When you think of marketable movie types, you probably think rom-com or superhero movie.
It’s unlikely your mind would go straight to Biblical epic. Cinematic tales of lions, Christians, and Roman arenas went out with Cecil B. DeMille.
Then again, to those long awaiting a resurgence, Darren Aronofsky is certainly a promising choice of director. From Requiem for a Dream to The Fountain, Aronofsky is a go-to guy for scope and thematic darkness. And what could better fit those criteria than the eradication of all mankind by flood?
Even so, “Noah by Darren Aronofsky” sounds like a bit a joke. Throw in a bunch of A-listers – Crowe! Connelly! Watson! Hopkins! Winstone?! – and the puns almost write themselves. “Noah a wash out?”, etc., etc., etc.
A long-time passion of Aronofksy’s, it also holds most of the hallmarks of a vanity project: extravagant budget; portentous, potentially ludicrous subject matter. There’s also the question as to the intended audience: fundamentalists won’t appreciate the revisionism while secular cinema=goers may be turned up by the inherent preachiness.
For all that, Aronofsky’s Noah is genuinely ambitious. Safe to say, you won’t see another film like it in cinemas this year.
Crowe’s titular ark-builder is a stern but loving father who finds himself on the receiving end of some fairly horrific visions. When God sends you premonitions of all of humanity, yourself included, simultaneously drowning in deep water, one supposes the natural reaction is to build yourself a boat.
Rather than spend too much time world-building – stars are visible in sky at day-time, there are fallen angels recast as The Watchers, misshapen rock monsters – Aronofsky’s film focuses instead on the moral ambiguity of Noah’s actions, namely his willingness to let the rest of mankind be eradicated.
It helps therefore that the rest of mankind are portrayed as a fairly terrible bunch, a riotous group of murderers, rapists and cannibals led by Ray Winstone’s Tubal-cain. Subscribing to an almost Nietzschean philosophy, the cockney Winstone is almost as out of place here as John Wayne at The Crucifixion, but he makes it work, snarling his lines with a grim relish and biting the heads off snakes. His barbarous philosophy is certainly more practical than Noah’s dogmatic insistence that this unseen figure in the sky has their best interests at heart.
Minus the questionable morality, Noah also offers plenty of spectacle. Columns of water erupt from the earth as marauding hoards attack and CGI animals slither and crawl their way across the screen. Noah himself makes a daring night-time raid on Tubal-cain’s camp to bring back wives for his sons.
Crowe manages a lot with weighty looks and a minimum of sermonizing – indeed, he’s one of the few actors on the planet you imagine might be capable of pulling off such a role. Jennifer Connelly is a good fit for Noah’s loyal but conflicted wife, but most of the conflicting characters are simply one-note: Watson, innocent; Lehman, corruptible; all Douglas Booth’s Shem gets is “cheekbones”.
There’s an unexpected eco parable carried within Noah – Noah is a vegan while Tubal-cain’s followers revel in the consumption of flesh, tearing apart a live goat and feasting on its entrails – and, to its credit, it never entirely glosses over the repercussions of God’s cleaning house.
There may be a shiny new world at the end of it, but in the interim we get distant figures writing on jagged, rain-soaked mountain peaks, trying desperately to stay alive as the ark simply sails away. At the end of the day, though, this is the outcome the film wants us rooting for.
The ambition of Aronofsky’s Noah is perhaps best summed up by a neat mid-film twist that sees Noah go from Jor-El to Abraham, hero to would-be villain. For all the stop-motion creationist visuals, this is where its heart lies, the conflict between family and duty, between faith and morality.
Its just a shame that on the way it ends up implicitly condoning genocide and, more unforgivably from a cinematic standpoint, turns Anthony Hopkins (as the millenarian Methuselah) into a plot device. The film even ends on a convenient cutaway to rainbows on the prospect of things getting incest-y – they’ve gotta set about repopulating the world somehow…
Let it be said that Noah is an entertaining blockbuster, Tree of Life meets Lord of the Rings with maybe just a touch of Battlefield Earth. It’s already a box office success, $50 million in the black since its release last month, and, at worst a curiosity: how many films can you name that flashback to Genesis?
A memorable shot transitioning from Cain striking Abel with a rock through to present-day man committing similar acts of violence suggests that Aronofsky and co. consider another deluge may be in order.
While it’s unlikely to convert anyone, Noah does leave us with a practical message: with global warming and everything, it might be worth investing in some carpentry skills. And a menagerie.