People have their own interpretations of religious tales (whether we believe them to be true or not, is a different story) that usually came as a result of many different factors. It may be based on how religious (or not religious) our family is, or the way we interpreted the story when we heard it as children. Either way, it’s only natural to look at biblical stories through our own personal lens. This is the case for Noah, which is very much Darren Aronofsky’s own personal take on the Genesis narrative.
We all know the story (I’d like to think at least), but not quite in the way that Aronofsky has brought it to the big screen. The director is known for his more complex, artsier films, so it was a surprise when he was pegged to direct the latest big screen installment of Noah years ago. In fact, Aronofsky has been trying to make it happen for the past decade. So it’s clear that it was his distinct passion and vision to bring this story to life in a highly personal way\ that led him to direct the film.
Arronofsky has made his mark as director who is able to focus intensely on psychological breakdowns, and this is no different in Noah. While the main focus is, of course, the arc that Noah must build to survive the waters that god sends to flood the earth, equal amount of focus (if not more) is put on the effect that all of this has on the ark’s builder and his family.
Noah lives with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) along with his sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll). They live years after Adam and Eve and Cain killed Abel. One night Noah receives a vision from god in his dreams, featuring disturbing images of dead bodies floating in high waters that flooded the earth. Confused by the dreams, Noah seeks out advice from his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). On the way there he comes across a recently attacked village where he finds an injured girl named Ila (Emma Watson), who he decides to rescue and welcome into his family. After this, they are forced to enter a burnt territory after coming across dangerous man of Tubal-Cain’s descent. Its here that Noah meets giant stone creatures known as The Watchers, that are actually fallen angels. Although skeptical of Noah at first, he soon convinces them to help him build an arc after explaining his visions.
The arc takes years to build, with the animals coming on board over time following a river that leads them to it. The only beings allowed on the arc are two of every animal and Noah’s family. This doesn’t please the savage like Tubal-Cain, who sees the arc and wants it for himself. Noah will not allow this to happen, as he has another vision from the creator which tells him to abandon all people to rid the world of sin and evil. This means they must die as well, once the mission is complete. This horrifies his family, but Noah is steadfast in following the creators orders. This becomes troublesome when Shem and Ila (who are lovers) are able to miraculously conceive a child (thanks to some magical help from Methuselah). Will Noah change his mind in order to start a new life with his family? Doesn’t seem likely, considering he ignores Ham, who is concerned that he is the only one in the family without a significant other.
These are all building blocks for the climax of the film which comes all at once. Soon the rainfall begins as the water erupts from the ground and the arc is finally set into motion. While this part of Noah is mainly where it flashes the big budget CGI effects, its also where aspects of a psychological thriller start to emerge. Ham feels betrayed by his father, who let a girl Ham wanted to bring on board die in a chaotic scene right before the arc took off. When Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) somehow manages to sneak onto the arc, Ham decides to work with him to bring his father down. Then you have Noah who takes the Creators word so literally that he becomes obsessed with killing Ila’s child once it is born. This creates a rift between Noah and his family, who believes he is the one who has to carry out the creator’s plans, no matter how tough the decisions may be.
What Aronofsky does with Noah is bring the biblical tale to life in a way that I didn’t quite expect. There is some stunning cinematography, credit to Aronofsky’s longtime cinematographer Matthew Libatique. With every expensive shot of CGI destruction, there’s a stunning more refrained shot that contrasts it. The film does suffer from a lengthy runtime and has some questionable additions and changes to the biblical tale, but remember – it’s Aronofsky’s own personal interpretation.
Performance wise, Noah delivered. Led by a back-to-form Russell Crowe, the film’s cast is tight from top to bottom from the brute force of Ray Winstone, to the kinder spirits played by Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly. Logan Lerman continues to show promise after his big breakthrough in The Perks Of Being A Wallflower.
A film like Noah is going to be treated unfairly no matter how you look at it, considering the various religious viewpoints and opinions. But from someone who isn’t all that religious (I’m more of an agnostic I suppose) I thought Noah captured the essence of the story and handled it in an interesting way that kept me mostly captivated. As far as I’m concerned, for a biblical film, that’s a win.