The Movie That Is Pissing Off a Lot of People
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!
I wasn’t sure what to think about Noah going in. Would it be a film skewed way to the right to satisfy the more Christian crowd? Or would it go way in the opposite direction and skewer the original tale through and through? All I knew was I had faith in Darren Aronofsky’s direction, the cast, and Clint Mansell’s score. My faith was largely rewarded, pun intended. Noah is an astoundingly ambitious film, it is kind of like the kid in class who is going to become the dictator by age thirty. Aronofsky takes a slim portion of the Book of Genesis and turns into a two hour plus epic that includes absolutely stunning imagery, action sequences that certainly did not exist in the original story, and evolution. The film is not without its flaws certainly as a few of the characters rarely get moments between each other or quiet moments to reflect on everything going on around them. Simply put, there is too much Noah in the movie (which sounds odd admittedly). This movie inevitably will anger religious fundamentalists with its portrayal of Noah as, frankly, a jackass for most of the film, a man who is willing to murder his own family because of his interpretation. Evolution is show here as part of the creation story very starkly, and the screams of the flood’s victims are haunting and stay past well after the film’s closing credits.
Noah is played well by the trustworthy Russell Crowe (he does not sing a lot in this film, which is a very good thing). His interpretation of the vision that God sends him (in the film, the world “God” is never said once, only “The Creator”) is that humanity should be wiped out for their wickedness. There is a strong correlation to environmentalism here. Even though Noah is a jackass for the most part, there is an aspect of him that is really admirable. He is a vegan, only using naturally grown foods to survive. Early on there is a scene where he cremates a murdered deer-like animal rather than eat it. Life is meant to be celebrated, not taken. In Noah’s view, humans should only use as much as they need from Mother Earth and nothing more. Eating meat is taking more than necessary. As his visions continue, however, he descends into morbid darkness. He begins to believe that the Creator’s vision meant that he has to kill his own family as well. That goes over well with his family splendidly. Ultimately, Noah is a very conflicted character, although he does come off across as one massive prick you want to snap.
His family is well-portrayed, even though they are often slighted for the camera to turn to the patriarch of the family instead. Jennifer Connelly is given a decent role, as Noah’s wife Naameh but it is not until the Noah-wants-to-kill-the-whole-family that she begins to get the meatier dialogue and expression work. She is clearly uncomfortable with the whole let’s-let-everybody-else-die-while-we-are-safely-on-an-ark ordeal, but when Noah says their family must die as well, she cannot stand it anymore. She snaps when Noah suggests Ila’s infants must die to preserve the Creator’s will. Out of the three sons (played by Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman, and Leo McHugh Carroll respectively), Logan Lerman’s Ham gets the most screentime. Booth’s Shem does nothing but kiss Emma Watson’s Ila (lucky bastard) until his unborn children are threatened. Then he totally fails as a father just so Ila and Noah can have a dramatic scene. Seriously bro, way to drop the ball there. Japheth is the youngest and barely exists (just like Rickon Stark from Game of Thrones and Chris Brody from Homeland). Ham is the middle child and seriously battling hormones. Shem has Ila to be with and Ham is furious that he and his brother(?) don’t get wives. Have to hand it him, there. He has a point. Who wants to be alone in a world like that? He does find a girl but their eventual sexual exploits are expertly cockblocked by Noah. What a dick. However, the family as a whole falls a little flat because they are rarely given the camera’s attention as the story progresses. There are scenes of them reflecting on there journey with Noah, but scenes without him and just them would have been great appreciated and helpful in rounding out their characters.
Emma Watson gives the best performance out of the whole thing. Ila is expected to carry the bulk of the emotional weight and she does it with absolute aplomb, going head to head with Academy Award heavyweights. At the beginning, she is a young girl found by Noah at the site of an abandoned mine. They take her in and she develops a bond with Shem, which reaches full-fledged romance in adulthood. She is barren, however, and feels that she is inadequate for Shem. After all, in her view, if she is the only female on board the ark, she would not be able to further the line. She would be a failure. From the blessing of Noah’s grandfather Methusaleh, however, she is able to conceive. Aboard the ark, Ila is troubled by the screams of the humans left behind, but not enough screen time is devoted to this. Then comes the emotional kicker, where Emma Watson’s performance reaches new levels. She is pregnant and Noah declares that to preserve the Creator’s will, her child must die upon birth. The family does everything to stop Noah, but he’s a royal prick in this sequence. He’s like the Freys from Game of Thrones. The confrontation scene between her and Noah is brilliantly done and Emma outshines the much more seasoned Crowe nearly effortlessly. Anthony Hopkins is great as the grandfather Methusaleh and brings the only basic comic relief to all the proceedings (this is a really dour and depressing movie). His obsession with berries is palpably amusing and his understanding of Noah and the visions is done quite well, although his final scene is quite disturbing.
Ray Winstone takes the villainous side of the story as Tubel-cain, who is inherently pit against Noah and the idea of the ark. As far as he is concerned, the idea of the Creator obliterating all humans and saving Noah’s family was preposterous. But the film does take steps in having him make very logical points about the whole barbarous and unfair notion of it all. The humans outside of Noah’s family have descended into barbarism and sin to make a point as if the flood is right. Then Ham’s love interest, Na’el (haunting performance by Madison Davenport), dies after Noah refuses to help her. She was innocent, Ham says and certainly the film takes pain to show that. As the flood rages on, there is a haunting image of a sort of iceberg upon which terrified humans are clinging, screaming in terror. The water crashes against the rocks and a few tumble and crack their skulls as they’re devoured by the water and the survivors desperately cling even more closely. It is severely disturbing.
The story of Noah begins with the splitting of Adam and Eve’s children’s tribes. Cain’s line is presented as the more “evil” of the two in comparison to Noah’s family. Noah then receives a watery vision and he goes to his grandfather Mathusaleh to clarify said vision. Noah comes to the conclusion that he must build an ark to save all of the animals who are innocent and his family has been chosen to complete that task. The rest of humanity is doomed to die in the flood. Over a period of a decade or so, the Fallen Angels as “Rock Watchers” help Noah’s family construct the ark. Then the ark is finished and the floods begin. Tubel-cain does not go without a fight and manages to sneak aboard the ark. Then the film begins focusing on the Noah family dynamic and it is not nearly as dry as it sounds. The ending is especially poignant and as the screen cuts to black, your head is left abuzz with a multitude of questions and deeply disturbing imagery.
I am not a religious individual and the story of Noah itself lasts about three paragraphs or so in the Book of Genesis. Make no mistake about it, while the essence of Noah is biblical, the film itself is not “true” to the story. But I have a beef over all of the “this is not real!” hooplah, including the Vatican’s statement this morning. It’s a film that runs over two hours based on a small section of a religious chapter. Liberties were going to be taken and Aronofsky was as clear about that as possible. Going into a film and screaming that it doesn’t fit your particular worldview is ridiculous, especially when the source is religious and far more open to individual interpretations than other source materials. It is justified to be angry when an adaptation does not work, and my expression at the end of Ender’s Game summed that feeling up quite loudly. But to go on vendettas against it and ban it as it has been in some countries is preposterous.
Visually Noah is a bloody brilliant treat. Darren Aronofsky’s skill at being one of the most visually striking directors working today is blasted into brilliance with a super-sized $150 million budget. The flood is bombastic and thundering, its deeply disturbing moments shot with glorious effects. The sequence with the Watchers protecting the ark from Tubal-cain & Co. was absolutely stunning, the golden rays of the ensnared angels breaking through the dark, brooding environment. The CGI work on the animals was top notch and the shots of them being put to sleep were very well done. The most striking visual sequence was the creation story, which played out in a series of CGI images that openly told the story of evolution! Aronofsky’s direction is brilliantly assured and it is groundbreaking in the film’s most terrifying moments. Longtime Aronofsky collaborator Clint Mansell’s score is bombastic and fills in every frame of the film beautifully. There is one small moment where the effects seem quite off but other than that the film is brilliant in its technical aspects.
Noah is a great film. It is not magnificent, but that is buoyed down because of the lack of intimacy between some of the characters so the balance of who gets to do how much feels erroneously skewed. The film also doesn’t give much time to the family as to what they feel when they hear the screams reverberating outside the ark when people are being drowned in the flood. Aronofsky constructed a plethora of amazing moments in the film, most of them absolutely terrifying in their implications. One is where Na’el is ensnared by a trap as she is running with Ham. He tries to open it and it just clamps back down cruelly. It’s terrifying in its reality and shot brilliantly right before the tragedy occurs. But the island shot mentioned above as the waves carry their victims away is the most striking of them all. Noah makes you question religion and even its villain is given material that is thought-provoking. The film may test your faith or lack of it, and it is all the stronger for it. Give it a chance. It’s great.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Producers: Scott Franklin, Darren Aronofsky, Mary Parent, Arnon Milchan
Written by: Darren Aronofsky, Ari Handel
Based On: Noah’s Passage in The Book of Genesis
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connolly, Anthony Hopkins, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Leo McHugh Carroll, Frank Langella as Og, Dakota Goyo, Marton Csokas, Madison Davenport, Nick Nolte, Mark Margolis, Kevin Durand, Nolan Gross, Adam Griffith, Ariane Rinehart, Gavin Casalegno, Skylar Burke
Music: Clint Mansell
Cinematography: Matthew Libatique
Editing: Andrew Weisblum
Studios: Regency Enterprises, Protozoa Pictures
Distributers: Paramount Pictures
Running Time: 138 minutes
Release Dates: March 28, 2014 (United States)
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