Wednesday, April 2, 2014



Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Written by Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel

     Darren Aronfosky's Noah is one brooding, mythological epic unlike any I have ever seen and that is rarely ever made anymore. A film that is not anything like the Sunday School teachings from the Old Testament. Noah is deep with the power of myth, fantasy and elements of realism, along with the power of preserving the environment without being didactic. It is a story that examines how man has decayed the earth with constant industrialization and performed atrocities upon all elements of the planet. A visually stunning film, as expected, but not one that is without its flaws and setbacks. Aronofsky is one of our greatest auteurs and challenges the audience with Noah, but equally has challenged himself as an artist and filmmaker.
    I believe the first thing to know going into this film is that this is not like those cookie cutter biblical epics from Cecil B. DeMille. It does not have a strong stance supporting Christianity either, so get that out of your head right away. Yes, it is based on the Judeo-Christian story of Noah, the flood and the repopulating of the planet after man has pissed off God, but it is not grounded in Christianity or its delusions. The Christian nutters out there will have a field day with this film, but for me, it is perfect. It is more sourced in Judaism than Christianity. The Bible is not gospel in reality.
     Aronofsky has made a personal film. A film that he has been conceiving since he was a little boy, that focuses on the inner struggles of one man's choice to either save and purify the Earth from the evil villainy of man and progress, and calculating the risk of exploring a world where God, or the Creator, as IT is only called in the film (there is no mention of God in the whole film), is not there to supply the direct answers. People must choose on their own free will. The film dives head first in the ability to preserve the beauty and graciousness of the Earth. To save the amazing, evolutionary marvels that exist on the random mystery that is our planet. Aronofsky is quite brazen with his depiction of this prediluvian time period and does little in holding back in his mesmerizing presentation.
    After my initial viewing of the film, I felt like this was the least Aronofsky-ish film I have seen from him, but I do not believe that to be true after thinking about it. It is very much an Aronofsky film, full of troubled characters facing personal pressures and demons that are both psychological and physical. The vision is quite amazing and the film really pushes a point of caring for each other and the planet. Noah (Russell Crowe) is vegetarian, hard worker, wanderer and wakes from an amazing, hallucinatory dream that speaks to him in ways only the Creator can. He knows that he must build this ark to protect two of every species, as well as his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), and their adopted girl Ila (Emma Watson). He knows what he must do. He visits his grandfather Methusaleh (Anthony Hopkins) and receives a seed from Eden to plant on this black volcanic ash covered ground (filmed in Iceland) so he will have the wood to construct this massive vessel. Bring on that flood.
     The family meets the fallen angels who attempted to help Adam and Eve, and man, in the garden, who are now encased in rock with multiple appendages. At first The Watchers (voiced by Nick Nolte, Frank Langella and Aronofsky regular Mark Margolis) were skeptical of Noah and his family, but learn to help him and assistant in making the ark. This is impressive, but The Watchers look like the Ents from The Lord of the Rings films. It also adds that fantastical element to the film that is so saturated in the myth of Noah and the ark. That mythological element, which is also present in other aspects of the film, is important in that is exemplifies the importance of these ancient stories and how they are not meant to be taken literally. The great stories from Ancient Greece, Mayan society and Mesopotamian culture are fantastical and special, but are just stories. A literal interpretation is not supposed to be taken, but shows the value of stories and storytelling. All ancient societies have myths of creation and floods and fire and brimstone, but the greatness of Aronofsky's film is that it feels like a story that is made with myth and fantasy, but grounded in honesty and realism.
     As Noah is building the ark, it is not without violence and threat from man. Other than Noah and his family, there is no other place for man on the ark. When man finds out that this ark is being constructed, they want a place for salvation and safety. Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), from the line of Cain, is going to fight to the bitter end to preserve his clan and life. This leads to a rain soaked battle right before the massive flood. These are the greedy, politically conservative resembling men who care nothing for the Earth or its resources unless it leads to wealth and gain. These men are scum and excessively violent. Rape, murder, destruction and conquering are what they believe in and are good at, and Aronofsky is not shy about showing all of these elements. Noah is not without showing violence and disturbing images from these men. They also believe that the Earth is really only for them and they will suck every ounce of life out of it. Noah is the preserver, environmentalist and is here for the purpose of saving the Earth from the degradation and sin of man.
    Noah is quite an impressive film. The lensing from Aronofsky's usual cinematographer Matthew Libatique is unbelievably gorgeous. It is sumptuous and really bring this world to life. The production design and costume design is also really brilliant. Nothing in this film feels fake or not lived-in, but I expected that much from this group of filmmakers. The screenplay from Aronofsky and Ari Handel is ripe with purity and struggle. The personal battle that wrestles with Noah is presented perfectly and with plenty of fear and fight. Crowe gives one of his best performances as Noah. His character is so multi-layered and goes thorough one hell of an arch throughout the film. This is the type of role where Crowe has just immersed himself fully into and was spectacular in. The inner struggle he faces is expressed so brilliantly by him.
    There is also a creation-evolution sequence that is truly amazing and mind-blowing. It starts with nothing and follows the creation of the universe, solar system, Earth and the evolution of life on the planet. It is unlike anything I have ever seen on screen. It very much reminds me of Terrence Malick's evolution scenes in The Tree of Life but times it by a thousand. It is fast paced and just stunning. I loved it and it made a real statement for the obvious reality of evolution and how the world does not stop evolving. I also enjoyed the Adam and Eve hallucinatory scenes at the beginning of film. Extremely special stuff and shows how CGI can be used to enhance the story and not hinder it. This is when CGI is special and importantly creative. It also, once again, places an importance on myth and fantasy. The film is not void of the Bible and its stories, but nothing is etched in stone and really examines the importance of myths in our history. 
    Noah is not without its flaws, mainly the stretched out ending that turns into somewhat of a sappy, sad melodrama. I do not want to give too much away, but once they are on the ark the story turns into a family battle. Ila is pregnant from Shem, but this is against the Creator's decision, and Noah does not want her have the baby. They must start fresh after the flood subsides. Noah becomes quite unlikable, but also really struggles with whether to choose in the Creator's eye or his own. This part of the story is not bad, but ends with too much melodrama. It also contains a battle sequence that lasted too long and reminded me too much of something out of The Lord of the Rings again. It took it too a level that was a little too much like a swords and sandal epic that just dragged on a bit too long. Not bad, but too much. The only other quibble I have is that other than Noah, the other characters are quite one dimensional. Winstone is great as Tubal-cain, but is a typical villain and is very brooding and despicable, but has little more to offer. I also thought Connelly was highly under used and Douglas Booth was just a pretty face on the screen and offered little to the story. Hopkins did bring some lightheartedness to the picture at least.
     In the end, minus the flaws that Noah has, I really enjoyed what Aronofsky did with this film. A personal, special epic that just does not get made anymore. A film that is steeped in myth, fantasy and realism, with an impact that examines the importance of our environment and are place in it. It is a visually stunning film and one that is full of deeper meanings and subtext. It also contains wonderful use of CGI and that creation-evolution sequence is quite special. I am a true admirer of Darren Aronofsky and he is one of my favorite filmmakers. So ambitious, talented and never holding back, his films are challenging, daring and always unlike anything seen before. Noah is a film not staunched in Christianity, but in the beauty and struggle of a man to save and purify the Earth, as well as a realization that God/Creator is not always there with the answers.

Photo credit by IMDB.

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