Film Review: Noah (M15+) (USA, 2014)

Russell Crowe as Noah

There’s been a lot of debate about this film, from many angles and many outlets and many voices. On the one hand it depicts an enormous natural disaster with large scale action sequences the likes of which we see in Hollywood blockbusters as a dime a dozen. On the other, it focuses on a very specific story adaptation which in itself is controversial and sparks debate much like the arthouse indie films of the past caused uproar. Somehow Noah manages to straddle these two equally in such a way as to make for a rather difficult review.

Based on the Old Testament story from The Holy Bible, we’re given some of the key elements from the original to form the foundation of the film’s narrative. Noah (Russell Crowe), is a nomadic family man with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and three sons, Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) and his adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson). He has visions that the Creator, displeased with man’s wickedness, will soon destroy the earth wiping out mankind with an enormous flood but sparing the animals and that it’s his task to “save the innocent” by building an ark in order for a new world to begin again. Potentially throwing a spanner in the works of his plan is Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) a self-proclaimed king and leader of hordes of men, bent on boarding Noah’s ark and saving the men at his back rather than the animals at his feet.

Firstly the most important thing to remember is to take this with a large chunk of salt, it’s not serious, it’s a work of fiction based on a work of fiction. Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation is just that, it’s his vision and ideas realised using the basis of the Noah story. There are several deviations from the original Biblical text here that allow Aronofsky creative licence. The most obvious of all is the hulking rock monsters dubbed ‘The Watchers’ who later describe themselves as fallen beings of light, initially coming to earth to protect and help mankind only to be disgusted by man’s evil deeds.

Once discovering Noah has been chosen by the Creator they offer assistance to him in building the ark. Cue the monsters doing almost all the heavy lifting of the building and also violently defending the ark against Tubal-Cain’s armies. Another is the animals, we’re limited to a few very particular close up shots of the wildlife. A couple of which are blatantly CGI to not resemble anything we have in this current age. Though it’s Naameh’s magical incense that puts all the animals into a prolonged sleep state that seems more far-fetched than the notion of an enormous wooden shipping container come boat to house them all. There was definitely at least three points during the film in which I thought to myself “You’re going to need a bigger boat”. The only other moment that left me scratching my head was an interesting time-lapse part of the film where Noah explains the story of Creation and the 7 days. We start off with imagery of the universe, the stars, the galaxies and planets moving forward to the creation of the earth and life itself and fish in the sea changing to animals on land and so on, right up until we reach apes and monkeys and then suddenly we’re looking at Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden. That’s a fairly noticeable gap in explanation there that science and evolution can explain but creationism seems to just assume the hole can be spak-filled.

Putting these things aside though, examining this as a think-piece it’s easy to see why this film has garnered such attention. Notwithstanding the religious extrapolations, Noah definitely focuses heavily on the notion of environmentalism and our place in the world’s ecosystem. It’s made abundantly clear that mankind has defiled the earth and that we ought to be punished for this. If we regard ourselves as the dominant species on this earth, then surely it’s our duty to look after it? Man killing man, man killing beast, man destroying all that was good, all of these things can only end in horror. Russell Crowe’s performance as Noah is intense and gripping. He begins as a man seeking answers but once on his path, deviating from his task is not an option. In a chilling moment, after the floods have come and all the family are trapped on board the ark, he spells out their future. That he and his wife would die, his eldest son Shem and Ila would be next, then Ham, and then Japheth would be the last man on earth, and would die alone. Convinced that the scourge of man needs to end with his family, Noah even descends into madness with near-fatal consequences only to be redeemed by love and free will. The notion of free will and choice is another raised in the movie. Unlike animals, we have the ability to choose how to live our lives and how we conduct ourselves, and this sets us apart and gives us control.

At just under the 2 and a half hour run time it is a little on the lengthy side but it doesn’t ever feel like the film is dragging its heels. There’s plenty of great VFX work done by Industrial Light & Magic to enhance the already stunning Icelandic landscapes and real world scenery. Not to mention the impressive flood sequence and all the rain and water and getting that damn ark to look like it’s floating and surviving on an enduring ocean.

As somebody who initially grew up as Catholic but no longer identifies with any religion in particular, I can see the merits of this films religious angles and the idea of self-analysis and our need to find our place in the universe. But as somebody who has deep seated interests in science, I can also accept that the levels of truth to be found here are marginal at best. Audiences might be surprised at how upon exiting the cinema after having seen Noah you too may end up with somebody in your circle of friends wanting to debate the film.


Runtime: 138 minutes

Noah is out now through Paramount Pictures


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Carina Nilma

Office lackey day-job. Journalist for The AU Review night-job. Emotionally invested fangirl.