The Biblical story of Noah seems a perfect subject for a film director–it’s about a man who is obsessed with a vision. Director Darren Aronofsky has been interested in Noah since he was a schoolboy, and his film, Noah, is concerned with a man so blinded by his mission that things gets tense among the family. In a way, it reminds me of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, which is from a man crazy enough to make a film about a man who’s crazy.
I just now read the text of Noah from the Bible. It took me about five minutes. Clearly, Aronofsky and co-screenwriter Ari Handel had some padding to do or it would be a short subject. They looked in other texts (all the world’s major religions have flood myths) and did some invention on their own. We get a lot of the Sunday school stuff we all know: a man receives a message from God (that word is never spoken in the film, it is always “the creator”) that the world will be destroyed by flood, and he is to build an ark where he, his family, and two of every animal on Earth will be housed in in safety until the waters recede.
So we get more. Noah, played with ferocity by Russell Crowe, is a vegan who lives apart from other men. He chooses not to be part of the society that is ruled by Tubal-Cain, who calls himself king (played by Ray Winstone). Winstone, irked by Noah’s craziness, believes he might be right, so he wants the ark. Noah is aided by giants, actually angels who are encrusted with rock, looking like stone-age transformers, so when Winstone and the wicked people about to be destroyed start feeling the rain, they want on the ark. The resulting battle between these stone giants, The Watchers, and the mob is pretty impressive.
The rest of the film deals with Noah starting to go all Abraham and Isaac. Here’s where Aronofsky makes a bold choice that has gotten him into trouble in some eyes. Noah interprets that the creator has decided that the world is better off without mankind at all (this is a viewpoint I think everyone rational can agree with), which makes his children unhappy, especially his son Shem’s wife Ila (a character created for the film) who his pregnant.
Noah is a film that is big and grand and just a little bit crazy, like it’s main character. The film is shot in muddy colors–I don’t remember much in the way of bright colors–and dour and grim. There are a few twinkly touches, provided mostly by Anthony Hopkins as Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather.
It is not a reverent or particularly irreverent film–only those who believe in the literal interpretation of Genesis could object. I find it interesting those articles that document what Noah gets wrong–that’s like saying a movie about King Arthur, Hercules, or Santa Claus gets things wrong. We can’t believe this story–from the opening title card, we see that Adam and Eve had three sons. So who were the mothers of their children?
The film does get the brain working, wondering about a creator who decides to destroy his own creation, in essence, a mulligan, and then decides he’s never going to do it again. One can also ponder the difference between good and evil, and why someone like Noah was chosen, and what it means to be innocent.
The performances are solid. Crowe pulls out all the stops, for better or worse. Jennifer Connelly is his wife (with amazing looking teeth for a time before dentistry) while Emma Watson, excellently leaving behind her days as Hermione Granger, plays Ila. She has a scene near the end that I won’t spoil that is absolutely gut-wrenching. Noah’s older sons are played by two young men with matinee idol looks. In the Bible, it is said that Noah’s sons were on the ark with their wives, but Aronofsky turns things into a telenova by denying Ham and Japheth mates, which means we’re all descended from an incestuous relationship, which may account for why we’re all so screwed up.
My grade for Noah: B-