What I saw last night- Noah

It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything with this blog. I feel like it’s time to revive it.

I’m going to try and start doing a series of short reviews- I often get caught up in trying to get a definitive account of my thoughts on a film, and as a result, the final result never materialises.

Also, it’s good practise. You never know where jobs might take you and I feel like I need more of a portfolio of my (concise, relevant) writing for those lovely looking jobs reviewing things. In a concise, relevant way, of course.

Anyhow.

Russell “Rusty” Crowe as weather-beaten sailing enthusiast, Noah

Darren Aronofsky’s latest- and fiscally speaking, greatest- project is unashamedly ambitious, attempting to out-bible the Bible. Except the Bible Aronofsky is out-bibling isn’t a version of the text most of us heard as kids. Dr Brian Mattson’s outstanding article, “Sympathy for the Devil”  outlines a rather different take on Aronofsky’s Biblical exegesis.

Mattson aims his considerable intellect (and ire) at various Christian authorities who each claim to have the valid critique for Noah. Mattson is another of these. However, in concluding he makes this considerable point- “[Aronofsky is] having quite the laugh. And shame on everyone who bought it.”

Noah is vast in scope, brilliant in visual wit, narratively weak, burdened by its star-cast, undeniably inventive, and undeniably fails to live up to the expectations it sets itself.

On one level, it’s immensely thoughtful. On another, it’s underthunk and overwrought. I enjoyed it. But…

Set in a Genesis that has embraced (and been discarded by) rampant pre-industrial Capitalism, Russell Crowe is left with an astonishing amount of scenery to chew- Ozymandian wastelands, pop-up forests, a jade mountain at the heart of ashen desert- and credit to him, he gives it a damn good gnawing. This is Noah the zealot, Noah the pariah, Noah the practical Homo Erectus- underpinned by a tribal family ethic and aggressive veganism. He communes with a silent Creator through horrific dreams, and delivers lines of exposition like they were actual lines from Genesis 6-10. He is provided with the sort of photogenic family the human race can be thankful for, seeing as humanity mkII is (in)bred from these Oscar-blessed parents and their unnervingly attractive children.

Crowe is supported by Jennifer Connolly, whom I haven’t seen since her excellent turn in Blood Diamond. Here she provides a similar, unfortunately essential role, as the feminine, human foil to the male Odyssean protagonist. It’s a great shame that Connolly isn’t given a role that involves character (It seems she wasn’t even included in the make-up budget, remaining a flawless forty whilst Crowe matures by several hundred years). Instead, she gets authentically dirty fingernails and carelessly perfect teeth. All that said, she takes what’s she’s given and makes the most of it, giving this most-dysfunctional family its emotional edge.

The children of “Children of Adam” are equally easy on the eye, which is a relief given their genetic responsibility for mankind. Douglas Booth and Emma Watson are the odd couple, step-siblings whose risk-free promiscuity is put on hold somewhat when poor, barren Ila is suddenly bequeathed the future of humanity by her great-grandfather, Methuselah. This ancient of days is zestily played by a hungry Anthony Hopkins; given his own mountain to devour so he and Crowe can chew their own scenery in peace.

Apparently, we all looked like this once. That’s what millennia of inbreeding does to you.

Ham, a minor character in the text, is bumped up to lead son, with an unenviable relationship to his siblings somewhat reminiscent of junior pervert Denny’s in The Room. Of all the characters, he is the one with a recognisable character arc; his libidinous maturation the source of the film’s most interesting emotional interaction. Ham dares venture into the venereal slums of humanity mk.I to select himself a wife, and finds his ideal bride-to-be in a mass grave, with her rotting family.

Old-Testament gender politics aside,Ham’s motivation for doing this is in response to his father’s rejection of the same, astonishing scene. Where Noah witnesses the dark pit of humanity and turns away in disgust, his son enters in the hope of finding something good. Not only does he find it, he attempts to bring it back to the ark, before which the poor girl suffers a truly terrible fate. This brief encounter is the climax (but not the conclusion) of Noah’s most interesting narrative strand.

In fairness, the girl might have been a little relieved that she avoided Noah’s ark- a hotbed of family misfortunes concluding with two homicidal patriarchs on a trail of self-destruction. There’s a lot that could be read into the conflicting attitudes of Noah and Ray Winstone’s Tubal-Cain, but they end up at the same place- a violent, manufactured, masculine End of Days, that is subverted by the timely appearance of land, right through the bowels of the ship.

In fact, “Manufactured” is the apt word for this film. That is by no means damning; this is a film that examines “Man”, his many “Manifestations”, the notion of “Manufacture” and its necessity to civilisation and progress, all in a highly manufactured style. Aronofsky has obviously had fun, and created a highly impressive visual piece. His previous work is present in the same way as his Creator; invisible, silent, projecting timely waves of colour and vitality across the landscape.

Striking visual moments are abound in this film.

Like many stories of divine intervention, it all feels too good to be true. But again, that isn’t necessarily a criticism. Creation is given its biblical due, with deference to Lyell, Lamarck & Darwin’s contributions to the modern creation story.  Interestingly, the world of Noah is primordial Pangea, a quirky hint at the question of the earth’s biblical age. The Malick-esque sequences are pretty enough, the stop-motion journey of evolution is genuinely impressive, and the use of visual motifs exceptionally well-marshalled. Look out for a lovely, momentary sequence where Cain and Abel becomes the template for all warfare since; a beautiful, elegant piece of visual art.

Noah is too good to be true; it tries too hard to invent things, to be every kind of film to every kind of film-goer, that it veers off kilter. It doesn’t need drawn-out cameos from famous actors to lend it credibility; they simple distract us from the relationships that should make the story interesting. It doesn’t need magical pyrotechnic metals to act as McGuffins for a rapacious, resource-hungry humanity. It doesn’t need an invented plot about Noah’s utterly irrational attempted infanticide. With a simpler, sparser narrative, a simpler, sparser cast, and a little more space on the ark for humanity,  Noah could have been the modern epic. As it is, it’s enjoyable, shallow and worth seeing, if only to examine  an overpainted canvas and imagine how you might have made it differently.

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