Noah: Cloudy With a Chance of Mercy 

Glenn Beck misses the boat

Glenn Beck hates Noah. That's reason enough to pay this film some respect.

Saying that he hoped it would be "a massive failure," Beck called Noah "a slap in the face," normally not an issue for someone who actually knows his Bible; maybe it slipped Beck's memory that Jesus twice reminded followers to turn the other cheek.

Speaking to an estimated 10 million daily radio listeners March 21, Beck cautioned that Noah included "dangerous information" that teaches "planet over man." One big problem: Beck hadn't even seen the movie.

So, why does this self-anointed prophet of the airwaves hate the movie so much? Maybe it's because Noah asks us to consider mercy instead of justice and to rethink our charge to protect our greatest gifts: the planet and its creatures, great and small. I'm more inclined to side with Raymond Flynn, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, than Beck. In the March 21 edition of the Boston Herald, Flynn wrote, "When people watch this movie, I am convinced it will lead to a broader discussion about the Bible among believers and nonbelievers alike."

Deep in the heart of Noah (and this movie has a massive heart) is the challenge of making a 21st century film that belies 20th century movie incarnations of Noah, which felt like cartoons, such as The Bible: In the Beginning, directed by and starring John Huston as Noah.

This is not the Noah you sang about in Sunday school, nor does his ark resemble a pet-friendly love boat. But it still asks us to believe the unbelievable: a catastrophic flood left behind a handful of humans charged by God to hold dominion, but not dominance, over the creatures of the Earth. Therein lies director Darren Aronofsky's greatest strength and, I assume, Mr. Beck's greatest weakness. This film speaks with clarity to our response to the delicate balance of our ecosystem and, more profoundly, our ever-looming propensity for animal cruelty.

Aronofsky and co-screenwriter Ari Handel reportedly consulted Judaism's Book of Jubilees, Book of Enoch and the Dead Sea Scrolls in crafting their multi-layered Noah, which heretofore had only been crafted in previous film versions from the scant four chapters of the Bible's Book of Genesis. And Old Testament purists may cut Aronofsky some slack for his vision of a giant brick-shaped ark, which is actually closer to the Bible's description of a rectangular prism. The giant rock creatures that protect Noah (and resemble something out of Transformers) are actually derived from the Nephilim, also in Genesis, thought to be human/angel hybrids that crash-landed on Earth. And while the actual word "God" is not used often in the film, Noah repeatedly speaks of "The Creator."

For Noah himself, Aronofsky chose well in the human hulk that is Russell Crowe. Just this side of madness, Crowe embodies Noah as a man of great remorse but immense bravery. And the real stunner here is Jennifer Connelly as Naameh, who worked with Aronofsky in 2000's Requiem for a Dream, and alongside Crowe in Oscar-winning perfection as husband and wife in 2001's A Beautiful Mind from director Ron Howard. Here, Aronofsky allows Connelly to fully explore Naameh's intensity and doubt; and when she is great, which she is in Noah, Connelly reminds us that she is one of her generation's finest actresses.

Noah is not without flaws. It is 20 minutes too long, and there is much in the film that is unusually mystical: a magic seed grows an instant rain forest from a blighted landscape, and magic potions put all the animals aboard the ark to sleep.

But Noah's powerful cinematic vision is unmistakable. For example, when evil spreads across the Earth, it is envisioned like an oil spill that covers the planet. And when Noah explains to his children the story of man's beginnings, we see creation and evolution not as competing theories but as faith-affirming companions.

Ultimately, Aronofsky's Noah challenges us to ask questions of ourselves: If given the choice, would you save animals instead of humans? Are the Bible and Koran to be taken literally, or are they part of a grander puzzle? These are big, messy themes for an audience-pleasing film to tackle, but Aronofsky does it with skill and doesn't fail to entertain. And in that, his Noah feels as if it is a genre of one, for it has next to nothing in common with previous biblical epics.

I presume that many of these progressive themes might trouble Beck and his flock, but what could we possibly expect from a shill who sells end-of-days food supplies on a daily radio program while regularly missing the mark in his previous armageddon predictions? Come to think of it, Beck's own version of an ark might more likely resemble a one-man rowboat.

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