Noah is a story that most might know as a bright and glossy tale of a man with a white beard that builds a large, fancy ark that takes a pair of every animal on-board to save them from the flood. Darren Aronofsky however brings it to the silver screen with a decidedly darker tone, one befitting the fact that it’s essentially the story of how a malevolent god murders his entire creation for temptation that he brought unto them.
The film follows Noah and his family as he receives his calling, builds the ark and the ensuing difficulties of surviving through a fundamental change in their world. As a biblical epic it’s very close to its source material but filtered through the lens of Aronofsky. The film is immediately visually arresting, the background provided by the Icelandic wilderness is the perfect setting for the story as he wants to tell it. The world presented is a fascinating place to inhabit, uniquely designed, desolate and barren, filled with considerable brutality. It looks familiar but simultaneously alien, clearly Aronofsky’s meticulously crafted vision.
The highlights are the dream sequences, where Noah realizes that there’s a flood coming and the God has a mission for him. These scenes look fantastic and establish a deep-seated sense of unease in the world. There’s also a race of descended angels, sons of God, called Watchers that defied the creator and came to Earth. In doing so they were punished to walk in the form of giant stone golems. These creatures look amazing and move in a manner all their own, lumbering in a manner which is difficult to describe but fascinating to watch, giving them oodles of personality. They also get in on the action later on which is decidedly awesome to behold. When these creatures die, their spirits explosively ascend to heaven in a breathtaking visual.
The acting is a vessel to deliver Aronofsky’s message, and as such there’s no one who really stands out for the first two thirds. Anthony Hopkins, as Methuselah, for instance simple drops in from Asgard for a couple of scenes in what is the closest the film comes to comic relief. Ray Winstone is also good as Tubal-cain, the figurehead for humanity’s barbarism. However, following the crescendo at the beginning of the third act the scale shrinks and becomes considerably more intimate. It’s in these scenes where the cast really shines. Noah’s role becomes considerably more difficult but Russell Crowe pulls it off, every nuance of doubt and drive is commanded by him on-screen. This is also the venue for an tour de force scene by Jennifer Connolly, as Nameeh, and great work from Emma Watson as Ila. Heck, even Logan Lerman, playing Ham, seems to be continuing to improve, having been sub-par in everything outside of the excellent Perks of Being A Wallflower. It all comes to a head in a sequence that’ll make your heart sink and buckle under the sheer emotional intensity.
All that said though, Noah isn’t as impactful as, say, Requiem for a Dream or as thematically dense as The Fountain. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t tackle heady themes. Most paramount is environmentalism, humans have ruined the earth’s ecosystem with rampant industrialization, scaring large swaths of the landscape and discarding it. Aronofsky clearly wants to make this point that we, as a species, have a duty to lookout for both the environment and the other creatures that live there. One of the most subtle yet effective methods used to show how human pollution affects the environment is how stars are visible in the sky during the day, something that’s practically impossible for us to see.
While Noah obviously has a theological source and great spiritual implications, the film isn’t exclusively faith based despite dealing with the nature of belief and crisis of faith. There’s even the sense that Aronofsky is using it much more for the environmentalism rather than the biblical aspect, perhaps best shown in a sequence where Noah is describing creation but the what’s shown is decidedly evolution from the Big Bang, all they way up to silhouettes of man killing each other up until the present. It’s not the Bible in its purest form but of course the biblical story of Noah comes from much older material, but that’s perhaps not an argument for this venue.
Noah is almost exactly what you’d think a visionary auteur like Darren Aronofsky would do with $140 million. It’s clear that this is exactly what he wanted to do and the end result is a very good, engrossing and largely unique film. Regardless of your thoughts on religion, faith or lack there of, this is a film that should be seen, both for it’s well delivered message and for its unique vision and visual representation.
The Unmistakable: The beauty of the sparsely used silhouette cinematography
The Unsung: Clint Mansell’s booming score
The Unexplained: How the skin of the serpent works and what exactly it does