Finding a place to begin a review of ‘Noah’ is difficult for me. I have so many things to say about this and yet knowing where to start is hard to pinpoint. I could just ramble from the get-go and eventually get to a place where it all makes sense and it all comes together and yet I’m not even sure that that would happen since at the moment I’m still processing everything and trying to formulate my actual opinion. Maybe finding a place to start is not the problem at all, but finding the TIME to start. I mean, is now really the best time to flesh out a review of the film you just saw, or would it be more appropriate to wait until I’ve had the needed days to process? I’ve asked myself this question all day long, as I’ve continued to tweet various feelings about the film or post paragraphs about it on various social mediums.
The bottom line is that I can’t stop thinking about it and so maybe now is the best time to write this all down.
I’ll be pretty up front in admitting that ‘Noah’ was one of the films I was most looking forward to this year. In fact, ever since the project was announced with Aronofsky at the helm and Crowe in the lead I was hooked. I’ve been waiting with wide eyed anticipation since early last year. But then harmful speculation started to sneak into the media and the idea that Aronofsky’s Biblical epic was indeed a disaster began to take root.
Everyone’s a critic, right?
There are many ways to look at a film like ‘Noah’. I think this is where many people are going to find themselves either on the outside looking in, are settled into the front seat, awaiting the ride. The Bible is a very tricky subject, because the passion surrounding it is heated from both sides. Those who follow it as the book of God don’t like it to be messed with, and those who view it as a man’s book consider its contents ridiculous, outdated and irritating. You cannot please both camps. Darren Aronofsky has flirted with God, faith and the paranormal before, and so this isn’t exactly new territory for him. Many note ‘The Fountain’ as an example of Aronofsky’s delving into faith, and many also note that film as a reason why he should stay away from the subject.
I happen to think that film has lofty ideas and a great sense of originality, but it needed a little more guidance.
‘Noah’ works, for me at least, as a separate entity, removed from its source. The film veers so much from the written text that anyone watching it an expecting an exact retelling of the preserved story is going to find themselves confused. Aronofsky alters many well-known aspects of Noah’s story (including his depiction of the fallen angels, here seen as kind hearted ‘watchers’, cursed to the Earth for their desire to help men right themselves with The Creator) and so some (or many) Christians may have a hard time swallowing this particular version of Noah’s story. I have to admit, the Christian in me was slightly alarmed by these alterations, and there were a few individuals at the showing I attended to walked out during a key scene between Noah’s rival, Tobal-Cain, and Noah’s son Ham. Still, there is something that I continue to come back to that makes this film feel all the more important to me.
The bottom line is that ‘Noah’ serves as a wickedly astute allegory to modern man’s struggle with faith. Much less a Biblical, historical account, Aronofsky’s Noah is a marvelous depiction of the modern man and his eternal plight to understand, and account, before God (or whatever being he puts faith in). Instead of delivering to us a film that feels like a dusty historical account, complete with technical authenticity, Aronofsky brings Noah to the 21st Century, giving him the weight of modern man and making him emotionally accessible to his audience. The themes that Aronofsky broaches here, from blind faith, doubt, self-righteousness, guilt and mercy all stem from a place that feels more suited to our modern society, thus giving this ‘telling’ a more arresting feel.
I can completely understand why those who don’t like anything interfering with scripture will not appreciate this work, but separated from the text I think one should be able to appreciate how beautiful Aronofsky wove this tale.
It doesn’t all work though. There are some narrative issues, some plot construction issues that feel fractured from the rest of the film. Still, these fractions are slim and don’t hamper the overall impact of the film.
Anchoring this film is a pretty impressive performance by Russell Crowe, who carries so much weight in his eyes that he, in my eyes, becomes the ideal Noah for Aronofsky’s tale. Watching his dissension into madness over his own internal struggle with faith, having his beliefs shaken by his observance of mankind and ultimately lose all his sanity in his plight to ‘do The Creator’s work’, is completely mind blowing. Sadly, the rest of the cast doesn’t fare as well. Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly are somewhat uninteresting until the very end, when they cry a lot, and Douglas Booth does absolutely nothing to the point where I honesty wonder if a lot of his scenes were but. Anthony Hopkins is just a cliché and a badly drawn one at that, and Leo McHugh Carroll (and honestly Gavin Casalegno as well) are so effeminate looking I thought for a moment that they changed the sex of Noah’s children. Ray Winstone and Logan Lerman fair the best of the supporting cast thanks to the moral complexity of their characters, and Winstone’s muttering dispute with The Creator is telling to the state of Aronofsky’s Biblical world.
Visually, this film is a treat. The cinematography is absolutely stunning. The mix of gritty lighting and harsh tones with that storybook scenery (and those night backdrops with shadows and crayon skies) is simply breathtaking. The CGI doesn’t always work (especially when the animals are entering the ark) but the actual flood is breathtaking, and the use of CGI in a distanced effect (like the swarming birds) sends chills. At the heart of this atmosphere is yet another stunning score by Clint Mansell, which builds to such heights over the course of the film.
Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ is not your father’s Noah. It’s not even your Noah, but it is a variation of the man who really was always the perfect canvas for the dissection of faith that Aronofsky attempts to debate. Here is a man who was saddled with the weight of a worldwide destruction. The impact of that foreknowledge is ripe for so many interpretations. While one may argue that scripture should not be ‘interpreted’ at will, I don’t think that what Aronofsky does here alters the breadth of the scriptures but merely opens up the conversation for our own modern idea of faith.
This is a heavily flawed film, but it is also a film that demands conversation, and the fact that the one thing I keep returning to is the film’s clear modern application makes me feel like this could be the one film from 2014 that we continue to return to and continue to debate.
A flawed masterpiece is far better than a perfected failure.
I hand this film an A. I could probably hand it anything from a C+ to an A+ in the breadth of an hour, but I've settled on the fact that this film has such a strong identity and purpose that it deserves to be respected. Oscar will probably pass on this one, with the outside chance that it gets in for its Visual Effects, but it really deserves to be considered for it's Cinematography, Sound, Art Direction, Film Editing and Russell Crowe's commanding performance.