In today’s film landscape, it’s rare for a film to be a true “event” picture. With the rise of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the ever expanding summer movie season, the “event” picture has all but died. However, when you have true auteurs like one Darren Aronofsky, every time a film from directors with this singular a vision and voice crop up, it becomes as instantly must see as a film could possibly get. Especially when that film happens to be a passion project with a storied production history, bloated budget, and controversy oozing out of every pore.
Enter Aronofsky’s new picture, Noah. A re-imagining of sorts of the Old Testament tale (Genesis 6.1-9.29), Aronofsky’s version of this legendary Biblical tale is truly one for the ages. Pulling from various outside narratives as well ranging from various pagan beliefs to the story of Abel all the way to an environmentalism leaning that has left far Right conservatives wanting Aronofsky’s head on a Big Oil bought platter, this surreal and almost nightmarish meditation on one of the most iconic Biblical tales of them all, and is ultimately an example of what a true artist can do with this type of tale.
Russell Crowe stars here as the titular prophet, a father and husband who becomes a hand of God when he has a vision of a world covered in water and death. From there most people are familiar with the story of the mammoth ark he and his family builds only to fill it with pairs of every animal needed to repopulate the planet. However, with the added battle between Noah and an army led by a descendant of Cain, you have a film that turns one of the quicker Genesis tales into a truly epic piece of cinematic storytelling, proof that even the Bible can be fodder for artists and their creative licenses.
Aronofsky, coming off of one of his most surreal pictures, Black Swan, finds his hand all over this essential motion picture. Save for a melodramatic final act that sees Aronofsky go broad in just about every way imaginable, the blending of big budget action epic and Aronofsky’s very raw and kinetic makes for a bewilderingly abrasive and aesthetically bewildering first 90-or-so minutes. From the image of co-star Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain muttering to himself only to rise out of a tent and giving a speech to his followers, to a time lapse re-telling of the birth of the universe, Aronofsky, at his most experimental and vital, turns this picture into an action epic that is as interested in experimenting with its aesthetic as it is telling this actual tale. Slowly starting to garner more comparisons to great directors and their runaway pictures, this could very well be that for Aronofsky, think Aronofsky’s Biblical Intolerance or his Heaven’s Gate. Throughout his career, Aronofsky has been seen as a director sans subtlety, and while that’s very much true here, that is in complete service of the material. Until the aforementioned final act where everything goes to Sirkian levels of melodrama, Aronofsky’s heavy hand makes for a film that turns a tale from the Bible into something far more surreal, far more kinetic.
It also becomes a potent message picture that will most certainly make for some interesting discussions walking out of your respective screening. Inherently a film about man’s relation to the planet he lives upon, the film opens with the telling of the story of Cain and Abel, and how descendants from Cain have taken over the world, industrialized it, and polluted it both figuratively and very much literally. Unafraid to mine this for some true message based exposition, Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel have made a film that is a mishmash of various Biblical tales and various outside pieces, only to make for a fully realized narrative about the inner battle of man, man’s battle with his own faith and percieved abandonment by God, and everything in between. A truly brazen and off kilter piece of work, if the final act had stuck its landing and stayed rooted in the same surreal ground the first two acts were firmly planted in, this could have neared The Fountain on Aronofsky’s canon, as his best and most definitive piece of work to date.
And yet its also undone by some rather ho-hum performances. Crowe is fine here as Noah, giving the character enough truth and realism to make his inner battle the film’s strongest emotional thread. Jennifer Connelly is wasted-to-bad here as Noah’s wife, and names like Douglas Booth and even Emma Watson are simply blank slates until the melodrama kicks in. Logan Lerman is oddly good here as Noah’s son Ham, and his thread is both seemingly seen as nothing more than a throw away, but for those looking to dig truly deep into this film, there is a lot to be said about his final scenes. It’s a quiet performance that is more than this film could have ever warranted. Anthony Hopkins is fine as Methuselah, but the show stealer here is the ever engaging Ray Winstone, whose villain is a perfect foil for Noah, and a perfect voice for modern ideals. It’s a solid cast that ultimately is undone by a final act that is truly off the charts in its bombastic emotion and histrionic melodrama.
Overall, wihle this film will most certainly be seen as a mess by those looking for a more straight forward Biblical epic, or seen as blasphemous for those even closer to the original text, this is an epic piece of filmmaking so of its own that its nearly experimental. At its very best, Aronofsky’s hands are all over this picture like God’s all over man, and when the film fails, the viewer almost forgets that he’s even there. An epic on a scale we simply don’t see anymore, you guys can have all the comic book films and all the silly action pictures you want, but we are truly a better film world for having a director like Darren Aronofsky, and a film like Noah.