The director of Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood takes on the story of Moses.
It’s a movie with many problems, like most of Scott’s recent epics (Prometheus, Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven), but Scott has a better story to work with here and adds something of value to the world of Bible cinema.
Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings (in theaters Dec. 12) is the year’s second major Old Testament epic from a director who is not a believer — but don’t get Scott started on Noah’s rock-monster Watchers.
The Exodus is probably the Bible’s most cinema-ready story, the perfect Bible-movie subject. Unlike the stories of Noah, Abraham, David, Jesus, Peter, or Paul, it offers a sustained narrative structure, with a clear central conflict between a strong hero and a strong villain, building to a series of grand climaxes.
Father Robert Barron is one of the Church’s best commentators on popular culture today, so I’ve been waiting for his take on Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. He doesn’t disappoint.
This has been a crazy week! I was interviewed about Noah for Vatican Radio, the NBC News website, EWTN News Nightly, Kresta in the Afternoon and The World Over.
“Let me tell you a story,” Russell Crowe’s Noah says to his family in a moment of great crisis and emotion. “The first story my father told me, and the first story I told each of you.” What he recounts are the events of Genesis 1, the creation of the world; and Aronofsky relates them both verbally and visually in a way that bespeaks a confidence in the power of this story to speak to us today: a story still worth telling and retelling.
The punning headlines write themselves: “Noah Awash in Flood of Controversy.” “Deluge of Criticism Inundates Filmmakers.” In the weeks preceding the release of Noah, controversy has swirled around the film — and will no doubt continue to do so in the weeks ahead.
The first major big-studio Bible film in decades is a dark, divisive, personal film from the director of Pi, The Fountain and Black Swan.
Darren Aronofsky’s Noah pays its source material a rare compliment: It takes Genesis seriously as a landmark of world literature and ancient moral reflection, and a worthy source of artistic inspiration in our day.
In a way, the figure of Noah stands over filmmaker Darren Aronofsky’s whole career.
So what’s the deal with the Noah movie? Does it replace the message of the Bible story with a message created by Hollywood? Is Russell Crowe’s Noah an environmentalist wacko? Is God a monster out to eradicate humanity entirely? Get a grip, people.
There’s something instantly appealing about the thought of Spielberg directing Hollywood’s first major live-action take on Moses’ story since Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 crowning achievement, The Ten Commandments.
Although less speculative and less freely adapted than the earlier film, The Ten Commandments shamelessly rips off interpretive conceits and even specific dramatic beats from The Prince of Egypt, from the menacing of Moses’ basket by a passing croc to the foundering of Ramses’ chariot on the shores of the Red Sea, allowing him to live to see the destruction of his army and the escape of the Israelites.
For good and for ill, it’s as much a testament and a fixture of traditional American ideals and affections as a courthouse display of the stone tablets, and as weighty and solid.
Witness the astonishing animation of scale at work in capturing the towering monuments of Egypt, or the host of departing Hebrews: few if any traditional animated films have ever captured the sheer sense of size in this film. Watch the subtle storytelling in an early scene as the infant Moses, caught up in the Queen’s arms, eclipses the toddler Ramses in her line of vision, leaving him standing there with outstretched arms; foreshadowing the rivalry and ultimately the enmity between the heir to the throne and his Hebrew foster brother. Notice the small details in those quiet numinous moments: the pebbles rolling back at Moses’ feet at the burning bush; the halo of clear water around his ankles as the Nile turns to blood; the horror of an Egyptian servant as the surface of the water bubbles and the first frogs begin to flop out of the river onto the palace stairs; an extinguished candle flame or an offscreen sound of a jar crashing as the destroying angel swirls in and out among the Egyptians.
Joseph’s own dreams — the two biblical ones plus an extra one — are the best; I caught my breath at the first glimpse of these dreams, which look like living, flowing Van Goghs. The dream-sky swirls like Starry Night, and the grass ripples under the dream-Joseph’s feet like ripples in a pond. The dreamlike quality of these sequences is undeniable and memorable.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.