Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly star in Noah (or as I like to call it, A Beautiful Ark), a film that is being marketed like a big-budget mainstream blockbuster, though it is in fact a multimillion dollar art project. Of course, with Darren Aronofsky at the helm, director of Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan, it was hardly likely to have the stupidity of Avatar and the crassness of a Michael Bay picture. However, some may be upset at how weird, unsettling and downright disturbing the movie is compared to its marketing campaign. I, on the other hand, relished the weirdness, since it allowed Aronofsky and his co-screenwriter Ari Handel to be far more subversive and controversial with the Biblical tale of Noah and his ark. This is a picture that has, and will continue to, anger people, particularly with its last-act morality play about hacking newborn babies to death with knives.
As well as spending a lot of time with Noah and his wife, we also get the family treatment, so in come Percy Jackson Logan Lerman (as Noah’s son Ham) and Hermione Granger Emma Watson (as his adopted daughter) as half-siblings. They all have lessons to learn. Ham has to learn about the perks of being a Biblical wall flower and Ila is left to figure out what the hell she is doing there (she wasn’t in the book). By the time we are on the ark, the animals have come in two by two and the whole world is under water, her purpose becomes very clear. And yes, it does link back to the knife-slaying of newborns.
Oh, and I almost forgot, there is Douglas Booth as Shem, the pretty, hunky, god-yes kind of brother who gets it on with Hermione. And that, of course, brings us back to the knife-slaying of newborns.
I’m sorry to keep referencing this baby-murder theme, but to be frank, it seems as if Aronofsky and Handel want it to be the pivotal issue of their film (even though, as before, it wasn’t in the book). I don’t want to give too much away, but the last part provides a big morality issue in which the goodness of God is interrogated and the merciful nature of man is explored. It’s all flung at the audience with the stagey-intensity of Harold Pinter or even David Hare, minus the intelligent humour. A particularly loathsome character, played with gusto by Ray Winstone, also provides room for malice and treachery in an already emotive plot, and the result is intriguing if not entirely groundbreaking. His character could also be seen as a parable on the conservative Christians that take God’s alleged messages to extremes, such as the vocal members of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Those who go to see a big special-effects epic may be impressed with the sheer scale of the flood and the huge ark that writhes around on the high waves, but may be unimpressed by the shoddy animation of the animals who board the ark. They look like they’ve wandered out of a Shrek. Still, there is a lot to be blown-away by during the more CGI-heavy epic-flood imagery, including one astonishingly realised visual reference to the Biblical illustrations of Gustave Doré. Even if the context goes over the heads of some, the images of adults and children clinging to a rock to survive while the ark floats away will last in many viewers’ memories for a long time.
There is so much to say about this film (you could fill a whole essay on how it turns the giants, known as The Watchers, into Before the Common Era-style Transformers), but in the end it is one you must experience (preferably on a big screen) in order to truly understand what it is Aronofsky is trying to do. Whether he achieves it or not is doubtful. The movie is catastrophically overlong, to the point where I checked my watch twice. There are some instances of bizarre semi-Christian/semi-humanist imagery that drew guffaws of laughter from some critics in the screening I attended. But in the end, it will be a film that will speak to individuals. I didn’t like its clear condemnation of eating meat, but welcomed a narrative that refused an outright worship of God. Although it may be adapted from a text that frequently asks its readers and believers to see the world in black and white, Aronofsky daringly decides to colour his film, both literally and metaphorically, in shades of grey. It’s going to cause a bit of a stir.
Noah (2014), directed by Darren Aronofsky, is released in the UK by Paramount Pictures, Certificate 12A.
This review is published in association with The National Student.