The characters in Darren Aronofsky movies are at war with themselves. They are usually isolated, ostracised, and struggling to cope with the decisions in their lives. His first movie, Pi, dealt with a mathematician obsessed with unlocking the secrets to the universe. He followed that with three troubled youngsters wading through a bog of drugs and sex. Mickey Rourke played an aged wrestler coming to terms with his retirement in 2008’s The Wrestler. And Nina Sayers literally danced herself to death in the Swan Lake ballet.
In his latest film, Noah, Russell Crowe makes a deal with God, and through this deal he loses his identity. The film itself is bleak. There are no colours. Everything is grain and earth and ash. Even when the trees come they lack the rich green of nature. But Noah holds it all together at the risk of falling apart himself. And this is the core dilemma of any biblical prophet.
It is said that if you are called by God to carry the Word, there can be no refusal. By hook or by crook God will rope you in and make you execute his mission. All the classic prophets had to endure this. “Why me?” was the standard question. Sure, Noah never asks this, but his actions seem to indicate that the question is resounding deep within his soul. He’s either too faithful or too fearful to ask it.
There was another movie about Noah. Instead of Russell Crowe in the lead, it was Steve Carell. And instead of including Noah, Carell played a news anchor named Evan. The parallels are there — only just. Yes, Evan Almighty was a comedy, targeted at children who had just come out of reading about Noah in their catechism books, but its messages were the same as Aronofsky’s more post-apocalyptic version. Nature can — and will — survive without humans. In fact, it will be better off. Preserving the sanctity of animal life is more vital than saving sinners from drowning. Noah injects — not very subtly — a couple of prophetic segments that remind us of this importance.
I shall not bore you with the plot of this film. Every person, Christian or not, knows the story of Noah. It has become a fable; a tale to turn to when parents want their kids to know about animals. Or arks. Or floods. Or rainbows. It is perhaps the most famous story the Bible has inscribed (besides that of Adam and Eve). Noah’s biggest success is its venture into the heart and soul of this story. Where Evan Almighty tinkered with the novelty of the ark and a massive flood (that literally went nowhere), Noah breaks open the man and pokes his organs to see what he’s made of — while a flood lays waste beneath him.
How far will you go to carry out God’s mission? How do you know when you’ve stopped being loyal and have crossed over to fanaticism? Noah believes so strongly in his task that as the waters carry life away around his wooden vessel, he seeks to take life away himself. A villain, you could say he becomes. One lost inside his own faith. It’s hard to blame him though; the God of the Old Testament was a mean god. He never hesitated to annihilate and punish. If I was alive during that time, I too would have cowered and bent to his will.
The cast here is good. Crowe makes a beefy Noah. At the start he has long hair and a beard that’s respectable. By the end he has morphed into the Jason Statham-type action hero. The screenplay — by Aronofsky and Ari Handel — even gives him an army of bad guys to fight. Maybe Aronofsky and Handel thought the non-believers in the audience might grow restless at the thought of having too much religion and no bloodshed. Elsewhere, Jennifer Connelly stands strong as the wife Naameh, Emma Watson delivers a stunningly heartfelt performance as the adopted daughter Ila, and Ray Winstone brings out all his cunning and malice as Tubal-Cain, a distant descendant of Cain, the evil brother of Abel.
Noah is not as humble as some of Aronofsky’s earlier films, but it is just as inward-looking. It is designed with a touch of class, and Clint Mansell’s accompanying score both contracts and expands the narrative. The visual effects are ubiquitous — fallen angels come presented as limping goliaths of stone — but they are not intrusive. They are sharp, real, and they crackle under the weight of Earth’s destruction. They do well to part the sea and allow Noah’s inner struggles to reach for air. I can’t say that this is the best of Aronofsky’s collection, but it is certainly the most holy.
Best Moment | I enjoyed the opening text, and the graphics with which it is presented. I also enjoyed the “creation of the world” story as told by Noah around the ark’s campfire — very stylishly done.
Worst Moment | Tubal-Cain living to see another day.