Review: Russell Crowe is the stormy center of Aronofsky's turbulent and terrifying 'Noah'
Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" is not just one of the most ambitious films I've seen this year, it's one of the most ambitious films I've ever seen. It's a movie that is spilling over with ideas and images and emotional explorations of the metaphysical. It's a movie in which shamanic culture is part of the same tradition as fallen seraphim and blatant miracles. It tells a story that is so familiar at this point that it has no impact whatsoever and tells it in a way that is constantly pushing and challenging the viewer. Whatever your idea of the story of "Noah" is, Aronofsky, along with his co-writer Ari Handel, has found a distinct and different way into it, and what he's made is going to be worth conversation all year long.
One of the first things that strikes you when reading the Bible is just how much of it is concerned with lineage. Family trees are incredibly important in the Old Testament, and this film kicks off with a very simplified explanation. In the beginning, there was the garden. There was the fruit. Temptation. The snake. Cast out. Adam and Eve have three sons, Cain, Abel, and Seth. Cain and Abel take their act on the road and Seth and his descendants take care of the relationship with the Creator. Noah is shown to be the youngest descendent of Seth at the start of the film, and he sees his father killed by Men, sons of Cain whose industrial cities have choked the planet with waste and evil.
When we catch up with Noah as a man, he has three sons, and he lives off the land, away from everyone else. He and his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) are happy with their humble lives and their sons. They also have a daughter they took in when they found her injured as a girl, abandoned and afraid. Her injuries left her barren, but Ila (Emma Watson) grows up as part of their family, eventually falling in love with Shem (Douglas Booth), Noah's oldest son. Ham (Logan Lerman) is on the verge of becoming a man, and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) is the baby of the bunch, barely in his teens. This is Noah's entire world when he witnesses a very small miracle one afternoon, presented by Aronofsky in such a small matter of fact way that Noah's not even sure what he saw. He tries to tell his wife, but he's not sure what it was, what it meant. When the Creator (the film rarely, if ever, uses the word God, instead referring to him as The Creator for the most part) speaks to Noah again, it is in a dream, and it is a horrible image, a drowned world, an ocean of dead bodies, and Noah right there with them. He sees this as a dire warning, and he feels like he needs to reach out to his grandfather, still alive and alone on top of a mountain, because he saw his grandfather's mountain in that dream.
Sir Anthony Hopkins plays Methuselah, and he lives in this striking volcanic cave in the middle of nowhere. He's not surprised to see Noah, or to hear about his vision. He mixes something for Noah, a tea that turns out to be a powerful herbal hallucinogen, and Noah is given the rest of his vision, including the Ark and his mission to save the beasts of the world. Just in the way Aronofsky handles the visions that drive Noah to his mission, he sets himself apart from most Biblical films. How to show a conversation with a divine spirit in a film is a question that some great directors have grappled with, and not always successfully. I was captivated by the way Scorsese showed Christ's conversations with God as a form of seizure, a holy fit that digs into his brain, that cripples him and that lays him flat. Here, Noah's visions are clear, but they are also apocalyptic. This is the Old Testament God of wrath and fire and fury, and Aronofsky paints a bleak picture of what's to come.
There's a scene in the middle of this film that is almost a film on its own, and in many ways, I feel like this is the film that I thought "Tree Of Life" was going to be when Malick first started talking about it. In one visually arresting time-lapse sequence, Aronofsky tells the story of the Seven Days of Creation, and he makes it abundantly clear that these days are ages, eons, massive spans of time, and each Day is a movement in the life of this planet. We watch evolution unfold and the planet slowly moves from the first life in the oceans to Noah and his family, and instead of evolution being at odds with the notion of a Creator, Aronofsky's vision reveals it as the marvelous, intricate plan of a Creator. It is an audacious hand grenade to roll into what is already a culture war right now, and I think it speaks to the serious way Aronofsky approaches the spiritual side of this story. This is, without any hesitance, the story of a man who speaks directly to his divine creator, and it is a film that explores just what it means to have faith. The dark side of that is grappled with just as much as the uplifting power of it, and I'm curious to see if people do reject this as a sober examination of spiritual matters and just get hung up on the rather remarkable surface of the thing.
Did I mention the rock monsters yet?