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Aronofsky, trying to please both the religious and the agnostic succeeds in jeering at both.

Noah

Directed by Darren Aronofsky

Playing at Various Theaters

Darren Aronofsky's

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Noah is an excellent example of the modern tendency to cram religion and reason into amiable coexistence and, in doing so, to butcher both. And though the Old Testament remains quite safe from those like Aronofsky, anyone who values literature will bristle at the puerility of the script. Had the biblical story been retooled as farce, satire, or intelligible commentary, it might have amounted to a work of value, but the viewer is left with a slur on religious traditions and characters for nothing more than an action-movie cash grab.

Noah

starts off with a recap of the beginnings of humanity-the serpent, the expulsion, Cain and Abel-and explains that the cursed descendants of Cain have spread across the planet (a weird, Pangea-like continent) helped by the Watchers, a number of fallen angels that chose to educate humanity about survival through technology after the fall. The descendants of Cain have degraded the world-denuding the environment in search of a mystical mineral called zohar. In their unceasing quest for this zohar, they slew many of the Watchers in a Hobbesian glut of violence. Fast-forward to the in-film present, and Noah (played by Russell Crowe) wanders the wilderness with his wife and children in cautious solitude. This Noah is something of a pure naturalist combined with a reluctant warrior-think Al Gore as a samurai.

A vision beckons him to see his grandfather, Methuselah (played by Anthony Hopkins), in some far-off land. Accompanied by his exceedingly pretty wife, Namaah (played by Jennifer Connelly), and his children, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, Noah sets across the ashen world toward his grandfather's mountain. Along the way, he meets a rogue Watcher (played by a CGI rock creature) who elects to assist Noah. More visions and the bland "wisdom" of his grandfather convince Noah that "the Creator" is planning to annihilate the world in a flood and Noah must build an ark to save the animals and his family. Aronofsky tries to keep one foot in the secular world by declining to show or let the audience hear from God directly and, by placing a veil between the viewer and God, he allows the skeptic a chance to accept the bizarre events as having natural explanations.

The results of this strategy are muddled. In Genesis chapter six, Noah is described as a perfect and just man. God tells Noah that he will be destroying all life on Earth, but that he will establish a covenant with Noah and keep his family alive. Much of the drama of the film revolves around Noah's certainty that God has commanded him to make sure that his family will not procreate after the waters subside, resulting in the end of humanity, rather than its salvation. Which makes the whole journey pointless. Why not just let them die in the flood? Instead of the just man described in Scripture, the film gives us a homicidal lunatic chasing after his son's wife to stab her two newborn daughters to death. Of course he doesn't, but he vocally regrets his inability to follow the creator's orders to commit infanticide-an order found nowhere in the Old Testament (unless you count Abraham). If this is Aronofsky's way of portraying the story of the Bible, he's only insulting the source material.

The second insult is to try and couch the Creation in secular imagery. On the ark, Noah gives an elaborate story of how "the Creator" made the world. As he gives an unpoetic version of the first chapter of Genesis, we're shown galaxies forming, the accretion of the earth from dust, the primordial seas, primitive life taking shape, and the disjointed evolution of apes. The ape never "evolves" into a human. Instead, man is shown afterward, standing in the garden, glowing and naked in his pure state. Besides some unintentionally stupid scenes, like Noah insisting that these things are taking place over "days," or birds coming into existence before land animals, the Aronofsky story is not brave enough to take a stand between evolution and biblical creation-leaving man as a created entity among evolved animals. Thus, by trying to please both the religious and the agnostic, Aronofsky succeeds in jeering at both.

The strongest moment of the film is also the bravest. Aronofsky lets us see the people left behind, awash on the last remaining crags of earth, with the seas rising around them. We don't meet any of them-that might sour the mood too much-but at least an acknowledgment is made of the suffering of the unchosen. As an aside, it was admittedly clever of Aronofsky to have the only humans trying to climb aboard the ark be murderous thugs. Instead of Noah shutting the door on a pleading crowd, he beats them down, axe in hand, as their legions charge him. But, in the end, Noah is a cheap, unprincipled, irreligious, and offensive movie. It refuses to confront any serious philosophical issues in Genesis, degrades the source material, and slaps the moviegoer in the face. Like Noah, you'll want to get soused and stumble around naked afterward just to get the film out of your mind.

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