Hollywood seems to be obsessed with Bible movies lately. Earlier this year we got the overblown, preachy, and slopped together Son of God which had me rolling my eyes more than I usually do at the movies. Ridley Scott is working on Exodus, yet another take on the very popular story of Moses, which is set to be released within the final half of this year. But today, we have Darren Aronofsky’s long-awaited re-imagining of the story of Noah’s Ark. It’s not exactly a long story when reading it directly from the scripture, maybe a page and a half long. What’s basically covered in Genesis is this: Noah and his family gather two of every beast into a large boat before God comes in and destroys mankind. So how is this simple story made into a two-hour long epic? Well, leave it to Aronofsky to do the brain storming. This film is, in fact, a blend of a few stories of Genesis when you look at it. Most noticeable is the story of Abraham which quite obviously has a lot of influence over the plot, especially towards the end. No worries, I won’t spoil any of the details here.
An ongoing aspect that continues to stream through pretty much all of Aronofsky’s films is his characters’ obsessions. Whether that be Hugh Jackman’s tragic hero who searches desperately for the cure to death in The Fountain (my favorite of Aronofsky’s) or Natalie Portman’s fatal perfectionist in Black Swan (the movie that should’ve taken home the best picture Oscar in 2010 if you ask me) all of his characters are obsessed anti-heroes whose greatest battle is within themselves. So why would he be drawn to the story of Noah’s Ark, a Sunday school tale filled with little to no personality and briefly covered in genesis? Here, Aronofsky seized the opportunity to use it to tell a story not about god but about humanity and a story about one man’s blinded obsession to carry out whatever it is his ‘Creator’ wants no matter what it may be.
So let’s cover all the controversy first. Throughout the film I kept noticing people storming out of the theater and continued to ask myself the question, “Why in the world are they offended? Yes, it’s brutal but… Have they read the bible? It’s not exactly all rainbows and happy faces.” But then later, when reflecting on what I just experienced, noticed certain details that I didn’t take much note of. Aronofsky, at a certain point, goes back and shows the story of creation in a very beautiful and magnificent set of cuts. He shows us the Big Bang, and creatures evolving from little bacteria into fish and beasts. I was raised in a mostly Jewish household and a lot of my relatives were fairly Christian but I wasn’t as religious as them. The Big Bang and Evolution are two ideas that just make sense to me and I can never understand what the controversy over it is. I guess it’s just the fact that Aronofsky acknowledges the Big Bang, Evolution, and God that everyone seems to be throwing things. So, if you’re offended by film makers thinking outside the box this is not the film for you. Frankly, I don’t feel this film insults religion in any way. Of course, me not being very religious doesn’t really give my word any certification to speak on behalf of the religious community, so I won’t. To each his own ideas.
Noah bears the most resemblance to Aronofsky’s The Fountain, in that it’s spiritual and also bears some similarities in production design. However, this is not as much The Fountain as others have made it out to be. It’s a much different and much simpler of a story. The Fountain was about death and the journey towards acceptance. Noah, in a nutshell, is about family and duty and how both can alter our perception of what is right. There’s family, trying to draw out the more sympathetic side of Noah. And then there’s duty, God (who’s only referred to as ‘The Creator’ throughout the film), who calls upon Noah to be more pitiless and unforgiving. A lot of the time we’re as confused as Noah is about what to do, other times I was shouting at him to get himself together. He begins as a hopeful man but in the last act takes a dark turn as a man whose lost all faith in humanity. Who better to play such a character as this than the legendary Russell Crowe?
Russell Crowe gives a spectacular performance as Noah. He’s gone through a rocky couple of years, starring in flashy nonsense like Les Miserables, Man of Steel, and the most recent Winter’s Tale. It’s nice to see the more savage Russell Crowe like we got from Gladiator, and the more psychologically challenged Crowe like we got from A Beautiful Mind (which Jennifer Connelly starred opposite as his wife as she does in this movie also). Anthony Hopkins is perfectly cast in a little role as Noah’s quirky grandfather. Ray Winstone is convincingly sinister and Emma Watson is surprisingly good as Noah’s infertile adoptive daughter. But it’s Logan Lerman’s Ham that could’ve completely sunk this ship. Lerman isn’t a bad actor, he’s got a pleasant face and an alright personality. But here, we have the Lerman we see in literally every other film he plays in. He’s basically his character from 3:10 To Yuma where he also starred alongside Russell Crowe. Lerman disappoints me as an actor in that he never challenges himself, never goes outside of his comfort zone. And that aspect of him really hurts this film but at least it’s rescued by the other performances, which come in and steal the show as they should.
Aronofsky’s visual style is breathtaking and surreal. We feel as if we’ve walked right into the Old Testament, feeling equal parts mystic as it does ancient. Filmed like a lot of Hollywood endeavors these days in Iceland, the scenery is breathtaking and a wonderful addition.
All in all, a visually dazzling adventure aided by the commanding Russell Crowe we know and love who’s been missing in recent years. But the real star of Noah is Darren Aronofsky. He could have easily given in to the Hollywood pressure, losing all passion and control over his story, but he stayed true to his vision and for that this film deserves a big thumbs up. With his eyes and mind guiding him, he’s crafted a truly thoughtful and beautiful film which reminds us of what’s been missing in Hollywood these days. Noah is well worth your time and money. A-