Thursday, April 17, 2014

Film Review: Noah (2014)


One of the arguments against films based on a well-established story is the problem of audiences knowing the ending.  This was true of Titanic, United 93, and (obviously) The Passion Of The Christ.  A solution to this problem is known as artistic license – and Darren Aronofsky’s interpretation of the story of the great Biblical flood is a masterclass on how to do it with style…

Many generations after the fall from the Garden of Eden, mankind has split into the descendants of Cain (who killed Abel and therefore followed a life of sin) and the descendants of Seth who have dedicated their lives to the protection of all creation.  The film begins with Noah (Russell Crowe) a successor of Seth, witnessing the death of his father at the hands of Man, and then later grown up with his wife (Jennifer Connelly) and family living alone and at one with nature.

Noah begins to have eschatological visions of a great flood, so embarks on a journey to find his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) for guidance.  Here he learns of a way to protect the innocent in a giant arc, as the wicked get wiped from the Earth by the wrath of The Creator.  So far, so biblical. 

Where the story radically departs from the book of Genesis is the inclusion of a race of fallen angels who are trapped in stone.  This is their punishment from The Creator for having taken pity on Adam after his ‘fall’ from Eden.  They helped mankind by teaching them technology and industrialisation and so fuelled Mankind’s wicked sinful lifestyles.  They also know how to fight and can usefully protect Noah and his family from external hordes of rampaging men…

Visually, Noah is a culmination of the post-apocalyptic wastelands of ‘60s sci-fi like Planet Of The Apes, Logan’s Run and The Twilight Zone; the battle scenes from Lord Of The Rings; and the chase scenes through the forests in Ridley Scott’s postmodern Robin Hood.  Philosophically, the film takes an ancient creation (and destruction) myth and channels it through the perspective of a conflicted and pious man, leading to some interesting implications for classic Christianity.

As Noah, his family and angel friends begin to build the arc the barren wilderness is juxtaposed with luscious greenery and plantlife.  The Creator is associated with everything vibrant and alive, whereas mankind led by the tyrant Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) is depicted in muted blues and miserable grey.  As the rain begins to fall the second act of the film is perpetually dull leading to the final colourful majesty of the new world after the storm.  Not only is the film shaped and guided with a brilliant score form Clint Mansell (long time Aronofsky collaborator), but the colour also reflects the mood throughout.

I first saw this film in 2D in a sleepy art-house cinema in Southampton, and then again in 3D in a majestic art deco renovated theatre in Amsterdam and can safely say that the 3D adds absolutely nothing to the experience.  In Amsterdam the movie (obviously) had Dutch subtitles, which were they only 3D imagery that was interesting to look at…

Naturally, any movie that tackles religious narratives will encounter controversy.  Yet Aronofsky encourages duplicitous readings of the narrative and the theological implications, and will probably just reinforce whatever beliefs the viewer already has.  For example, there is a scene where Noah tells ‘The Story’, which manages to unite evolution and creationism in an incredible stop-motion montage as the universe evolves onscreen after the initial ‘bang’ of The Creator.

However, it would be naïve to think that I was left completely neutral.  One particular point of interest to me was that as opposed to the cartoonish booming voice from the heavens calling to Noah (“Build Me An Arc”…etc.), the fate of the world appears to him in dreams, which he alone has to interpret.  This gives the film a kind of humanist survivalist narrative, where for me shows Noah outwitting the apocalypse as to opposed following any divine will.

Aronofsky has created a back catalogue of films about existential protagonists losing their minds.  π was about a Jewish numerologist obsessed with the stock market; Requiem for a Dream was about some Coney Island kids losing their minds to heroin; The Fountain was about a scientist wracked with guilt about his ill wife; The Wrestler is about a man who has lost everything but his profession; and Black Swan is about a woman who is obsessed with the definitive ballet performance.  Noah is essentially the story of one man’s battle with divinity, and is the most exciting religious experience I’ve ever had.

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