Russell Crowe battles to protect his family.
Fallen angels as giant rock creatures.
Magical stones and potions.
An unwanted human stowaway on the ark.
Noah isn’t the story of the ark most of us heard growing up.
Nor is that Darren Aronofsky’s intention with this $125 million epic.
His account of the lone righteous man and his family saved from a global flood by God is far more complex in its morality and challenging to its believers than its source material — itself only three chapters in Genesis. It’s also anything but literal.
As with Martin Scorsese and The Last Temptation of Christ, Aronofsky is less preoccupied with a slavish Biblical account than he is inspired to tackle deeper spiritual questions of mercy and justice, and their juxtaposition in a religious story about the near destruction of humanity and the creatures that walk the Earth.
The filmmaker bundles this motif in a skillfully made Biblical epic that is everything the recently released Son of God is not: neither pandering to its faith-based audience nor cheating audiences of a big-budget Cecil B. DeMille-like spectacle, including a lovely shot from God’s perspective of the first raindrop as it falls from the heavens to the forehead of Noah, and a time-lapse of the miraculous creation of a forest to provide lumber for Noah’s ark.
The film opens with a wordless narrative of creation and humanity’s fall from grace in a succession of iconic images. It’s a template for the artistry to follow.
Directed by Darren Aronofsky.
Written by Aronofsky and Ari Handel.
A Paramount release, playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, and brief suggestive content
Running time: 138 minutes.
Critic’s rating: ★★★★½
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connolly, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson.
Several generations after the Garden of Eden, mankind has fallen into wickedness, a lineage of sin linked to Cain’s murder of Abel. And now the sons of Cain live in cities and draw contempt from their Creator. Teaching mankind the ways of the new world are The Watchers, fallen angels who chose to help humanity against God’s wishes, as say some Jewish and Christian traditions. Aronofsky, however, goes further and has God punish these beings of pure light by turning them into giant stone men. Not unlike C.S. Lewis and his Chronicles of Narnia, Aronofsky mixes fantasy and faith to build a better story for the masses
As humanity’s evil grows, they turn on their teachers and defile the planet, leaving it barren and dying. And so God turns his back on his creation and decides to destroy it.
But there is one still walking in the ways of goodness. And so God visits Noah (Russell Crowe) through a frightening vision of a flood in which he finds himself at the bottom of the sea with all the other victims. In time, and with help from his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), Noah will learn he is to build an ark and that the ship will carry his family and him as well as two of every living creature on the planet through raging seas until the waters recede and life begins anew.
“It’s the end of everything,” says Ila (Emma Watson), an adopted teenage daughter Noah and his family find dying as a child and nurse back to health.
“The beginning,” Noah corrects her. “The beginning of everything.”
And in the course of the film, his devotion to the cause will be questioned as an Earthly surrogate for God’s justice. Aronofsky clearly wonders how a God who so loved the world would see fit to nearly destroy it, including innocent children.
Noah’s middle son, Ham (Logan Lerman, The Perks of Being a Wallflower), is puzzled by the same question. In Genesis, he’s the son later cursed and banished by Noah for an act never fully explained — other than he saw his father drunk and naked, and presumably something else happened as a result — but in the film his biggest problem is having a girl he rescues from the wicked men and assumes will become his wife, only to have his father leave her behind to die.
“She was innocent,” he cries in the ark, as the flood waters rise.
But Noah remains steadfast that his family line must end — including the union of his oldest son Shem (Douglas Booth), who takes Ila as his wife — as part of God’s desire to be done with humanity.
“The creator has judged us,” he tells his family. “Mankind must die.”
Ham’s anger at his father and God drive him to care for the leader of the wicked men, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), who is in hiding on the ark, healing from a wound and waiting for the moment to exact his revenge on Noah. Again, this is far from biblical canon but serves Aronofsky’s purpose in a symbolic recreation of mankind’s fall in Eden, with a literal struggle between good and evil and humanity forced to make a choice over who to serve. It’s heady spiritual contemplation by a filmmaker clearly of the faith — Aronofsky is Jewish — that extends well beyond the often note-for-note Biblical accounts in movies, not so much doubting the story as it is questioning its purpose.
Crowe’s Noah has a Captain Ahab-like obsession with the mission, one that puts him at odds with everyone, including his dutiful wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly). But he’s not so much crazy as he is quietly conflicted about his duty to a God who speaks to him only in visions and miracles.
He’s isolated and separate, not unlike the forest island God creates for him to build the ark with the help of The Fallen. And as his family turns against him, he wonders just how far he must go before God will stop him. The rest of the cast are uniformly excellent, bringing humanity, doubt, and fear into a story in which there is none.
Noah is a journey, not just that of its title character, but of a filmmaker at odds with the story and his own belief.
The film’s final grand shot of rainbows in the sky suggests that Aronofsky found that place of peace with God, Noah, the flood, and, perhaps, his own questions of faith.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.