Director: Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth
NOAH was arguably the world’s first superhero, certainly the first whose story lends itself well to CGI/3D-enhanced telling. Aronofsky knows that. What he knows better is to reach higher and plunge deeper — to tell us a story that could lend itself to any time, and not just the first book of the Bible. Noah can be the Chosen One, bidding God’s orders to give the world a new chance, or Noah can be one among us, facing difficult choices and finding a way to do the right thing.
The purists are quibbling, and you may contest the string of ineffective actors who play Noah’s children in the film, presumably picked up to pull in the younger audiences. Aronofsky claims to have been fascinated by Noah’s story since he was 13. Despite being such a fine reader of characters (The Requiem of a Dream, The Wrestler, Black Swan), Aronofsky can’t distance himself enough to spare the film a distinct pontific tone.
However, while you may well argue with it, none of that takes away from the understanding Aronofsky and co-screenwriter and friend Ari Handel present of one of the Bible’s most-fascinating stories and its central character, even slipping in an environmental message.
We meet Noah (Crowe) as a child witnessing his father being killed by Cain’s descendants, and next in a desolate desert as one of the last defenders of the “Creator’s land”. Noah, wife Naameh (Connelly), and his sons Shem (Booth), Ham (Lerman) and newly born Japheth lead a tough life, made tougher by men who are scavengers, looting and living off other people.
And then there are Noah’s nightmares, rendered in vivid colours, which he interprets as the end of the world being near. On way to consult his grandfather, the wise old Methuselah (played with relish by Hopkins), Noah and family rescue a badly injured girl Ila (Watson) and take her with them.
Methuselah confirms Noah’s fears, and gives him a seed from the Garden of Eden to start a new world. Noah proceeds to build the ark, concluding that there will be a deluge that will destroy mankind because of what it had become, and that God wanted him to save the animals to start afresh. Why only animals? Because they alone continue to live the life they led in Eden.
Aronofsky doesn’t spare the details, with the ark built almost exactly as described in the Bible, even though it looks like an unlikely floating structure. The film also visualises the angels exiled to earth, or the Watchers, as robots rendered in stone. They are disconcertingly Transformers-like at first, but in the pitying randomness of their structures — they fell from heaven, and took new forms from mud and rocks — they grow on you.
The flood is impressive, as is Tubal-cain (Winstone), who challenges Noah, insisting that he and his people have a right to be in the ark as he is the king of the land. Noah won’t be budged in what he perceives as God’s message to him. When Tubal-cain launches an attack on the ark, just when the rains are coming in, it’s as good as any such battle.
It’s from hence on that Noah, the film, and Noah, the character, take a step up. Till then, there is no room for doubt about Noah’s mission, but now the film presents choice versus orders, destiny versus will, justice versus humanity, even faith versus fanaticism. In deciding who will die and who will live, is Noah playing God, or Noah being the man he doesn’t want to be? In ruthlessly acting against his sons, is he really creating a new world or succumbing to the wiles he believes God wishes to leave behind? Why did God create man in his own image after all?
Crowe is very, very effective as the man who has borne the burden for a very long time, and the only one with the shoulders to do it. Connelly matches him every step of the way, particularly when Naameh finds herself increasingly distant from Noah. Her soundless outburst catches you by the throat.
Winstone is a powerful adversary. The next generation is a poor substitute, and perhaps this is deliberate, to convey the end of an era of great men with great battles.
However, look closely and there’s another arc running through Noah’s life, that of a father, balancing love and discipline, justice and mercy, nurture and nature, till his children forge own paths. Quite like the Father he looks up to.