Darren Aronofsky has been such a challenging, inventive filmmaker for so long that when I saw the trailers for “Noah,” I cringed. It looked like every other formulaic summer blockbuster rather than a film from the guy who brought us sentient refrigerators in “Requiem for a Dream” and paranoia-induced doppelgangers in “Black Swan.” Surely, I thought, Aronofsky must be up to something more than just a cash-your-paycheck biblical-disaster film, no?
Having seen it, the answer is yes and no. It’s clearly “the Bible according to Peter Jackson,” complete with epic battles, stone giants and magical fireballs. Aronofsky’s filmmaking seems weighted down as he panders to modern action-fantasy filmmaking, yet buried within that are some bits worth pondering.
Russell Crowe plays the stern patriarch Noah, a descendant of Seth, who has divine visions of a coming disaster that will wipe out venal humanity. After drinking a shamanic brew given to him by his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), Noah sees his destiny: With his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and sons Shem and Ham (Douglas Booth and Logan Lerman), he begins constructing the aircraft-carrier-sized wooden ark that will protect them and two of every species of animal and bird when the creator reboots the planet via a massive flood. The sinners aren’t taking this lying down, and led by Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) — an offspring of the murderous Cain — they plan to board Noah’s Ark by force.
In a bold move, Aronofsky clearly posits mankind’s destruction of the planet as the reason for the creator’s wrath. The descendants of Seth are vegan and see themselves as caretakers of all creation, taking only what they need, whereas the children of Cain are rapacious carnivores, stripping the planet of resources.
Even more intriguing is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sequence where Cain’s murder of his brother — silhouetted against a twilight sky — is used as a way of flashing forward through all of human history, with the figure of Cain morphing at hyperspeed into the form of warriors from history: from a hoplite to a U.S. soldier. This one moment hints that what we’re watching may not be the past, but a post-global warming apocalyptic future — Aronofsky is using the Noah myth of the bible as prophecy, not record.
Crowe’s Noah is a fascinatingly complex portrait of religious fundamentalism. Crowe stated he did not play him as a nice guy, pointing out that Noah was able to sail off in that boat and let the rest of mankind drown. The film borrows from other Old Testament tales to ask: At what point do God’s orders become too much for a human heart to bear? There’s enough questioning and drama in the script that one wishes Aronofsky had resisted the urge to devolve into a last-reel smashup between the good guy and bad guy followed by a bunch of rainbows.
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