Controversy is sure to ensue following the release of the Bible’s greatest and most epic story found in the Old Testament involving Noah and his arc. Visionary director and passionate auteur Darren Aronofsky has always been fascinated with the character of Noah, and the inner workings of a man tormented by the voice of God and conflicted by his own voice of reason. For the sake of skeptics, religious groups, and devout Catholics, I intend to avert my review very far away from any religious claims or criticism for the film Noah, and instead intend to only offer criticism on the film itself, regardless of its strong Biblical undercurrent. Visually, Noah floats adrift many previous films that share a similar look (The Road, Tree of Life, The New World) but unfortunately sinks in a preposterous commentary set amongst mythological creatures, accepting fate and the age-old argument of man versus God, man versus nature, and man versus himself.
Aronofsky’s Noah begins with the Bible’s first chapter of creation and the story of Adam and Eve. As temptation lures Eve to evil, along with Adam, spawn Cain, Abel, and Seth proceed their parents to a new life. Cain kills Abel, and what begins is the regression of man’s propensity for evil, death, and murder. Noah (Russell Crowe) is one of the last of Seth’s bloodline, and he along with his family, including his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and his three sons, seem to be the only last remaining decent people during a time where descendants of Cain believe that natural survival instincts like killing and hunting are crucial to man’s survival in the world.
Aronofsky is a man fascinated with the inner workings of famously tormented individuals, and this project has been one of his greatest passion projects since beginning a career in film. Born to conservative Jewish parents, Aronofsky attempts not take any biased religious approach to his newest film, and instead focuses on the human element through an artistic lens. Insert ‘The Watchers’, mythological creatures/fallen angels who are imprisoned on Earth and betrayed by man, Noah, only momentarily floats as a forced visual studio epic that it never needed to be.
With The Wrestler, Black Swan and yes, even The Fountain, Aronofsky challenged the aesthetic of his narratives with the power of his lead performers. Mickey Rourke, Natalie Portman and Hugh Jackman are all prisoners to the shattered worlds they live in and must confront their demons and life itself to overcome adversity. With Noah, one of many vexed characters in the Bible, Aronofsky never challenges his fate by elevating the choices of a man to the fate predestined by a Creator. Instead, and unlike any of the other characters in Aronofsky’s films, Noah gives into accepting his fate of death, an unlikely characteristic for the director’s leads and the man depicted early in the film. Crowe, who is unable to tap into the mind of a man and be led into acting sanctity like Aronofsky’s previous actors, shows why he was the director’s third choice to play the character behind Christian Bale and Michael Fassbender. Crowe’s depiction of Noah is hardened much like ‘The Watcher’s’ outer rock form. Not to mention he delivers a sloppy performance of a man who is the only person who can hear the Creator’s voices in his head–often being eluded as a crazy person and not as the chosen one to hear The Creator’s celestial voice.
Like any other good Aronofsky character, Noah suffers from premonitions. He envisions the destruction of the world. With the help of his wise and all-knowing grandfather Methuselah (Sir Anthony Hopkins), Noah heeds to the Creators visions and builds an arc. Focused less on the creation of the arc itself, offering no type of montage to an arc that seemed to have lasted a least a decade to construct, Aronofsky directs his focus to man, the greatest evil the Creator has formulated–yet, it is a human being that puts together The Creator’s plan. Throughout, by adding a very strong artistic take to a story that is resonant in the minds of religious individuals, once the inclusion of imagination and artistry is injected into anything Biblical, doubt crashes the mind like waves on a reef. Much like oil and water, two fluids that don’t mix, art and religion are two very subjective and delicate areas to combine together. Just ask Mel Gibson, whose reimagining of the crucifixion of Christ, The Passion of Christ, will surely be met with a much larger commercial welcome than Noah.
After the uproar of its first trailer, Paramount Pictures conducted various private secret screenings of different versions of the film, including Aronofsky’s cut of the film, although he was signed to have the final cut of the movie out for distribution. Repulsed and deeply offended, Aronofsky got wind of the studios deception, and allowed the studio to reconsider and agree to release the film as the director had intended, with his cut intact. Since then, the newest trailer of the film is followed by a ‘disclaimer’ that the film is merely “inspired by the story of Noah and that the film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people”. I wonder what those millions will think of this ‘artistic licence’. There is no doubting that, by the time the film was ready to be met by a large audience, Aronofsky’s nerves have gotten the better of him, and it shows, since Noah seems to be the director’s most personal work, but also his least confident.
Essentially, Noah becomes less Biblical, studio driven movie extravaganza, and more of a survival, disaster film with science-fictional elements grounded in a familiar story-arc. While it is difficult to take the religious tone out of one of its most commercialized stories, the characters within the film never seem to challenge the divinity of The Creator or the word of Noah, unless it means they need to in order to survive. Noah challenges how people create their own stories and beliefs, all for the sake of life and survival. Throughout, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), Noah’s eldest sons, Sham and Ham (Douglas Booth and Logan Lerman) defy their father’s actions and take matters into their own hands. One cannot help but notice that it is in these small, defying instances, where the birth of opposing religious views are created. These opposing views are situated on the basis of the instinct of survival, something that non-religious viewers will easily make note of.
As the torrential storm wages, and the water comes to cleanse the world of evil and hate, it seems that the film houses afloat the only human being who holds the teachings of Cain’s ancestry high, and it is Noah himself. Driven by passion and obedience to his Creator, Noah, who almost resembles a psychopathic serial killer bound to the restricted confines of the arc, is torn between the choice of man, and the will of God–which becomes the heart of Noah and Aronofsky’s which never finds and firm, dry ground.
As a film, divinity has nothing to do with Aronofsky’s troubled tale of a man who stands by but also defines purity and righteousness, but is willing to allow the world to unsuccessfully replenish itself. Noah then becomes an overly ambitious project by very talented individuals, like composer Clint Mansell, cinematographer Matthew Libatique and director Aronofsky, whose ambition for the project towers over a project that feels like how the arc looks before it is submerged into water; unfinished, rushed and a half-assed. There may be life somewhere in Noah, but like the only other character who makes her way aboard Noah’s vessel of life, hopeful of new beginnings Ila (Emma Watson), the film is a barren tale, asking to be met with skepticism and religious criticism, making for a very bleak future. As the title suggests, the arc and the importance of its creation comes secondary to the man asked to be put front and centre to build it.
Night Film Reviews: 4 Out of 10 Stars.
Blown right out of the water with Noah or left unaffected by a bloated Biblical epic gone wrong? Does Aronofsky succeed with his vision or will he be left to redeem himself on his future project? Leave your comments, thoughts and everything you noah below!
And if you are interested, check out below the poem that Director Darren Aronofsky wrote when he was only 13 years old that inspired him to want to always make an epic film version of the Biblical Noah (via Variety):
A Poem by Darren Aronofsky
January 13, 1982
Evil was in the world
The laughing crowd
Left the foolish man at his ark
Filled with animals
When the rain began to fall
It was hopeless
The man could not take the evil crowd with him
But he was allowed to bring his good family.
The rain continued through the night
And the cries of screaming men filled the air
The ark was afloat
Until the dove returned with the leaf
Evil still existed.
When the rainbows reached throughout the sky
The humble man and his family knew what it meant
The animals ran and flew freely with their newborn
The fog rose and the sun shone
Peace was in the air
And it soon appeared in all of man’s heart.
He knew evil would not be kept away
For evil and war could not be destroyed
But neither was it possible to destroy peace
Evil is hard to end and peace is hard to begin
But the rainbow and the dove will always live
Within every man’s heart.