|'clearly a story of religion, but of no particular faith... Noah’s story in the hands of Aronofsky is a fascinating tale, but never a sermon.'|
In tackling the Genesis flood narrative - the story most are likely to know as Noah’s Ark - director Darren Aronofsky has some complex and potentially tricky choices to navigate. The last major release Biblical Epic, Mel Gibson’s The Passion Of The Christ, adapted arguably the most famous story from the New Testament and undoubtedly a defining moment in the Christian faith. As Aronofsky’s tale comes from the Old Testament, a solely Christian telling would be both inaccurate and insensitive.
It’s a factor the director tackles superbly throughout Noah. This is clearly a story of religion, but of no particular faith. Noah (Russell Crowe) and others throughout refer to “The Creator”, but the word “God” is not uttered once. References to the history of man from an Old Testament perspective are made all the way back to Adam and Eve, but again Aronofsky is careful in his choices, using just what he needs to bring us up to speed with the lineage of Noah and other key players but never preaching any discrete faith. Noah’s story in the hands of Aronofsky is a fascinating tale, but never a sermon.
The fact that Aronofsky then goes one further and manages to make his film simultaneously support and question the power and influence of religion is testament to his skill as a filmmaker. Noah is a character of inherent good but also of staunch faith to his Creator. The decisions he feels forced to make in following what he believes he has been chosen to do present a clear criticism of those who defend hurtful actions by doing them in the name of a higher power. It’s testament to Crowe’s strong performance that Noah, whilst transforming from the good and kind man of the film’s opening to a questionable, almost antagonistic presence during the third act, continues to come across as a sympathetic and believable character. It also makes his further development during the film’s epilogic final segment all the more powerful.
Putting religion to one side, Noah is an epic experience in the truest sense of the word. Scenes of the great flood commencing are breathtakingly powerful. Another sequence chronicling life since the beginning of time, expertly toeing the line between creationism and evolution, is spectacular and lends the film a sense of magnificence. Aronofsky shows his mettle in presenting the harshness and brutalilty of the film’s world when necessary, but never gratuitously. His willingness to include somewhat fantastical elements, such as the Watchers - fallen angels depicted as Harryhausen-esque golems - are likely to divide opinion but ultimately work in the director’s favour. The fact that Aronofsky adopts a solemn tone throughout (the fact that Anthony Hopkins’ Methuselah provides the closest thing to comic relief here speaks volumes) adds authenticity and helps you invest in just how seriously Noah takes all he is tasked to do.
The missteps in Noah are minor but conspicuous, and are largely highlighted by the many successes throughout the rest of the film. Aronofsky’s choice at several points throughout the first half of his film to shoot using a shaky handheld camera method feels at odds with the grandeur of his film; whilst the director is clearly hoping to bring you as close to the action as possible at these points, it only ever serves as a distraction. The focus of the third act more on issues within Noah’s family, particularly between Noah and his son Shem (Douglas Booth) and Ila (Emma Watson), Shem’s wife, whilst handled well can’t help but feel somewhat domestic, even trivial at points, when following the watery apocalypse presented during the second act. The decision to include a subplot involving Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman) and ruthless king Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) feels like the biggest mistake Aronofsky makes, coming across as overly manufactured and adding little to the film’s overall narrative.
The errors here however are minor in comparison to the epically cinematic experience Aronofsky creates. This is a captivating film whether viewed as a religious narrative or just a really good story, told through the skill of a director confident in his own vision and ability. Noah is exactly what a 21st Century Biblical Epic should be; here’s hoping Aronofsky returns to the Old Testament for further source material to adapt in the future.