Giving the go-ahead for a $120 million Biblical based epic wasn’t necessarily a risky move on Hollywood’s part, but giving it to American auteur and indie director, Darren Aronofsky, certainly was. In the past, audiences have flocked to the big screen – small screen too – for stories from the Bible. The story of Noah, however, although one of the most well-known, lacks much detail. This is where Aronofsky steps in with his extraordinary vision and re-imagining of the classic tale that he breathes new life into while exploring what Noah, the man, and his family endured emotionally, physically, and spiritually through the destruction of one world and the birth of another.
Mankind has grown destructive, living as savages and the land they’ve laid waste to. Living off the land he was raised to respect, Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family live in constant fear of others and the dangers associated with them. One night, God – referred to only as “The Creator” throughout the film – speaks to Noah in his dream; not with a deep, heavenly tone, but through striking images, the last of which is a sea of dead bodies – literally in this case – and Noah struggling to swim to the surface.
Knowing what he must now do, and accompanied by his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), sons Shem and Ham, and their newborn, Japheth, Noah begins a the perilous journey to seek out his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) for guidance. They soon come across a slaughtered caravan with only one survivor, a small girl named Ila, who quickly takes a liking to Shem. After a near death encounter from a group of attacking men and a few rock monsters – more on this later – they arrive and meet Methuselah who helps Noah decipher The Creator’s message. He must build an ark to preserve the future.
Methuselah gives Noah a seed from the Garden of Eden that grows a forest where nothing could grow before. And with the help of the rock monsters, Noah starts construction. Several years pass and the animals start coming, two by two. Shem (Douglas Booth) and Ila (Emma Watson) are in love, while Ham (Logan Lerman), feeling lost with no chance for finding love, feels as much as a child as his younger brother Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll). But peace could not last forever. The king, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), approaches the ark with legions of men in defiance of Noah’s mission and demands that his people be let aboard if this supposed apocalypse is indeed true. He doesn’t anticipate Noah‘s answer.
Noah is filled equally with tension and reflection, keeping the audience engaged throughout the majority of its 138 minute runtime. I say “majority” because the third act isn’t quite as strong as the others. Not bad by any means, but the scenes aboard the ark, although powerful, seem to shift between tones too easily compared to the rest of the film. Visually, the details of the animal kingdom boarding the ark to the fantastic montage of how the Earth was created according to Noah, gorgeous cinematography and visual effects give the grandeur that the story requires and deserves. Oh, and remember those rock monsters? Not monsters at all, but rather fallen angels that left heaven out of pity for Adam and Eve, only to be deformed by The Creator for their defiance. A unique touch might seem outlandish at first, but I think pays off in an incredible way.
Aronofsky asks a lot of questions and answers most of them through his characters, simultaneously allowing us to explore our own ideals and moral questions. He brings love, fear, kindness, disparity and revenge to the forefront, making it a point remind us of our own humanity, all without being too heavy handed. His presence never once left the film. Maybe he wasn’t such a risk after all. [B+]
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