“Noah” **1/2 (out of 5)
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Ray Winstone, and Anthony Hopkins
Written by: Darren Aronofsky & Ari Handel
Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
**SPOILER ALERT (it seems perfunctory, but still…)**
**Note: My religious beliefs obviously have a bearing on whether or not I enjoyed this film; however, I shall make a sincere attempt to critique the film on its’ own merits.**
It is important to note that I have no grounds to critique the historical accuracy or inaccuracy of a Bible story. Suffice to say, I’m familiar enough with the idea of the ark, Noah, animals furry and slimy, and scripture that I can at least have a frame of reference. The thought of an actual Hollywood production of this story seems a bit preposterous- with varying viewpoints, faith-based opinions, and a lack of pure evidence to reference, a representation of such a fantastical story would have to be taken for what it is, conjecture.
The question, then, is whether or not “Noah” accomplishes the mission to be a competent, consistent film, conjecture be damned- and my answer is a soft ‘no’. It has the ambition of a blockbuster, but none of the joy. It has the tenacity to be provocative, but lacks the conviction required for deeper meaning. It is thoughtful, but not wholly religious. It strives for authenticity, then allows for silliness. All of these inconsistencies might generally doom a film, but “Noah” isn’t a complete failure- simply an incomplete and confusing undertaking. It’s a blockbuster film from an independent filmmaker, and it just doesn’t work.
Most know the story, but I digress. Noah (Crowe, in a performance you’d likely expect), per the Old Testament, was an obedient man. So obedient, in fact, that God chose him as the deliverer of all innocent creatures- for He so loved people that He decided to kill 99.9% of us and ‘cleanse’ the Earth. A task so grandiose would call for a steadfast servant, and Noah was indeed that man. A direct descendant of Seth, one of Adam and Eve’s children, Noah possessed the pure-of-heart genealogy that made him ideal for God’s task, and set him apart from others in his time. The film depicts him as a decent but sad man, weary of outsiders (descendants of Cain and Abel) that seem to be driven simply by chaos.
We understand through the narrative that Noah is part of the tenth generation of man, a population that had clearly lost touch with their creator. This film also tells us that despite our youth as a species, we were apparently quite advanced- we could manufacture vast amounts of weaponry, grasp the nuances of hand-to-hand combat, speak with distinguished English accents, and give birth in soggy, animal-infested environments with little to no consequence (or medicine). We also walked the Earth in the presence of fallen angels, who apparently became prehistoric transformers as part of their plight. A select few of us apparently had God-like powers as well, which begs the question- why believe in a creator when you don’t need one?
Therein lies the problem with “Noah”- the film simply cannot commit. It begins bombastically, then depicts humanity as primitive and savage. Then it introduces mysticism. Then Noah and his family are helpless, but then the next moment they have God to bankroll their actions. Then humans are incapable of behaving humanely, thus ‘proving’ why they deserved death, I suppose. Then they are inspired by a single menacing guy (Winstone) to intricately organize a massive assault on Noah’s ark and provide an unnecessary antagonist. Furthermore, the very moment Noah can prove his obedience beyond a shadow of a doubt, to truly affect the future of the human race as he was tasked to do- he cannot, for he is weak. It’s the same type of weakness that millions were punished for. The moment disproves the notion that Noah was indeed special, for how can the chosen messenger be the chosen messenger if he disobeys a direct order? We’ll never know. I’d say the filmmakers were making a statement about faith, free will, or human nature, but the rest of the film is jumbled just enough that I cannot say for sure either way.
As a technical achievement, however, “Noah” has few rivals. The ark, for one, is a thing to behold. For that matter, most effects in this film, especially those involved with the flood, are stunning. When the rains come, and the water flows, it is swift and frenzied to the point where I became immediately sold that nothing land-based could survive. As the ark becomes a mobile vessel, the film’s most powerful moment, enhanced by CGI, takes place. A ‘mound’ of people, crawling over each other to escape the rising waters,writhes in fear, creating one of the more terrifying scenes in recent memory. Imagining how Noah and his family must have felt hearing the carnage outside was humbling. If the rest of the film carried the same weight as that scene, we’d have something. Director Darren Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) understands that weight- in fact, his “Requiem For A Dream” was so heavy that I cannot bear to see it again. He seemed to understand the need for a steady theme and tone, which makes this film even more confusing.
I’m aware that I may be attempting to interpret this film too literally, but please do not misunderstand- I gather that the film is asking us to take the story on faith, and perhaps take something away from it to bolster said faith. That doesn’t excuse its’ faults, nor will I ignore its’ merits. Despite being an inconsistent film lacking a true identity, I found myself appreciating a variety of moments. I simply wanted the film to embrace something, to be that movie that tries to interpret the language of the time, the fighting style of the time, the brutal, primitive nature of the first round of humans. “Noah” is certainly not a complete failure. Rather, it is a fine case study on how a filmmaker with the moviemaking soul of an independent created a studio-appeasing blockbuster so he can continue making movies with an independent soul.
**Note- It is clear to me that this film wants us to consider animals as innocents, and wants us to abhor our consumption of their meat, or at least ponder that we’re eating the wrong things. We sure do enjoy slaughtering those innocent beasts and enjoying their char-broiled loins. I for one remain unphased, and yearn for my next juicy steak. Sorry Noah.