Yesterday, I watched the film Noah with my friend Jonathan. I found it to be an excellent example of how traditional stories can be altered and recreated for a new age.
Rather than simply rehashing the basics of the Biblical tale, this film reinterprets Noah as an environmentalist, who is chosen by God to protect the world against the wicked forces of industrialism. Nowhere in the Bible is the exact nature of mankind’s wickedness explained, but here it is clear that the destruction of nature to power a massive industrial civilization is the greatest of mankind’s evils: a parallel is made between this ancient tale and the ecological concerns of our modern age.
The atmosphere of the film, particularly at the very beginning, emphasized the way in which Noah’s story has been recreated. Simply put, we see that the earth has become a gray and desolate wasteland, devoid of signs of nature.
We see only signs of industry: abandoned mines (once containing precious, energy-producing minerals), polluted pools of water, and smoke rising in the distance from great industrial cities. The wastes are patrolled by roving bands of marauders and cruel warlords rule with iron fists.
Although the great flood—a huge apocalyptic event—has not yet come at this point, we see that man’s industrialism has already destroyed the world: this is a post-apocalyptic setting, a warning of what might happen to an industrial civilization that goes too far.
Here’s another way in which the story of Genesis was reinterpreted to appeal to modern ideals: the tale of the world’s creation is depicted in almost the same way that modern science explains the formation of the universe. On the first day, when God creates light, we see a great flash of energy—the Big Bang—followed by the formation of galaxies. Pieces of cosmic dust come together, forming into the Sun and planet Earth.
The living creatures created by God emerge first from the sea, before slowly evolving into reptiles and mammals. Finally, humans appear and enter the garden of Eden. Myth and tradition are integrated cleanly into the modern world’s scientific view of the universe. As this review from io9 notes, this is somewhat reminiscent of the science show Cosmos hosted by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson (not exactly a comparison that we would expect).
While I enjoyed watching as the story of Noah was recreated for our modern world, I was not impressed with the actual details of the plot. The film’s attempts to develop its characters were unconvincing. Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly do a decent job portraying Noah and his wife, but the acting abilities of the younger actors/actresses tended to be pretty weak. Generally, there are no outstanding performances to be seen in Noah. Aspects of the story, though clearly meant to introduce a sense of drama and provide a conflict for Noah and his family to deal with, seemed ridiculous, tiresome, and “gimmicky,” as Jonathan says.
So should you watch this film? It might be worth it if you are interested in seeing how a traditional story can be reworked to fit the ideals of a new society. If you’d like to marvel at the film’s special effects, as a great hordes of animals enter the ark and as Noah fights off a warlord’s army, then perhaps you should give Noah a chance. However, if you are looking for especially strong character development, interesting plot elements, or Biblical accuracy, this film is probably not for you.