After rebooting his career with two small scale earth-bound pictures, The Wrestler and Black Swan, to my surprise Aronofsky launched back into big idea cinema with the previously unfilmed biblical story of Noah and the Great Flood. It’s a strange mix of epic swagger and Hollywood heroism and the intellectual cinematic gymnastics which Aronofsky has been known for. Ultimately it’s mildly rewarding and nothing of the intense feelings of emotion he made his name for in his more successful pictures.
Noah (2014) dir. Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connolly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman
By Alan Bacchus
This is probably the scale that his truncated version of The Fountain was meant to be, $100m+, massive CG-enhanced Lord of the Rings worthy wideshots, and a grizzled bearded zealot looking for a spiritual connection to the almighty which may or may not be in his head. It’s a shame the picture fails to make good on the prospect of meeting Aronofsky’s gritty indie aesthetic to big scale cinema.
Aronofsky’s intentions are well sound. Noah’s character trajectory is admirably scuffed up. At first he’s characterized as a pious man with a connection to God, whose foretold the coming of an Armageddon of sorts – a cleansing of the world of its sins, through the power of water. And it’s Noah’s task to save the animals of the earth and rebuild the world up from a place of goodness. Helped by a team of rock giants, descendants from the sins of Cain (of the Cain/Abel story), Noah builts his ark just in time to avoid the flood as well as an army of chaos-mongers led by an equally grizzled zealot played by Ray Winstone.
By the time the picture ends Noah becomes a fanatical psychopathic hell bent on completing his task even if it means the murder of his own family. Despite all the spiritual mumbo jumbo which represents some of the more stylish auteur moments in the film, Noah’s turn towards fanaticism is the most interesting angle to this story.
This film has an even bigger challenge than most biblical epics, such as The Ten Commandments, because the film is set in a world, time and environment we can’t identify with. We’re not in Jerusalem or Egypt but at a time only 10 generations removed from Adam and Eve, thus a near metaphysical world without any identifiable cultural characteristics. Aronofsky’s choice to shoot in the barren and unrecognizable Iceland hinterland is admirable but mostly dull and bleak.
Only in this day and age where computer effects make anything possible on screen can we yawn at the flood sequence. Yes, the ark and its hundreds of species of male and female animals are sufficiently rendered with CGI, but we know it’s all fake and thus subconsciously it fails to impress.
Just past the midpoint the flood has come and gone, but with 40mins of running left, where else could the picture go. Noah’s transition from hero to tortured villain comes as a surprise and teases us with the most accessible moral quandary of the film.
With this story out of his head now, I hope Mr. Aronofsky will go back to titillating us with his street level style of storytelling.
Noah is available on Blu-Ray from Paramount Home Entertainment