You probably know the story of Noah’s Arc from the Bible or nursery school. In Noah, however, director Darren Aronofsky (of Black Swan, Pi, and Requiem for a Dream) takes the ancient tale and gives it his trademark dark and phantasmagoric twist, exploring the psyche of a man who would be chosen to survive the end of the world.
Noah is Biblical-ish in that it draws on the story from Genesis but also expands beyond its relatively short text to create a world around Noah (Russell Crowe) that feels partly Biblical and partly like it’s lifted from a post-apocalyptic fantasy film. Also, in Aronofsky’s vision, the ancient Middle East was populated by British people. Who knew? Anyway, in Noah’s world, mankind has used the land and its resources to the point of exhaustion, leaving behind them a world that is as ruined ecologically as it is morally. Noah and his family, the last of the line of Seth, live basically as radical vegan separatists, under the constant threat of the descendants of Cain. When he has a dream that the Creator is going to end the world, Noah heads to the land of his ancestors to visit his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) for guidance. Some weird stuff with the Watchers (angels trapped in rock) happens and eventually Noah starts to build his arc.
Although Noah is full of beautiful and strange imagery, for me things got really interesting when Noah’s morality gets more complicated. Throughout the first half of the film, he’s really, relentlessly good. Gentle, loving, ethical. As the arc reaches completion and the family has to face mobs trying to take it over, Noah has more visions, putting him face to face with the brutality of humanity and of himself. Hardened by his burden, Noah decides that his task is to save the animals from the flood, but not humanity. His youngest son will be the last man. Naturally, his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and his sons, Ham (Logan Lerman), Shem (Douglas Booth), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) are not too keen on that idea. Ham especially wants a wife to take along for the apocalypse as Shem has a wife in their adopted sister Ila (Emma Watson). The family conflict that ensues largely overshadows the might of the flood and sheds light on just how much strain building the arc has put on Noah.
Noah is a bizarre, sometimes overwhelming movie. There were many parts that I really enjoyed, but in the end I don’t think they came together well. For example, the Watchers, who look like an animated monster from an ’80s kids’ movie, are an interesting addition to the mythology about the fall of man, but their appearance is distractingly weird. They just don’t seem to fit. Similarly, the way Aronofsky uses timelapse photography to show changes in the natural world is gorgeous and makes a strong connection between the story and environmentalist arguments for stewardship of nature. But, paired, with the choppy, dreamy nature of Noah’s visions and the bleak cinematography of the rest of the film, there’s so many different shifts happening that it’s overwhelming. While I really enjoyed watching the film, I’m hesitant to call it a technically good film.
Perhaps the strongest part of the movie is the acting. So many movies I’ve seen Russell Crowe in recently have featured him overacting (Broken City, Les Mis and Winter’s Tale, for example). In this film, however, Crowe captures some pretty complicated emotions with nuance and restraint. Jennifer “If Looks Could Kill” Connelly and Emma Watson steal the show. Connelly’s eyes speak volumes, especially in her conflict with Crowe. The two have such chemistry that her performance of a loving wife losing trust in her spouse is gut-wrenching. Emma Watson can wail. Give her more crying scenes.
Overall, I was pleased with the strong female characters and the emotional and visual rollercoaster Noah took me on. The film, however, may just be too weird for its own good. Maybe it was the Watchers that tipped it from compelling to silly. I rate Noah 3/5 stars.
Noah was written and directed by Darren Aronofsky with Ari Handel. It runs 138 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content.
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