For a film that’s based on biblical text, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is hardly a pro-Christian picture, and it was never intended to be. The writers have adopted a famous tale from the Bible and turned it into a mythical fantasy, taking part in an Earth that almost seems like an Alien planet, and introducing interpretations of the original text which have already raised a few eyebrows. It’s a strange, baffling film; a large, sweeping epic on the scale that the story deserved. It has many flaws, but many fascinating interpretations and additions to the Biblical tale that are worth the price of admission alone. It may not be a film that will please everyone, but it is undeniable that you won’t be able to just shrug it off with a look of indifference. It begs to be talked about, to be discussed, to be debated; such fascinating and brave films don’t come along that often.
Russell Crowe plays Noah as the ultimate anti-hero; haunted by what ‘the creator’ has asked him to do, Crowe shows Noah’s inevitable descent into madness, as he hears the screams of every human he has left behind to die in the flood. It is an interpretation of the character of Noah that depicts him as someone who was not chosen for anything but the fact he will follow the instructions given to him, however hard or heartless they may be. He’s not a particularly great father, or husband, but he will get the horrible task that God has given him done, no matter the consequences to himself or his family. It’s a stark, harrowing portrayal of the character, but an infinitely brave one. Some of the other characters are problematic however; Jennifer Connelly’s performance as Noah’s wife Naameh is under-written and only gives her a few opportunities to shine, while Noah’s confused and rebellious son Ham is one of the film’s many mis-steps. Logan Lerman plays Ham as a sulky teenager, becoming alienated from his father during silly moments of character development; he feels more like a plot device to bring trouble onto the Ark rather than a proper, fully rounded character. Emma Watson however, shines in the role of Ila, a character created specifically for the movie, who helps raise certain questions about how and if Noah and his family will restart humanity after the flood. She helps the audience see the best and the worst of Noah, and the consequences of his actions.
Darren Aronofsky is a superb director, his direction is intricate and unique, gloriously exploring events like the creation story using stop motion and wonderful CGI; it brings the tale to life. Noah is a visual feast, and early fears the film would have an overly grey, dark colour scheme are washed away as the lush green of the forest and the blinding bright light of the fallen angels returning to the skies light up the cinema. The visual wonder also adds to the sense of fantasy that the film conveys, the mythical nature of the tale explored unflinchingly. The world that Aronofsky has created is for the most part unrecognizable, as Earth and creatures that inhabit it are at once both familiar but alien to us; the film really does descend into the world of fantasy. Despite its beauty, this fantasy Earth that Aronofsky depicts is both wondrous and infuriating at the same time, mixing the brilliantly surreal with the absurd. The inclusion of ‘The Watchers’, a group of fallen angels that have been punished and transformed into slow, rock creatures are a misjudged device to explain both how Noah built the Ark, and how no other humans were able to attack and claim the Ark for their own. In a film that flourishes with its innovations and interpretations perhaps takes a step too far with lumbering creatures that only distract the viewer from full immersion into the movie. It’s with their inclusion that the film treads over the fine line between inspired and silly, and it becomes harder to take the movie seriously when they are present.
The later scenes in the movie, where Noah descends further into madness through the orders set out by God are remarkable and brave, transforming the character into an infinitely complex and three-dimensional figure. When he kneels on the dock of the Ark and professes that he will do what God tells him, however horrible (no spoilers), it made my jaw drop. What is Darren Aronofsky trying to say here? Is it simply a radical interpretation of the character, or is it an example of how a good person can do bad things in the name of religion; a message for a modern society? Interpret it how you want.
The development of Logan Lerman’s character, Ham, is an unbelievable slog, turning a boring teenager into an even more boring, but more twisted teenager. Lerman is never allowed to fully develop his role and to let his obvious talent shine, and some of the film’s messages and teachings become lost through an underwritten character that is never anything more than a plot device.
Noah has all the potential to anger, infuriate and insult, but underneath its absurdities and silliness is a dark, brave depiction of the Biblical tale that can please as much as it annoys. There is something to be admired in its symbolism, innovative characters and visual wonder, even if it never quite deserves to be taken as seriously as it wants. If you go see it, you’ll come out with a strong opinion and a fascinating debate to be had with whoever you go with. That’s a ticket price worth paying.