Darren Aronofskys epic film Noah opens with the line “In the beginning there was nothing” and an animation to bring us up to speed: the familiar narrative from Genesis about the creation of the heavens and earth, the banishment of Adam and Eve and subsequent birth of Cain and Abel. Cain murders his brother and is ostracised from the family, leaving the remaining son Seth to continue the virtuous line of the family. Fast forward a few hundred years and we meet the Noah descendent of Seth who along with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and sons Ham (Logan Lerman) and Shem (Douglas Booth) live a goodlife, respecting nature, sustaining themselves with berries while the rest of humanity, led by Tubal Cain (Ray Winstone, in formidable villainous form as usual) are raping the Earth of its precious resources, building cities and hunting animals for food.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Well, aside from this environmentalist preaching and seeming disdain for meat-eaters, the rest of the controversy surrounding Noah and Aronofsky’s depiction of this particular bible tale is unfounded. Sitting non-committally on the agnostic fence , it makes no difference to me what liberties Aronofsky did or didn’t take when fleshing out the story of Noah and this Ark but considering he was working from a fairly blank canvas, he managed to preserve the essential parts of the story while of course adding elements of fantasy. A lot has been made of the omission of the word “God” and replacing it with “the Creator” and said Creators silence throughout the film but from the characters point of view there is never any doubt as to the existence of a divine being; even Tubal Cain speaks to the heavens looking for answers.
So how does Noah stand up as a film in its own right, irrespective of religious allegory and controversy? Being a big fan of everything Aronofsky has done up to now,I wanted very much to love this and I even tried to like it but in the end the best I can do is rate it a mundane “average”.
As a straight up biblical epic blockbuster, Noah works for the most part and will certainly impress in terms of special effects and dramatic narrative, Its CGI’ed the the hilt and several scenes evoke Peter Jacksons work; the sweeping Icelandic landscapes, a whole forest rising up out of nowhere and the flood sequence featuring water gushing up from the ground as well as thundering from the heavens is breathtaking. There’s a beautiful shot of two doves as they make their journey towards the Ark but aside from this the animals are reduced to mere cameo parts as they are drugged asleep as soon as they reach the Ark. Excitement is rife and there are plenty of battle scenes when the “sinners” lead by Tubal Cain fight Noah and each other in an attempt to board the Ark before the flood descends. Then a darker drama ensues in the third act when Ila (Emma Watson), an orphan who has been taken in as a wife for Ham becomes pregnant. Noah who at the beginning believes that his mission is to save his family and the innocent animals from the punishing flood, then interprets Gods silence as a sign that his family too must perish so that the human race can start once again from scratch. The film becomes very dark as Crowe character taking on an aura of a biblical Jack Torrance, threatens that if Ila gives birth to a girl, he will have no choice but to murder the child.
Russell cant be faulted for his performance as the righteous holy man struggling with his conscience and Jennifer Connelly reunited with her Requiem for a Dream director, is perfect as the supportive wife Naheema although a deeper development of her personality is glossed over. The sons, Ham and Shem are pretty interchangeable and over looked in the same way. Lerman looks like he’d wandered off the shoot of a perfume advert and Booths crew cut hairstyle doesn’t grow over the course of a decade. In addition to Crowes believable depiction of the biblical protagonist,Ray Winstone and Anthony Hopkins also provide strong performances,Hopkins offering some brief levity as Noahs wise grandfather Methuselah.
The real bug bearer in this film is the lack of Aronofskys signature weirdness. There are some elements here and there that a seasoned fan may recognise; the hallucinatory dream sequence of the snake and the apple being plucked from the tree of knowledge is reminiscent of the the sharp drug montages in Requiem for a Dream or the sprouting flowers and moss collecting which have echoes in The Fountain but all in all Noah is ninety percent bog standard big ticket epic whose brief strange interludes will only confuse and alienate mainstream audiences.