April 8, 2014 Leave a comment
Ever since he saw his father killed by Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), Noah (Russell Crowe) has been haunted by dreams of Adam and Eve’s Original Sin. When, years later, he witnesses a miracle — a flower which blooms immediately on the spot where a raindrop hits the Earth — he decides to visit his grandfather to seek help in divining its meaning. Together with his family — wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and sons, Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) — he embarks on a long and treacherous journey, during which he saves a young girl (Emma Watson) from Tubal-Cain’s men and is himself saved by The Watchers, Fallen Angels forced to live the rest of their lives on Earth for disobeying The Creator. Methuselah helps Noah to deduce his destiny: to build a wooden arc and save a male and female of every species from a biblical flood.
An interpretation of the Noah story rather than a literal — if literal is even the right word — adaptation of the Bible passage itself, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah faced a storm of its own. Rumours of negative test screenings and alternative versions made it seem that the director’s cut might never make it to cinemas, while unrest in certain religious quarters only added to the tidal wave of ill-will that seemed fated to sink the film before it had even set sail. The movie itself, finally in theatres, is no travesty, however; it’s big and bold and brilliant, and likely to appeal to both secular and religious audiences alike. Noah is a film that simultaneously contemplates creation, finds human drama in divine intervention, and features stone monsters battling an army of sinners. Heck, it has two of just about everything — not just bird and beast. Every frame is so loaded with meaning, in fact, that it struggles to contain itself within two dimensions.
The opening act is as crowd-pleasing as The Old Testament is ever likely to get; it is tense and exciting, packed with incident and brimming with action. Scenes shot in silhouette evoke real ethereal beauty, while the battle scenes are gritty and unafraid to focus on injury detail. Aronofsky is not simply looking to dazzle, however, and what really impresses during these early scenes are the characters with which he populates his doomed world. Noah is obsessed with obeying The Creator, and having tried so hard to protect his family winds up neglecting them in his duty to God. Watson’s Ila, meanwhile, questions her place on the arc, all too aware that as a barren woman she is ill-equipped to repopulating the planet. And then there’s Ham, a boy desperate to become a man; who, faced with the death of every woman but his mother and step-sister, is all but ready to defy his father.
Surprisingly, then, it is only once the flood strikes that the film begins in earnest. Aronofsky handles the special effects and set pieces well (even if the animals are a few pixels short of pragmatic), but it’s clear that’s not what drew him to the project. Aboard the arc, Noah is forced to choose between Father and family; if The Creator wanted to eradicate all of mankind, then Noah’s work can only truly end with his own bloodline. At first he seems happy to let nature run its course, but when Ila defies biology by falling pregnant he sees little option but to act himself, by killing the child should it be a girl. The third act in particular is incredibly compelling, as Noah steels himself for the task at hand, Naameh and Shem conspire to protect Ila and her baby, and Ham is groomed by a stowaway — Tubal-Cain himself — to turn his back on The Creator. The repercussions of their actions are explored in a prologue, and you almost find yourself wishing Aronofsky would stick around to direct the next book in the series.
Whether or not you believe in God or The Great Flood, it’s difficult to deny that the idea of Noah and his arc is a nice one. Unlike the nursery rhyme, however, this adaptation quickly dispenses with the childish notion of animals marching two by two and instead focuses on the hurt and horror implied between the lines. This Noah is a murderer, a workaholic and a drunk, and thanks to Russell Crowe’s performance you won’t be able to take your eyes off of him for a second. It’s hard to believe that this is the same man who starred as Pearly Soames in A New York Winter’s Tale. It seems Noah is about redemption off-screen as well as on.