If you’re expecting a sweet re-telling of the story Noah from the book of Genesis, you will not find it in Darren Aronofsky’s recent Biblical Epic, “Noah.” If you’re familiar with Aronofsky’s work — “Pi,” “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Fountain,” “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan” — then the notion that he would focus his quirky vision on this beloved yet simple biblical tale should have you quivering with anticipation and excitement.
There has been a lot of controversy surrounding “Noah” since this film is a significant, maybe even a little far-fetched re-imagining of an iconic story. Aronofsky focuses more on the differences between the ideologies of faith, human self-determination and sacrifice, which in part makes the story of Noah more relatable because it’s what individuals of religious standings from around the globe can attest to. Aronofsky’s $130 million, 137-minute movie is a “fantasy epic.” If moviegoers walk in expecting that, they will understand, and perhaps even accept, the creative choices. The story of Noah spans about three chapters of Genesis, however, Aronofsky – who wrote the screenplay alongside frequent collaborator Ari Handel – may have dragged out the story a little too long. There were definitely parts that could have been shortened and sped up.
Aronofsky hands us a Noah narrative unlike any we have ever seen before. The looming flood and the mission of the ark come to Noah, played by Russell Crowe, in the course of two vividly rendered hallucinogenic dreams — one natural, the other induced by a special “tea” served up by Noah’s grandpa, Methuselah – played by Anthony Hopkins.
In this adaptation, Noah is not who you expect. He is not a kind or wise. He does not have a long white beard and staff. In fact, he’s a powerful, complex and tortured soul, driven by an abiding faith in the task at hand.
The Old Testament is nothing short of haunting. In this film, Aronofsky reminds us that though Noah may be heroic, he is – at the end of the day – human. This is a Noah who hears every cry of the people who have been abandoned outside of the ark but cannot and will not save them. This is a Noah who had to face the consequences of his visions of ultimately cleansing the world’s evils and Crowe does it fantastically.
This is a Noah under attack by a descendant of Cain named Tubal-Cain, played by Ray Winstone, a violent man who feels abandoned by his Creator and will survive by any means necessary.
Where you expect a booming and almost “god-like” delivery, Crowe is thoughtful. This Noah is tormented and particularly in the movie’s third act, when his devoutness is tested — he wrestles with some of the same demons that any man or woman of faith should. Crowe is just sensitive enough to make Noah a real person but never losing the domineering presence needed for this story.
“Noah” has an all-star supporting cast but the two-standout performances came from Emma Watson, who plays Ila – whom Noah, his three sons and wife adopt as an orphaned child – and Ray Winstone, who plays the antagonist Tubal-cain, a violent man who feels abandoned by his Creator and will do whatever necessary to survive. Winstone portrays a complex character that offers juxtaposition against Russell’s Noah and outlines the major philosophical differences between Man and the few descendants of Seth who never let go of their faith in The Creator. Winstone manages to balance the wickedness and cruelness of humanity with enough charisma to make his beliefs relatable – even if they are, ultimately, barbaric.
Playing the adopted daughter of Noah, Watson keeps Ila grounded and relatable in events that could have been eye-rolling. Watson is responsible for one of the toughest scenes in the film and she sells a major turning point with a dynamic and gut-wrenching performance.
The cinematography is beautiful. With the movie mainly shot in the bare Icelandic landscapes, it lends itself to the “fantastical” element of the film. Matthew Libatique’s powerfully sweeping cinematography seamlessly incorporates live-action and the abundance CGI elements — especially during the battle scene between man and man to get on the Ark. Clint Mansell’s score is entirely in sync with the director’s intentions. It ranges from moments of intense dramatic swirls to moments of heartbreak violin melodies.
Aronofsky’s “Noah” is not about the animals or even the ark. It’s a daring exploration of humanity within Noah and his family. It’s a film with meaningful artistic choices that both glorifies and curses faith in the very same breath. It’s the yin and yang of the human condition. So prepare yourself for a gut-twisting tale that’s as emotionally draining as it is suspenseful and exciting.