When director Darren Aronofsky announced that he would follow up his Oscar-nominated Black Swan with a retelling of the Biblical story of Noah, many were left scratching their heads, which is understandable considering that Aronofsky is an atheist. Yet Aronofsky stated that he has always been fascinated with the story of Noah and this has been a passion project for him for many years. After seeing the finished product, I think this is apparent. Noah is an ambitious and challenging interpretation of the creation story, one that asks tough questions and puts forth ideas that some may have not considered before.
Aronofsky presents this well-known story in a way that is both familiar and new. It would seem that contradictions are the best way to describe this film, but I mean this as a compliment for Aronofsky achieves a setting and tone that is completely unique and original. I can’t think of another film like this. The cinematography (which is brilliant throughout) highlights the primordial quality of the land in which Noah is set, yet the people that populate it have mastered a certain degree of industry and the clothes that they wear do not look like they originate from any point in our history, which is what makes the story so intriguing. Like many of the cast members have said, there is a certain “timeless” quality to the picture that allows one to think that it could have happened in the past, in the future, or on another planet entirely.
As far as performances go, Noah is strong all around. Russell Crowe shows once again that he is an actor capable of both range and subtlety. His Noah is a strong-willed man completely committed to his purpose, so much so that it drives him to extremes in the film’s third act. Such is the strength of his performance that he plays the film’s main protagonist and antagonist all at the same time, somehow succeeding in both respects without completely alienating the audience from Noah in the character’s harsher moments. Jennifer Connelly, who plays Noah’s wife Naameh, gives a wonderfully varied performance, perfectly conveying a woman’s pain and sympathy as she watches her husband struggle with his titanic task. Among Noah’s family are Douglas Booth as Shem, the always dependable Logan Lerman as Ham, and Emma Watson as the adoptive daughter, Ila. Watson, whose performances I’ve enjoyed throughout her career, finally gets a role that really allows her to flex her considerable acting talent. She gives a sympathetic, realistic performance, portraying a young woman incapable of having children who is uncertain about her place in Earth’s new beginning.
Other than Noah himself, the film’s secondary antagonist is Tubal-cain, descendant of the Cain, played by the always intimidating Ray Winstone. Winstone’s Tubal-cain, who is “king” of Earth’s people, is a man driven by an extreme sense of manifest destiny, one who believes (as many real people distressingly do) that humanity was meant to rule over all things and use them for their own ends, no matter how destructive they may be. Though Tubal-cain is certainly not a good man, Winstone endeavors to present a genuine human being who is understandably bitter about his present situation, especially considering that Noah plans to save animals while the Earth’s children drown. The last supporting character of note is Anthony Hopkins as Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah. There is nothing that I can say about Anthony Hopkins that has not already been said. As with pretty much every other role he’s played, he’s great here for the brief time that we have with him as a man that provides Noah with wise counsel and just a small bit of levity.
On a visual level, Noah is beautiful. The CG water is truly impressive, as well as the majority of the animals that swarm into Noah’s ark. For me though, perhaps the most impressive sequences of the film involve time-lapse footage that seems to squeeze millions of years into a few seconds. I don’t know what technological sorcery was used to make these scenes, but I have not seen something as beautiful in a film for quite some time. For the film’s score, Aronosky stalwart Clint Mansell returns with a work that echoes that of Aronofsky and Mansell’s previous collaboration, the Fountain. It has an appropriately ancient sound, while also somehow conveying a sort of biblical importance to proceedings. Indeed, the whole film is quite beautiful and I will no doubt be thinking about the film’s imagery and score for a long time to come.
In the end, Noah may not be the film believers want. It does not shy away from the brutal nature of the Old Testament (truly, how this film managed a PG-13 rating is beyond me) nor does it present Noah as anything more than a determined man. He possesses all of the faults and doubts of a real person and the film is better for it. The apocalyptic nature of the film is explored to its fullest extent, acknowledging the questions and judgments that come with such a topic and doing so in a way that will hopefully leave people pensive rather than irrationally angry. Overall, Noah is another great film by Darren Aronofsky, one that presents an old story with new world intelligence and a hopeful, cautionary environmental message that everyone would do well to hear.