NOAH. Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, and Nick Nolte. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Rated M (Mature themes and violence). 138 min.

This is an American film about Noah and the Ark he built for God. In the movie, Noah (Russell Crowe) has visions of a deluge sent by God, that will cover the Earth, and he wants to protect his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and children, including his adopted daughter (Emma Watson). The film is a commercial competitor with Ridley Scott's upcoming religious epic, "Exodus", which is due to be released later this year.

The producers of the film claim that the movie doesn't deviate a great deal from what the Bible says. It obviously does. In fact, the movie has aroused considerable religious controversy among several Christian groups and prominent Theologians.

Noah's family and hundreds of animals were put on the Ark to survive the flood, but Noah is obsessed with thoughts that mankind does not deserve to be saved, and he has to do what he thinks God wants of him. The term "God" is hardly ever mentioned in the film; reference is nearly always made to "The Creator". In order to give the movie the look of reality, the director of the film, Darren Aronofsky, uses a compelling array of special effects. He creates, for example, an entire animal kingdom.

Aronofsky chooses to depict Noah as a dark, conflicted character, who feels guilt about the lives he has not been allowed to save. The movie has a dominant environmental ethic running through it, and it borrows fantasy figures from other movies. For example, God's six-armed angels led by Samyaza (voiced by Nick Nolte) are called "The Watchers". The fantasy depicted in the Lord of the Ring series has clearly influenced Aronofsky in the film's making, and The Watchers play a dominant part in the film's early action scenes.

Basic elements depicted in the narrative of the Bible remain, such as God's sadness at the wickedness of mankind, Noah's concern for the environment, his risk-taking, and Noah as a righteous man who is motivated to do all that he thinks God is wanting him to do. He builds the Ark to save life on Earth from the flood, but he knows that only he and those on board the Ark will survive. The religious controversy essentially rests in the film offering a complex interpretation of the nature of Noah's righteousness. Noah is depicted as someone who fights with his enemies, putting his will above the love he has for his own family, as he prepares for the worst. Russell Crowe takes the part of Noah with typical charismatic intensity, but he fights almost single-handedly against the dramatic incoherence that lies at the film's heart.

Noah receives regular spiritual and physical intervention from his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), and he makes an unfortunate enemy of his brother-in-law, Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), who storms the Ark with his army. The battle scenes, and the visual spectacle of the flood sent to destroy man-kind, establish the film as one that is focused on action, not words, and the movie has been produced as a Hollywood-style action-epic. Hollywood has never been known to mix adventure sensitively with good religion, and the film offers an interpretation of a Biblical legend that has primarily been made to entertain.

Under Aronofsky's direction, the film is about one man (Noah), motivated strongly by an environmental ethic and pathologically obsessed with doing The Creator's will. It is not a religious or spiritual movie at all, but has been co-produced and directed by Aronofsky as a disaster film along fantasy lines, involving some realistic, contemporary and thought-provoking issues. Strong human interest themes are thrown in for good measure and dramatic effect.

When the final credits roll by, not a lot of viewers will have seen anything in this movie to worry them greatly about what they think the film is saying. It is a film that concentrates more on action and visual spectacle.

Peter W. Sheehan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office fir Film and Broadcasting.

Paramount Pictures

Released 25th. March, 2014.

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