Friday, 18 April 2014


From as far back as his first feature film – the low-budget Pi, which grappled with such themes as the existence of God and the construction of the universe – Darren Aronofsky has bursted with ideas and the desire to explore big themes. In Noah¸ he gets his hands for the first time on a blockbuster-sized budget, and the chance to make the film he has dreamed about since his schooldays. 

Despite the inevitable studio restraints, Aronofsky has done a good job of expressing his singular take on the Noah myth. This is no dutiful retelling of the story in the bible, but rather a pick-and-mix of content from Genesis and some inventions of his own, including a strange, barren landscape far from the usual middle-eastern setting, all of which breathe new life into the oft-told tale.  Neither is the emphasis here on special effects and action-led spectacle – the big set pieces of the animals climbing aboard and the flood itself actually occur surprisingly early in the film, making room for the psychological conflict that Aronofsky is most interested in. 

For this is not a film about swords, sandals and floods, but about a flawed man’s tortured attempts to recognise and deliver what he believes to be God’s will. The title reads Noah rather than Noah’s Ark, after all. God – who is referred to throughout as ‘The Creator’ - is neither seen nor heard, and so Noah (played by the perfectly cast Russell Crowe) must spend much time contemplating the abstract visions sent to him from above, as well as his own faith in working out what must be done.

He concludes, of course, that an ark must be built to save all of the world’s animals from the impending flood that will wipe out sinful mankind. But the real dramatic crux lies in what is to be done with Noah, his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and the rest of his family (including Emma Watson’s Ila, who becomes very important late on). Does God wish them to repopulate the world with a new generation of humans, or does he see them merely as agents to ensure the animals’ survival, and who there is no place for in the new world? 

The idea of animals as innocents and man as the sinful creature that must be wiped from the earth constitutes a vegan, environmentalist subtext in the film. Noah and his family are themselves vegetarians, while the villain of the piece Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) pompously proclaims man’s superiority over the animals and their right to eat them. In Noah’s eyes this is one of man’s gravest sins, and, as a vegan himself, Aronofsky presumably sees this as a pressing contemporary issue. 

This angle is typical of Aronofsky’s personal and imaginative take on the source material, but despite all his ideas and the film’s overall weirdness, the film does feel a little flat. The CGI visuals are intricately realised but fail to inspire much awe, while the characters, despite being well-rounded and morally complex, are explored nowhere as deeply as the protagonists in the director’s last two works, Black Swan and The Wrestler. Neither is there anything of the playfulness of form found in Requiem for a Dream, and the director’s trademark visceral imagery and hallucinogenic sequences have inevitably been toned down for a 12A certificate. 

As a big-budget flick it’s a solid evening’s entertainment, and as an artistic reimagining of a biblical story it’s a curiosity, but Noah is perhaps Aronofsky’s least interesting work to date. As someone so talented in the visceral, provocative aspects of cinema, perhaps his talents are better suited to lower-budget, independent films. 


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