ADAPTING A BOOK INTO A MOVIE IS HARD. AS THE filmmakers make the story their own, fans of the written story may feel they ripped out the soul, leaving only the shell of a plot in its place. The book-to-movie process gets touchy—especially when you adapt a religious story cherished by millions.
As Darren Aronofsky, the director of “Noah,” told Rolling Stone, “It’s not your grandmother’s bible.”
His “Noah” is the story of a man caught between a wall of water and the judgment of his God. Of course he plants a vineyard after the flood and drinks until wine dribbles down his patriarchal beard and he passes out, depicted in the Aronofsky style of tight camera shots.
Before buying my ticket, I did my research. I read Genesis, starting from the words “In the beginning” through to the end of Noah’s story. I researched Aronofsky’s previous body of work. His other movies, “The Black Swan,” “The Wrestler” and “Requiem for A Dream” are masterful looks into tortured characters.
After doing all that reading, I went into the movie with high expectations. I left the movie realizing I needed to look at the movie on its own terms, not through the lens of the National Religious Broadcasters, not comparing it to the Bible. Aronofsky is telling this tale in his own way. The story is about Noah and how he tries to carry out his Creator’s will.
Most people already know the basic story: Noah lives in the land filled with wickedness, the last of righteous men. According to “Noah,” he and his family live as nomads in the pre-flood world with skies so clear you can see the stars during the day.
But in this post-apocalyptic-like landscape—filmed in Iceland—men are evil, killing both animals and each other.
Noah experiences dreams of a coming judgment. God never speaks directly in the film, never once a big voice from the sky, no Morgan Freeman.
For further insight, Noah takes his wife (Jennifer Connolly), three sons and a girl named Ila (Emma Watson) and travels to see his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins).
The richness and depth of Noah’s world is like that of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth, with relics, history and a future. The cinematography drops you in the middle of this world. Shoulder cams bounce and jolt as the characters run and CGI provided a blank canvas for the filmmakers’ imaginations.
For example, The animals of the movie are not just the familiar, but the strange. It’s the Bible mixed with Darwin’s “The Origin of Species”. Aronofsky appeared in a PETA-produced video saying all the animals in the movie were created in post-production. Every dove, every snake and every dog was produced with pixels instead of feathers, scales and fur.
It was cheaper that way, Aronofsky said, and it fit with the main themes of the story of Noah.
His world also includes fallen angels, the Nephilim. While the Bible mentions the creatures in passing, Aronofsky fleshes out the characters, giving them a back-story reminiscent of Greek mythology.
This is one area where the National Religious Broadcasters Association has a problem. While the movie was being promoted, Jerry Johnson, the president of the NRB, contacted the production studio asking it to post a notice, a warning if you will, to the audience saying this film is not the account in the Bible. Audience members who wanted the real scoop should read Genesis 6 for themselves.
“My intent in reaching out to Paramount with this request was to make sure everyone who sees this impactful film knows this is an imaginative interpretation of Scripture, and not literal,” Johnson said in a statement.
Three weeks before the release of “Noah”, Johnson wrote a series of articles about the movie that included major spoilers to help Christians decide whether or not to see the film. I was not happy when I started to read them.
Yes, Noah is a cherished person for millions of people (cherished so much by some Muslims that the movie has been banned in some Middle Eastern countries because it depicts Noah).
This is a 21st century look at the old character. This time, Noah is dealing with 21st century concerns of doubt and humans’ role in the environment. This indeed is not your grandmother’s Bible.