Monday, 28 April 2014

Noah: Bible Boating

Darren Aronofsky follows up Black Swan with what else but a massive Biblical fantasy epic. Because why the shit not, right?

You're probably familiar with the basics of the Noah story: dude gets a heads-up from the Almighty that the world is going to get a watery reboot because man is buggering everything up. God tells dude to build an old old wooden ship big enough to hold two of EVERY SPECIES OF ANIMAL ON THE PLANET to save them from his liquid genocide. Crazy people the world over think this actually happened.

Apparently Darren Aronofsky is not one of those people, as this film firmly embraces the magical, mystical, mythological elements of the story, introducing us to massive rock monsters (notably absent from all promotional material, presumably to keep the true wacky nature of the film from the lucrative christian audience), flaming swords, a glowing Adam and Eve and all kinds of outlandish fantasy imagery. And the film is all the better for it.

Aronofsky approaches these peculiar subjects with an admirably straight face, creating a moody, surprisingly dark and violent film amongst all the bizarre spectacle.

Rusty Crowes is excellent as Noah, embodying the grim determination, familial tenderness and existential confusion you would expect from a man who's in on God's apocalypse plan. He's ably supported by Jennifer Connelly as his stalwart wife - all poise and grace and reason and aging like a damn fine wine - and former Wallflowers Logan Lerman and Emma Watson - both doing arguably their best work and, in Lerman's case, being the best thing in the movie. Lerman plays Noah's hilariously named son, Ham, as a bundle of earnest befuddlement at the world and his father's heavenly mission, and his attempts to come to terms with their future, or lack of, is handled magnificently by the former Percy Jackson.

And people running through the woods shouting "HAM!" never gets old.

Ray Winstone and Anthony Hopkins crop up as a representative of man's punishable inhumanity and a genial Ben Kenobi-type Methuselah, respectively, and both are fine if familiar in their roles.

The whole bizarre thing is held together by Clint Mansell's propulsive and rousing score, teasing out emotion even when the characters become increasingly distant and lacking in empathy, and by Aronofsky's uncompromising visual style. He's not afraid to undercut a retelling of the creation myth with the entire history of evolution in fast-forward, and you have to admire the stones that takes.

The whole thing is probably about an hour too long and - Hopkins' mild comic relief aside - is relentlessly dour. But perhaps that's the only way to tell a story about God drowning the human race like an unwanted puppy in a sack.

Noah will probably sit most comfortably alongside The Fountain on the Aronofsky shelf. A spectacular, skilful, well acted bit of bizarre business which is more of a fascinating curiosity than a entertaining movie experience.

Oh, and some of the CGI animals look like shit.

But the Fallen Angel Rock Monsters are cool.

1 comment:

  1. Before I say anything of substance, let me just note that this had me laughing out loud: "And people running through the woods shouting 'HAM!' never gets old."

    I agree with and appreciate your take on this film, except for one point. Many of the "crazy people" who think this actually happened, also embrace the "magical, mystical, mythological elements of the story." In fact, for believers, those elements are the essence of the story. That, no doubt, is why the studio felt comfortable marketing the film to the church community.

    Films about Bible stories are always problematic. If you are in the community of believers, you bring your checklist along to be sure your understanding of the text is respected. And if you know anything about the community of believers, you know that they rarely agree about a whole ark full of details—including whether to take things literally or metaphorically or some mystical combination of the two. If you're not in the community of believers you come for the spectacle and the special effects. It's just another comic book franchise with big league smiting of villains by the heroes—but with more orgies than the curators of the DC and Marvel franchises would ever permit.

    Questions of belief aside, Aronofsky takes the source material seriously (if not literally). In the Bible, all of Noah's sons come aboard with wives. Aronofsky manufactures some dramatic tension by giving only one son a wife and letting the others mope and cope with no hope of offspring or nookie.

    But he doesn't flinch on the essential horror of the tale. God deciding the world was all a big cock up and decided to wipe the slate clean and start over.

    Two previous takes on Noah that are worth noting. "Noah's Ark" (1928), directed by Michael "Casablanca" Curtiz. One of the most ambitious films of the silent era. It was so reckless in the filming of the flood scenes that three extras drowned. (you can find bits of it on YouTube).

    And the Noah segment in John Huston's "The Bible." The director himself, plays Noah. As a kindly old shepherd with a flock. It's the sanitized version of Noah that most children are taught.

    Compared to Huston's verions, it's a relief to see that Aronofsky took the terror of wiping out the planet more seriously than the kindness of saving two of each animal.