines and take on rigid performances, but he shoots them in the most frustrating way. And this is one of the most disappointing aspects of Noah; Aronofsky often seems like he’s given up and isn’t trying. He films almost every single dialogue scene with painfully repetitive close-ups and wides. His grasp of cinematic language in this film is then incredibly poor. He just frames an awkward handheld camera before his actors’ face, lets the scene play out, then sets up a wide shot for extra coverage and that’s it. There is next to no expressive direction in any scenes. All we get is bland CUs, wides and POV shots – sometimes a crane or aerial shot with a bunch of CGI in. As said, this is just disappointing. There is only a handful of sequences, like the dream or time lapse scenes, where you can actually feel Aronofsky trying to craft a great film. Another downfall in direction comes down to world building. I can sum this up with this image alone:
Noah is chopping this piece of wood with an axe. If you’ve had just one shop or design-technology class, you’ll know this is pretty stupid. If you want to accurately cut wood, you’re going to need a saw. And you can’t even say that these characters haven’t the means to make one, just look at the serrations on this knife:
So, not only has Noah got a terrible aim, but he’s trying to construct an air-tight ship that holds what I can only imagine to be hundreds of tonnes with axes, hammers and rope. A bodged, half-assed job simply won’t do – not even with God on your shoulder. The axe and this image are then so pivotal as we actually never (as far as I’m aware) see a saw in use during this movie. Moreover, we only ever see a measuring device in use once. And when we look to scenes depicting metal work…
… yeah, give me a break. What these small details expose is the fact that Aronofsky does not have a grip on his story and its context; that he doesn’t have the confidence or care to actually build a believable world. We see this in this image as well…
Yes, this is a terrible CGI creature (of which there are many), but it’s also… an alien thing. We see this throughout Noah, weird, new creatures, but never really explore their place in the world. Why implement these elements if you don’t care to properly integrate them into the narrative? To then conclude Aronosfky’s and Handel’s terrible world building, we only have to look at the opening.
There is no scope given to this world; so many things are just mentioned or implied. This simple opening exposition is intriguing and looks good, but, it is gratuitously ambiguous and ultimately leaves us in a disorganised and thrown-together world.
Moving on from here, like with the axe and plot holes of this story, there are many lapses in logic. There are three kinds of bad logic in films. The first is all to do with character motivation. In Noah, we aren’t seeing characters with the IQ of slasher film characters. However, they do not raise or debate key questions. We won’t delve into these as we already have in the introduction – moreover, we can all critique the logic of Noah’s Ark as a story. Moving to the second kind of bad logic in movies, we come to action. Again, we don’t get the dumb action seen in bad slashers or fight films in Noah, but…
… there are a few poor moments of action. As said, the animation of the angels as they fight is pretty tremendous. We see great, fluid mobility in them with a use of their many limbs that is pretty cool and somewhat reminiscent of actions scene in The Lord Of The Rings. However, the hand-to-hand combat between people is choreographed and played out in an amateur-ish manner. What’s more, the direction around these sequences is incredibly bland.
The last kind of bad logic in movies is all to do with narrative. We’ve discussed this quite a bit already, but, there’s a really annoying detail in this film that I don’t understand. As Noah tells the Genesis creation story (the universe being created in 7 days), we get assisting imagery. In this, we come to the part where Cain kills Abel. Noah uses this to discuss how all people are corrupt and we get the corresponding imagery of dozens of silhouette figures throwing weapons. In this flickering flurry, Aronofsky inserts this:
I’ll give you a moment to see what’s wrong with these images… Yeah, there’s guns and grenades being thrown. This makes absolutely no sense at all. The obvious lapse here is that Noah doesn’t know the future and so we shouldn’t be seeing into it. However, you could argue that this is a form of diegetic commentary. Diegetic often refers to sound that does not come from the world of a story – something like narration. With these images that do not fit into the world of Noah, you could argue that Aronofsky is suggesting that there is an evil in people that exists in all forms of combat. However, this still doesn’t make sense. This story is all about the character’s present. To insert this is tonally inconsistent as it suggests that the new beginning Noah seeks is a false and pointless one. Despite the flood, there are still going to be thousands of years of war. The rebuff you may offer to this is that the film is all about humans finding a capacity to love and care for one another – to see the good and slowly improve. What this image then says is that, despite the war to come, what Noah learns in this story effects humanity in a positive manner; one that has us work towards something better and will eventually have us find peace. This is all bullshit though. Why would humanity need to be almost destroyed by a flood if the moral of the story is that we should slowly learn to improve? Isn’t it better to start bettering humanity now rather than killing everyone?
What these images then demonstrate about the narrative logic of this film is that it is faulted in combining New Testament and Old Testament philosophies. To clarify, whilst there isn’t such a stark and simple divide between the two, the New Testament, with, again, Jesus-centric stories about redemption and forgiving those who do wrong, has a different thought process than that demonstrated with an idea such as Original Sin that is present in the Old Testament. The Jesus-esque ending of Noah doesn’t need elements of Original Sin (people being broken) to function as the ending is more about aiding people, not condemning and punishing them. Aronofsky inserting this almost diegetic commentary about the future is suggestive of an Original Sin – something that does not align with the positive ending.
My key point here is not just on logic, however. What we see throughout this film is a heavy use of style – but one that doesn’t always support the story. So, with the above images, we see an attempt at creating visual commentary in a provocative manner. We also see this in a lot of the CGI. From the animals to the backgrounds to the settings, this film is often given a strong aesthetic that doesn’t successfully build a world or immerse you in story, nor provide further commentary, instead, just create something that’s sometimes nice to look at. Whilst this isn’t true throughout the film in some of the better sequences, it is evident in many parts and ultimately cheapens the film.
Moving away from plain criticism, I want to start asking how this movie could have been better. To start, I think this film was pretty much doomed to fail from the very get go. Whilst I appreciate that Aronofsky was going to make a certain kind of film, one that may not have been granted the biggest budget, this needed to be a 3-4 hour epic. I know some people hate long movies, but I think that certain kinds of stories, when done well, need this run time. The best example you could provide in support of this is certainly The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. This story could’t have worked as a singular 120 minute film, it couldn’t have worked as two 180 minute films, it had to have been three 3-4 hour films. And I say this as someone who will happily devour the extended editions time and time again. My point is, however, if Noah was 3-4 hours long, it would have been given the capacity, or means, to be great.
So, how do we fill this huge narrative space? First things first, Aronofsky is probably the right guy for the job. All he brings to this film in terms of his better ‘artsy’ sequences as well as the attempt to tell this story with many revisions is excellent. However, the narrative of Noah, as is, needs to be bulked up with more world building and a traditional quest plot. What I mean to suggest by this is that Noah needs that Greek epic kind of structure where we follow a hero on a quest. The bulk of the film should have then been following a much more active Noah as a complex hero figure. Our introduction to him as a man should have been a brief one that introduces us to his family and works in a bit of character. After having his premonition, Noah should have then journeyed with his family to his grandfather. On this journey, we’d get a similar sequence to the one where Noah finds Ila as a little girl. However, the action here should be much more immersive, character-driven and not solved with the introduction of the angels. The angels should have been saved for later on in the narrative. Having escaped from the men, having built that conflict and danger into the world, the narrative should have rested at a point where the family re-collects with Methuselah. We’ll hold here for a second to jump back to the introduction of the movie.
The introduction to this film should have been more of a first act. In such, the story of Cain, Abel and so on should have actually been put on screen. From here we should have seen, in some amount of detail, the world devolve into chaos. In this sequence, we should have become familiar with certain pockets of society – the descendants of Cain, such and so on. This would build the world and establish a greater scope to this story – something that will become pivotal as we move on.
Knowing the world and story of Noah better and having got to the point where Noah’s family find Methuselah, we should follow the people that attacked and chased them…
… back to their clan. This would give us another opportunity to learn about the societies and, more importantly, Tubal-cain as an antagonist (assuming that they are apart of his clan). With this sequence over, we should return to Methuselah and Noah. Methuselah should serve as the wise mentor of Noah, our hero on a quest. He should aid him as he does with the tea, but also send him to find the angels. This is where we adhere more to the traditional quest narrative. So, in searching for the angels as an aid to build the ark – assuming they will tell him how to make it and so on – we should introduce more aspects of characters as well as bring Methuselah along. What Methuselah’s purpose would be is to bring this…
… into the movie. This is what I believe got people excited about Noah. It is implied that angels and descendants of Adam and Eve once had great powers. Methuselah, using his knowledge and magic, should be teaching Noah how to find and use his own powers across the narrative. What’s more, he should be training Noah’s family too. This is certainly where the magic side of this story should have been capitalised on. Noah and his sons should be taught how to fight and do magic shit by Methuselah. Methuselah may even teach his wife and daughter to look after the animals, giving them magical powers to both call them and care for them. If the women learn this early on, the animals would have many years to get to the ark as it’s built and also care for them as they’re on it.
However, coming back to their quest to find the angels, their confrontation could possibly be another action scene where the family and Methuselah must get The Watchers to help them. And these creatures should not be as weak as they are. They should have great power and have receded into darkness having lost faith in people – but, waiting nonetheless for someone to right everything. All of this should be demonstrated in the confrontation. And after the angels are won over and the seed is planted, the building of the ark should commence. It should be implied that over the years, animals migrate to the ark and that Methuselah, as well as the angels, continue to teach Noah’s family. The angels should be teaching them all about construction as well as the word of God and so on, whilst Methuselah trains them in the crafts of magic and combat. Most importantly, people should be sawing wood.
Before this time lapse sequence occurs, however, we should come back to the already established Tubal-cain. He should confront Noah, just as he does in the film, with the angels eventually warding him off before an attack. After he leaves with the promise that, if the flood does come, he will attack, Tubal-cain should reflect on seeing Methuselah – and maybe some evidence for Noah’s powers. As his clan sets up camp, using the magic forest Noah seeds, Tubal-cain should then go on his own quest to recover the sword that does this…
Fuck, yes, right!? Forget this weird gold shit that is never integrated into the narrative…
Tubal-cain, too, should have powers as he is a direct descendent of Cain. And just as his people took the snake skin from Seth’s descendants, they should also take the sword. Tubal-cain should recover this as his people thrive in the newly founded lush lands around the ark – which are constantly populated by travelling creatures.
So, after a time lapse sequence, the ark should be built, Noah’s family should be well-trained and well-prepared. Here conflicts between the family should start to swell – this means the whole thing of Ham wanting a wife. This sequence should then play out in a similar way to what we see in the film. As this goes on, however, we see Tubal-cain recover the magic fire sword and return to his clan – the pocket of his kingdom that is most pivotal and supposed to be thriving in these new lands. However, as in the film, the state of the settlement isn’t great. People are raping, polluting and managing their resources terribly. It’s here where Tubal-cain’s conflict with God should be emphasised. He feels that God has left them to this terrible situation and so plans to re-establish his kingdom as some kind of tangible God of Earth with his newly recovered weapon. However, the rain starts to pour – day after day. Instead of leaving his clan to start the recovery of his kingdom with his new weapon (by conquering new lands and so on), Tubal-cain stays. He begins to believe that Noah is right about the rain – not that he is a mad man. In such, he decides that he must attack Noah’s settlement, if not just for the ark, but for another one of those seeds from The Garden of Eden that Methuselah might possess. So, as Tubal-cain’s settlement rallies for war, Noah prepares for the flood.
It’s been raining for days and animals have moved into the arc – all facilitated by Noah’s wife and Ila. It’s here where we get the sequence in which Ham runs off to find his own wife after Noah returns having failed to find anyone in Tubal-cain’s camp. Noah lets him go and stops anyone going after him in a rage. Night falls. Noah waits for the flood to wash the ark away whilst his family keep distant. It’s here where the oldest son should be sent to find his brother by his mother before she convinces Methuselah to do something to reverse Noah’s insane and suicidal ways. He says he will try, let’s her go, but then calls back Ila. This is where he uses his magic to fix her womb. Here we cut to Shem, the older brother, searching for Ham. As in the film, he should have already found a girl. Instead of falling into a ditch, however, he should have used his training to save a particular girl from being sold for meat. This would add more action into the film and give a chance for better character-work in both Ham and the girl. So, having saved this girl, Ham moves out of town, being careful not to be seen by anybody – but ends up running into his brother who confronts him. As these too argue, someone identifies the boy who used powers to save a girl and kill a few people. They alert others and here we have the start of a lot of conflict.
Ham and Shem fight off the initial horde that attack them. But, the king is notified that Noah’s family are attacking and taking women. He now feels that he knows for sure that the flood is coming and that Noah/God conspires against him. He sends out the signal for the attack on Noah to commence. Meanwhile, Ham and Shem escape their small battle, moving through the forest with Ham’s woman. However, they are caught up with and ambushed on the edge of the forest. The angels spot the conflict and alert Noah who goes out to help. It’s here where Ham fails to protect the girl. She is split from him in the melee. He’s pinned down, about to be killed. But, in comes Noah. He saves Ham, gets him to his feet and out of the forest, leaving the girl to be taken and killed. Shem and Noah move behind the line of angels and into position to protect the ark – Ham is thrust into the ark and kept there. This is where Tubal-cain’s army attack. The war plays out with an emphasis on more magic, power and so on. In short, it’s the epic peak of the narrative that ultimately plays out much like it does in Noah. Tubal-cain uses his fire-sword thing to eviscerate people, Methuselah dies in the conflict and so do all the angels. However, the Earth quakes, water spurts from the cracks and a huge tsunami moves toward the army. Tubal-cain tries to use his weapon to send huge waves of fire at the surging water, evaporating it, destroying the land around, but it is not enough. One of the last angels pounce at him as they explode – the sword is taken and destroyed in the maneuver. The army starts to flee and Noah’s family move into the ark. Before the tsunami consumes all, the injured Tubal-cain uses his powers to force his way into the ship. From here, the rest of the narrative, as seen in the film, should play out as is.
The reason why I say that the last hour or so should be left in tact is that it is pretty good as is as it captures a lot of the dramatic conflict between the family as well as introduces the key moral dilemma. All that I’d suggest is that the final confrontation between Noah, Tubal-cain and so on should be better – as assisted by their powers. This should then probably take place on the top of the ark and be given more scope. Way before all of this, however, on the first night of being on the ark, Shem and Ila should copulate so that we have the baby conflict. It’s here where we run into logical problems though. If it only rains for 40 days and 40 nights, how can Ila have been through a whole 9 month pregnancy? You could imply magic, but maybe not…
Abandoning our re-write of Noah, we should revert back to looking at logical problems in the film. The biggest problem with the story of creation and Noah’s ark is both incest and the existence of gene pools. By completely disregarding Noah’s Ark as a story from The Bible that you’re supposed to see as real, we can actually fix this as well as a lot of problems in The Bible. Yes, I said it and it’s probably blasphemous – we’re about to re-write The Bible.
The problem with Genesis is the ambiguity of this kind of imagery…
Adam and Eve, those two gold figures, aren’t really painted out to be very human or apart of a reality we know. Not only can they talk to animals, but they can produce children that can continue to screw each other to produce millions of viable people. What is implied here is that maybe they have a super genome (what can otherwise be called a soul) – one that can be split, mixed and cut up many times over. How this is possible, I don’t know. Let’s say it’s magic and that a genome is a super soul created by God. And because Adam and Eve are magic with God-like souls, they also have super powers. When they are cast out of Eden, they are forced to rely on these powers and become Gods themselves; they are forced to create life. So, what they do is screw and produce 3 children. These children have powers and super genomes that can be split over and over. However, the more that the genomes or souls are split, the weaker they become. The implication here is then that humans where once literally made in the image of a God – we were divine. By falling to Earth, we were forced into mortality – not instantaneously though. This is a process that takes thousands of years, many generations; our divine genome splitting to the point that we, as a species, are weak – are human. However, Noah, descendant of Seth, is apart of a line of humans that have a stronger genome than others. Remembering this, we can take a quick look at the beginning of Noah – our version of the narrative that is.
The reason why Cain’s descendants are destroying the world is that they live by a terrible consumerist philosophy and have souls that have been split too many times. They are fractions of Gods, devolved and are destroying themselves. This is why they must be wiped out – so that Seth’s lineage may take over the world. However, the key difference between the two, beyond the de-evolution, is simply their philosophy of life. Seth’s lineage do not just consume, they attempt to think, conserve and preserve the Earth. This is why God gives them to a chance to start again. Why would God do this? Well, maybe he forgave Adam and Eve after they died, let them into heaven and now they’re elbowing him in the side, telling him to help their descendants.
This hopefully explains many elements of our version of Noah. There are many more intricate details we could discuss about creation in general, evolution and so on, but we won’t dive too deep. Instead, we’ll jump to the point in our narrative where Noah’s Ark is floating in the flood.
Instead of Shem and Ila screwing one another here, Adam and Eve could be giving God another dig in the side, telling him to put a baby in Ila’s newly functioning womb. They may even do this themselves. In fact, it makes an awful lot of sense that it is Adam and Eve who are the Gods of this narrative. After all, they are humanity’s literal parents – it is they who care about us–not the God who gave up on us as he threw us out of Eden. So, what Adam and Eve do is use their powers to inseminate Ila with the potential for a new line of humans; a brand new soul and a fresh genome. So, when the baby grows and breeds with Noah’s children it’s not really incest and there can be a continued lineage of humans that don’t mutate or come out all fucked up. However, there is still that de-evolution which must be counter-acted with new virgin births. It’s here, thousands of years later, where a new superhero is then born… Jesus.
We cannot forget, however, that Ham has gone off in search of the other descendants of Cain. If he breeds with them and they mix in with the new lineage of Ila, we can see humans spreading across the world, creating a diverse species that is slowly devolving, their souls or genomes splitting, but also progressing in their philsophy, culture and technology. It’s in this vast implied future of this narrative that other religious stories and figures could be incorporated – which all magically tags on to the Marvel and DC Universe with mutants, superheroes, Gods and so much more… all before humans create The Matrix and… God knows?
That aside, Noah is a film that has a lot of problems, but is very open to a creative treatment. What are your thoughts on this film and do you think I’m nuts?
P.S. I can be your new cult leader if need be. If L. Ron Hubbard could do it, so can I. You don’t know where I got this information – it could have been Gods or aliens. To find out the truth and to cut past this satirical veneer, reach out to me and bring your wallet with you.
P.P.S. Hollywood, you’re into remaking movies. Hit me up if you want to get this done. I see this a lot of potential in this cinematic universe. Just make sure you bring your wallet with you too.
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