Unusual Biblical Adaptation Noah Captivates Despite Idiosyncracies

Over the past year, I have become enamored with podcasts. One of my personal favorites is Radiolab, a series of episodes featuring stories and interviews with a broad theme generally relating to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). Though STEM-focused, the podcasts occasionally move into philosophic discussions. These are hit or miss for the most part, and Radiolab has gotten into quite a bit of hot water over the way it has handled certain subjects, but these efforts have produced one of the greatest speeches I’ve ever heard.

The episode, “In Silence,” was actually one of the podcast’s earliest. The episode features a simple recording of a sermon that host Robert Krulwich once gave to a synagogue. Focusing mostly upon the story of the binding of Isaac, “In Silence” is a sadly beautiful mediation on the emotional torment of Abraham, instructed by God to destroy his son, whom he loved most. 

For those who are offended by metaphorical interpretations of scripture, I recommend skipping Noah, an upcoming movie, and listening to this Radiolab episode instead. For those who don’t mind non-literal interpretations, go to Noah, but make sure to listen to this podcast as well, because it makes a fantastic supplemental piece. Also, it’s a hell of a lot more sensible than Noah.

Essentially, Noah represents director Darren Aronofsky’s own foray into the same topic: the anguish of an agent of God tasked to do terrible things. However, while Krulwich approaches his subject with care and patience, Aronofsky hammers it down with about as much subtlety as you’d expect from a big-budget blockbuster.

Noah, of course, follows the title character, whose small family represents the last in the line of Seth (Adam and Eve’s third child). They live in hiding from the “children of Cain,” whose evil “corrupted the planet.” However, Noah receives a vision from God (referred to only as “The Creator” in the movie) saying that the world will be flooded and that he must build an ark to save the planet’s animals.

Not happy with just one Abrahamic story, Noah takes elements from all over the Torah, including the stories of creation, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and even the binding of Isaac.

To this blend of iconic stories, Aronofsky—who was the creative mind behind Black Swan, The Fountain, and Requiem for a Dream—adds perhaps the strangest images and concepts he has ever conceived. 

First off, not only is the world at the beginning of the film clearly post-apocalyptic, it is implied that the plot may actually be set in a future Earth. The film’s fallen angels become coated in rock after crashing and, as a result, look like stone versions of Ents. Noah and his family give the animals that arrive some kind of miracle drug that places them into what is essentially stasis. And there are many more inexplicable images. 

To its credit, the film does manage to wed religion and humanism in a manner that I’ve been thinking about ever since I left the theater. For instance, in a scene upon the ark, we are presented with a depiction of the Big Bang, the formation of the Earth (and the asteroid crash that made the moon), the birth of single-cellular life, and evolution, all set to the story of Genesis. It honestly feels like something out of a Terrence Malick movie. But the humanist heart of the film is Noah.

Aronofsky’s depiction of Noah, played by Russell Crowe—who does a neither good nor bad job here—is fascinating. He is first presented as a strong, thoughtful family man, but, upon discovering that good and evil are not so easily defined in human beings, he soon retreats into nihilism. This is the only telling of the story of Noah’s ark where Noah thought that God was only keeping him around to make sure the animals survived the flood.

There is a certain film studies term that I’ve thrown about in previous columns, but I don’t believe I’ve ever defined it. In cinema, “auteur,” which literally means “author” in French, is a director who involves himself or herself at nearly every level of production: writing, producing, editing, and composing. Every shot, every costume, every cut typically contains the input of the auteur. Every decision made by an auteur is vital, as it leads to a better translation of the director’s specific artistic vision for the production. By studying the various works in an auteur’s oeuvre, one can hope to derive unifying elements and themes in the same way one might analyze a painter’s works.

Well, Darren Aronofsky is certainly an auteur, and if this movie proves only one thing about his work, it is that a middling Aronofsky title is still fascinating.

Dan Brown PO ’16 is a media studies major. You can check out his show, Out of Breath, on the Claremont Colleges Television channel on YouTube.

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