A cursory look through the litany of reviews on its Rotten Tomatoes page will tell you that opinions on Darren Aronofsky’s Noah are hardly ambivalent. And it would, admittedly, be wrong to deny that the film has its faults. For one thing, it’s stark raving mad. It’s a work full of bombast, absurdity, extravagance, and sketchily-drawn characters. But let’s not knock Aronofsky for trying. He quite clearly made the film he intended to and while yes, it’s ridiculous; yes, it’s overblown; and yes, the fallen angels are more than a little silly, to focus on these drawbacks at the expense of the whole would be grossly unfair.
Noah is a film comprised of two very distinct halves. The first is the one more heavily foreshadowed in the film’s marketing, and contains the things you might expect: visions, ark building, animals marching two by two into said ark, heavy precipitation and a good old punch-up. In the beginning, Aronofsky introduces us to a world set very much in Old Testament times, but is careful never to explicitly mention God. Instead, the characters inhabit the world of “The Creator”, a world which contrasts strongly with the landscapes of the traditional Biblical epic. Instead of the genre’s vast sweeping deserts, Aronofsky deposits his characters in a grey, wet, rocky and gloomy landscape.
Noah himself is marked out as different not simply because of his ancestry, but because of his keen environmental instincts. His staunch veganism contrasts strongly with the almost rabid carnivorous tendencies of his fellow man. His convictions form the foundation for how his character will develop throughout the rest of the film.
Once Noah receives the Creator’s instructions for the building of the ark, things start to get a bit murkier for our grouchy vegan warrior. Following the introduction of Ray Winstone’s East End gangster-King, and as the water-based genocide approaches, Noah becomes increasingly convinced of man’s unsuitability to walk the Earth. Consequently he goes back on his promise to secure wives for two of his sons, insisting that as all have been judged, so all must die.
This tension sets the scene for the second half of the film, in which the howling wind and rain of the apocalypse are pushed to the fringes of the screen and we settle in to a cosy little family drama. In one candlelit scene, Noah attempts to provide an account of his actions, telling the story of creation (complete with snazzy animation), before laying out his plan of how each successive member of the family will bury their forebears, leaving his youngest son to live out his days in solitude. Cheery.
Divine intervention occurs in the form of an unexpected conception. But joy soon turns to horror when Noah realises what this development forces him to do. So commences a familial power struggle, in which Noah completes his transformation from anachronistic environmentalist to hardened religious zealot. As a result, the final act of the film examines the nature of faith, and how far you should go in the pursuit of fulfilling your beliefs.
As if these themes weren’t sufficiently stark, in comes Clint Mansell’s bullish score, crashing like waves against the scenery and creating additional texture to the moments of destruction and familial disharmony. Combining harsh synth tones, high strings and soaring choral notes, Mansell’s score is full of portent and drama, best encapsulated by the appropriately titled ‘Make Thee An Ark.’
A film of such demonstrably epic proportions requires a hefty pair of shoulders to carry the load. Fortunately, and despite Noah’s strict vegan diet, Russell Crowe’s performance in the titular role meets the brief in all senses of the word “solid”. Meanwhile Jennifer Connelly, though consigned to the fringes for large parts of the film, grabs the metaphorical bull by the horns in the final act, when she confronts Noah on his decisions in a deeply impactful scene.
Then there’s Ray Winstone and Sir Anthony Hopkins, both having a marvellous time. The former plays chief antagonist Tubal-Cain, a self-proclaimed King from a line of evil men. Winstone chews up the scenery the way he chews on the occasional unsuspecting animal and, against the chorus of the divine deluge, delivers rousing speeches with lines like: “We are men, and men united are invincible!” Sir Anthony, meanwhile, plays the rather less rambunctious Methuselah (Noah’s wizened grandfather), who is perhaps the closest physical representation of the Creator in the film. Although his screen time is fleeting and mainly spent seeking berries before the all-consuming flood hits, Hopkins is solely responsible for the “lighter” moments in what is otherwise a rather bleak use of 138 minutes.
Noah is by no means a perfect film. But we live in an age of absolutes when it comes to cinema. Film lovers routinely bemoan the seeming uniformity of modern cinema, yet are quick to dismiss one which attempts to do something a little different as an abject failure. Noah is absolutely the film Darren Aronofsky intended to make and is all the more wonderful for it. In spite of its faults, it is undoubtedly one of the more bold and challenging films to emerge from Hollywood in recent years.