Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman
It’s been a few years since bible stories have been a thing in Hollywood, but with movies like Son of God, the upcoming Exodus, and this weekend’s Noah, we are in the middle of a resurgence of the biblical epic genre. Of the bunch, Noah has been the biggest question mark within the film community and has finally been released to both controversy and acclaim. The movie may not be telling the version of the story biblical enthusiasts are looking for, but it’s sure to make waves with audiences from around the world. Can director Darren Aronofsky deliver a new and compelling take on the age of story or should bible epics just stick to the past?
The basic plot of Noah is nothing dramatically different than the story that has already been told through the years. Noah(Russell Crowe) receives a vision from God that warns him of a flood that will wipe out all of humanity. Noah takes his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and his sons to seek out wisdom and advice from his grandfather Methuselah(Anthony Hopkins) who guides Noah in his interpretation of God’s will. With the help of fallen angles called “watchers”, Noah builds the ark and raises his family and adoptive daughter Ila(Emma Watson). As the ark nears completion, word spreads to the human ruler Tubal-Cain(Ray Winstone) who wants a place on the ark so that he can be the ruler over the new world. Throughout the film Noah wrestles with understanding God’s will, what to do with his fellow man, and how to take care of his family.
The overarching story of the movie follows its biblical source material almost beat by beat, but what really gives this movie life and depth is the extra dimension written for the titular character. Noah doesn’t just build an ark, but has to decide how to deal with his fellow man and the fate of his family in the new world.
Noah’s decision to leave most of the human race to drown becomes a turning point for his character which leads to many of the darker yet more interesting aspects of the of the movie. The story paints the character of Noah in a light that could just as easily make him mankind’s executioner as it could creation’s knight in shining armor. Noah makes a descent into madness in the back half of the film, and it turns into an incredibly unnerving journey that closely examines how even the most righteous people can be consumed by their own demons.
The other characters are less fleshed out and serve more as flat foils for Noah than they do as well developed people. Tubal-Cain is an excellent example of a character who represents the ideas of man’s self destructive rule, industry, and misguided faith, but ultimately he seems a little out of place in the latter part of the movie.
This character presents interesting questions (“I was made in God’s image too…why doesn’t he talk to me?), but ultimately has so little time to develop that he feels he was written just so the movie had a bad guy. Despite the flat character portrayals, the ideas that are presented through them are crucial to examining the bigger questions about the character of Noah and his relationship to God.
What really sets this movie apart from other epics is the brilliant art direction and relentlessly gritty tone of the movie. This isn’t the happy go lucky Noah you’ve seen and heard about growing up, but a darker(and thematically more realistic) take on mankind’s annihilation. This movie uses powerful apocalyptic imagery to demonstrate the hopelessness of the pre-flood world that has been ravaged by industry, consumed by cannibals, and become nothing short of hell on earth.
Aronofsky continues his bold brand of filmmaking by delivering some absolutely disturbing images that are so powerful and gut wrenching that they cannot be unseen by the minds eye. The direction challenges the way the story has been remembered in popular imagination by exploring just how truly horrific the destruction of the planet and the human race would actually be.
This movie is an epic in the truest sense thanks to its insanely massive scope, fantastical approach to the material, and references to many other stories in Genesis including a truly jaw dropping sequence in which Noah retells the creation story. Aronofsky’s ambition to tie the creation directly to the flood and then recreation stories is admirable. By most accounts he succeeds, but the movie isn’t without its stumbling blocks.
The first half of this movie is huge in scale as it chronicles the history of multiple groups and the degradation of the world they live in. The movie climaxes in the rain with an impressive battle sequence that feels less like The Ten Commandments and more like something out of Lord of the Rings. The problem is that after this sequence ends, the movie dramatically shrinks and devolves into a melodrama with Noah’s family. It’s a turn that was in, but felt a bit sloppy in its execution.
This movie has been Aronofsky’s passion project over the last ten years and you can feel the the love and attention to detail that went in every category including the fantastic and chilling score by Clint Mansell. When the movie succeeds, it succeeds spectacularly and when it fails you’ve still got to admire the ideas being attempted. The movie would be a masterpiece, but it falls victim to the sloppy integration of Tubal-Cain and some fairly major pacing issues. Aronofsky’s signature style and imagery are here in full force and they makes for a movie that audiences won’t easily forget in years to come.
This is definitely an essential 2014 movie for audiences to see and I’ve got to recommend a full price trip to the theater. If you can get past the rough spots around the edges then you’re sure to find a lot to love in this challenging retelling that breaths new life into a story that’s been told over and over again in cultures around the world.