A BOLD AND FANTASTICAL
APPROACH TO A BIBLICAL TALE
The Bible has a hefty wealth of tales residing within its pages. Stories of caution, faith, moral ambiguity, and a great host of other various accounts are chronicled with immense details that have resounded from one generation to another. So, considering the gravitas and poignancy of such tales, Hollywood as taken up the mantle and adapted several of them into feature films. Some have been widely accepted like 1956’s The Ten Commandments, while others have faced controversial scrutiny like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Now Paramount Pictures and director Darren Aronofsky debut their cinematic journey of Noah’s Ark in the film Noah. Does the film breed new life in this classic biblical tale or is it just another controversial religious adaption from Hollywood?
Noah (Russell Crowe) is a virtuous man, whose been brought up to value and appreciate the gifts that “The Creator” (God) has given him and his family. One night, Noah has a terrible vision; a vision of death and destruction and of great deluge of water from Earth and sky. Noah believes this message is from “The Creator” and that end of the world is upon them. Seeking guidance from his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), Noah deciphers more of his vision; believing that “The Creator” has chosen him to build a massive vessel (An Ark) to carry the animals of the world and his family to help repopulate the world after “The Creator” floods the old one. With the help of his family and the beings known as “The Watchers”, Noah builds the Ark, which takes years to construct. On the eve of its completion, trouble arises with arrival of Tubai Cain (Ray Winstone) and his army, who demand refuge inside Noah’s Ark. Faced with Cain’s encroaching army and the beginning of “The End” approaching, Noah’s faith in “The Creator” will be tested as well as his moral bonds towards his family.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Whether you believe in this religious tale or not, it’s apparent that the premise of Noah and his Ark is a harsh one with a clear representation of a genocide cleansing of the old world to begin anew. That being said, the film isn’t your typical Sunday school imagining of Noah’s Ark as Aronofsky, famous for directing the films Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, doesn’t shy away from brutally exploiting the profound concept of the end of humanity. There are a multitude of scenes of people being killed, stabbed, trampled, and dragged away to be rape as well as a genuine sense of barbarism, savagery, and a great destructive end of the world calamity. There are at least one or two moments in the film I felt were a little disturbing and had quite frankly shocked to see convey on-screen. Again, this is not a light hearted retelling of Noah’s Ark, but of man (Noah) who believes what he’s doing is right and must make difficult decision in the face of adversity and of a moral sense.
The scope and scale of Noah is greatly commendable; one of the movie’s greatest strengths. There are sweeping landscape from lush green forests and towering mountains to barren wastelands and rocky formations by the sea. The set for the Ark is huge and incredibly detailed, feeling like a miniature floating city with all the animals being tucked away within its massive wooden holdings. There are fantastical elements in several key stories of the Bible (Christ’s death and resurrection and The Ten Commandments comes to my mind) and Aronofsky approaches Noah with those elements, but perhaps embraces it a little too much. In truth, the film strays away from other traditional incarnations of Noah’s Ark as the film sort of feels like a forgotten prehistoric tale from J.R.R Tolkien’s Middle-Earth (Half expecting to see Bilbo Baggins running around somewhere); complete with magical beings, a wicked ruler and his massive army, and great usage of visual effects to make a striking impact on audience members. This can be seeing in the creatures called “The Watchers”, fallen angels that “The Creator” transformed into misshapen stone giants for their transgressions that lumber around and help Noah build and eventually protect his Ark. It’s an interesting concept, one that looks cool on-screen, but feels more otherworldly and ripped from the pages of a fantasy novel rather from the Bible. I’m kind of mixed about this more fantastical approach to Noah as other viewers as well might be spilt on that ultimate direction for the film. Then again, Aronofsky wanted a much bolder and epic representation to Noah, which the film surely does.
After reaching its apocalyptic climax in the second act, Noah’s third act is a mix bag of sorts. While on board the Ark, there’s more emphasis of a family dynamic aspect between Noah and his family, which the Bible doesn’t go into great detail about. This is where the film sort of slows down; becoming a little problematic in its narrative as so much hype and tension was flung at you during the course of the second act that it brings the story to a slow crawl. Even the climax of the third act, which involves several story threads that all converge at the same time, feels a tad convoluted and doesn’t seem to completely mesh well as the time comes for Noah to make a dark decision, which occurs at that time as well. Still, there are some great character performances in this act, which greatly hinges on this part of film, as the story goes into dark territory with the character of Noah; testing the limits of his family and his faith to determine how far he would go in “The Creator’s” name.
Achieving that character persona is Russell Crowe as Noah himself. Crowe can easily display a bravado of toughness and hardened determination, but can also convey a vulnerable side; making him a great choice for the lead role. Jennifer Connelly as Noah’s wife doesn’t make that much on impact in the film’s first and second act, but gets her moments to shine in the last act; confronting her husband and calling into question his reason behind his motives. Emma Watson and Logan Lerman delivered great performances. Watson’s Lia, being adopted by Noah’s family, struggles to find her place amongst them, while also dealing with her relationship with Shem. Lerman’s Hem (Noah’s middle son) conveys moral conflicts within himself, displaying concerns that lead to a deep seeded jealousy towards his family, especially to his father Noah.
Douglas Booth and Leo McHugh Carroll as Shem and Japeth (Noah’s oldest and youngest sons) aren’t given that screen time and come off as flat character compared to the rest of Noah’s family. Anthony Hopkins plays Noah’s mystical, wizened grandfather Methuselah and, as always, Hopkins brings his “A” game to the character with light humor and a solid performance. Ray Winstone is also great as the film’s antagonist Tubai-Cain. His villainy, godless faith, and his unbridled will to survive are portrayed well, creating a character that closely resembles the mirror half to what Noah is. Lastly, lending their voices to two of the ancient “Watchers” are Frank Langella and Nick Nolte, whose gravelly voices match perfectly to their large stony behemoths counterparts (especially Nolte).
As far as religious aspect and overtones in Noah, it depends on where you stand in your beliefs. The core story of Noah’s Ark, I believe, is there along with its values and message, but Aronofsky sort of blends science and religion together. This is clearly visible in one particular scene, which uses brilliant CGI effects and time-lapse photography, explores the creation of Earth (Russell Crowe narrating the scene with lines taken from Genesis), but visual tells it from an evolutionary stand point (Starting from the Big Bang and going on to tell life how life began from the sea), which then concludes with a short abridge telling of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It’s both bold and perplexing; stating that both beliefs are one in the same and opens it up for discussion with viewers, but some, those harboring extreme beliefs (which there is nothing wrong with) might sneer and scrutinize Aronofsky’s representation of Noah. As a final note, the usage of fading and/or cutting to black in the movie is greatly overused. This type of cinematic transitions works sometimes in the film, but its repetitive nature overstays its welcome; feeling at time like I was watching partial segments’ of Noah via YouTube rather than one complete movie.
Many will have mixed feelings about Aronofsky’s Noah; spurning those pious followers of catholic faith, while, at the same time, dismissing devout atheists. In truth, those in the middle of these two extremes (or those with open-minds) will enjoy the movie the most. Personally, the film was good and quite interesting to behold on-screen. It may be problematic in its third act and may be overall a little too fantastical, but this epic (if not bold) take on an iconic tale from the bible with its grand scope, gorgeous visual representation, and a strong performance from the film’s lead actor is unlike anyone has ever seeing before. And, in that regard, Aronofsky’s Noah achieves cinematic notoriety.
3.7 Out of 5 (Recommended / Iffy Choice)
Reviewed on March 29th, 2014
Noah is rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content