|Look out! God's coming! And he's meaner than Godzilla!|
The storyteller telling the Noah story faces this serious challenge: how to make the protagonist sympathetic. This is a bigger challenge than explaining the logistics: How one man and his family were able to build an ark capacious enough to accommodate all species on earth and sturdy enough to withstand a flood; how rain could fall hard enough to flood the entire planet; how to feed all those creatures and eliminate their waste products. I've worked with animals and mucking out five stalls every morning was, well, Herculean.
No, the bigger challenge is how to get the audience to sympathize with God, the real protagonist of the story (Noah is just God's tool). The God of the Noah story is all too much like the Pagan divinities of ancient Greece: petulant, fickle, and not all that bright. God creates mankind and loves mankind, but then God turns on mankind, eager to wipe out mankind. God preserves some humans, but among the humans God preserves is Ham, who is accused of "seeing his father naked," which some take to mean that he humiliated, castrated, or perhaps sodomized Noah. In other words, the remnant this God saved is not any better than the masses God drowned. Duh.
I was looking forward to Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" not only for the special effects flood and animals, but also because I wanted to see how Aronofsky would justify his God.
What would be the great evil that Aronofsky would attribute to humanity? Why did we deserve to be wiped out? If this were Cecil B. DeMille, our sin would certainly be sex. Sex sells tickets and entertains audiences. A swaggering, bare chested Yul Brynner married to the very hot Anne Baxter deserved God's smiting!
Aronofsky assigns a much more prosaic sin to humanity: environmental destruction. Noah, Aronfsky's hero, subsists on lichens. This is ridiculous; no one gets to be as beefy as Russell Crowe by eating lichens only. (Jennifer Connelly, Noah's wife, is quite thin and I can believe that she eats nothing but lichens.) The rest of mankind hunts animals, eats meat and mines minerals. Also humans chop down a lot of trees.
Tubal Cain, the king of the bad humans, is a miner. There is a scene where Noah walks through a blasted wasteland of tree stumps. Think of that the next time you use toilet paper, made from trees!!! Also, humans are shown eating flesh ripped from a living animal. People also engage in much violence, and there is a smudgy rape scene. The sin that gets the most attention, though, is environmental destruction.
"Noah"'s greatest strength, for me, was its seriousness. The God of "Noah" is a badass God who gets very, very angry and takes no prisoners. He is a mythic, superhero God who supplies his chosen with "Watchers," giants made out of stone who have glowing, fiery eyes. Darren Aronofsky is a self-described atheist, but he has put a Godzilla divinity onscreen. This God is not New Age. He is not touchy feely. He is not singing Kumbaya. There is such a thing as sin, and if you sin, Godzilla's foot squashes you.
The angry God and sin part of "Noah" surprised me and gripped me. The scenes of humans clinging to rocks and howling as they drowned were powerful and frightening. I would not bring a small child to this movie.
The rest of the movie was only so-so. The special effects were meh. The animals are all CGI; Aronofsky has said that he does not believe in working with real animals, presumably because it discomfits the animals. A lover of good animal footage would get much more enjoyment out of watching any given animal video on youtube than from "Noah." The flood was okay. The stone giant Watchers were interesting at first but quickly became semi-comical. The second half of the movie revolves around a couple of non-Biblical subplots – a stowaway on the ark, and Noah becoming obsessed with killing someone – and those did not grab my interest.