The newest biblical epic from Hollywood is “Noah”, telling the story of Noah’s Ark. It’s a tale just about everyone is familiar with, regardless of how much or little they know the bible. It’s just one of those stories that are so famous everyone’s come across it in some form or another. Now it’s being presented to us by director Darren Aronofsky, the filmmaker of “Black Swan”, “The Wrestler”, and “Requiem for a Dream”. An unusual choice to say the least.
What he brings to the story is his uncanny eye for beauty and his desire to delve into the darkness and madness that goes along with the heightened setting. This is the world as presented in the bible; therefore it is not one we’d recognize as expected from history. As told to us in the introduction, after Adam and Eve were cast out of paradise and Cain then murdered Abel, the world was divided into two peoples. Those descendant from the murderer Cain, and those from Seth, the third brother (who was not killed).
The last descendant of Seth is Noah (Russell Crowe), who witnesses his father killed before his eyes when Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) arrives with his legions. Years later, when Noah is a man with a wife (Jennifer Connelly) and family, he experiences nightmarish visions of the coming apocalypse. His task, as he believes it to be, is to survive it and preserve the innocent, namely the animals. The rest you already know; the flood, all animals arriving in pairs, finding land, etc.
Where Aronofsky deviates and adds a great deal of visual interest is in the way he presents this world and interprets the mythology. There’s the inclusion of beings known as the Watchers, who were fallen angels sympathetic to Adam. For acting against the creator, they are cursed by the earth and misshapen into large stone golems. They look incredible and their very presence adds a flair of fantasy and wonder to the setting, which is only complimented by the bleak and desolate surroundings after the descendants of Cain have destroyed all natural resources with their industrial cities.
There’s an almost post-apocalyptic air to the world, and if these humans had invented cars and motorcycles, it would bear an uncanny resemblance to the future of the “Mad Max” movies. Amid all this waste and ruined earth is beautiful cinematography and a wondrously bleak tone, as though this were another world altogether. He presents it as pure mythology, reveling in the fantasy elements and making the miracles of the creator (as well as the way all the animals are contained within the ship) seem acceptable under these fantastic circumstances. This is the Old Testament God, by the way. This is not about love as much as it is vengeance and punishment. Man is presented largely as a force of brutality, sin, and evil, which I guess they'd have to be in order to not only justify, but get behind the notion of genocide.
The acting is very good from the entire cast, the focus being Noah and his family. Jennifer Connelly and Ray Winstone give strong supporting performances, Emma Watson, Douglas Booth, and Logan Lerman make up the conflicted children, and Anthony Hopkins turns out another small role as the wise old mystic (he's basically Odin again), but this is almost entirely Russell Crowe’s show. His Noah is not exactly a saint, or even an especially good guy. Instead, he’s portrayed as a hard man; a strong man of faith, but with an uncompromising view of the evils of mankind. He tries to teach his sons what he believes to be true, but his desire to carry out the creator’s will forces him to become cold and utterly ruthless towards his fellow man (his own family included).
There’s plenty of drama aboard the ark once the world’s been flooded, and it even leads him to the conclusion that all man (again including his own family), must die out for the world to begin again. His sanity and cruelty are brought into question, and his own family’s love is greatly tested against his faith.
“Noah” is a dark and very grim retelling of a famous story, but it’s done with a strong visual style and takes a modern approach to the material. It’s bold and dramatic, but not without the human element found in the central characters. It’s a fantasy based view of the Old Testament, capturing the darkness and brutality of what's meant to be the righteous end of the world, if you can believe that.