Review: Noah

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Noah beast so fierce – Russell Crowe and family bunker down in the Ark

Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is unlike any Biblical epic you’ve ever seen before. By turns dusty, dirty, hallucinogenic and downright daffy, it retains a compelling, hypnotic power that draws the viewer into the granddaddy of all dystopian disaster flicks.

Iceland once again takes centre stage as a strangely beautiful desolate land (Star Trek Into Darkness, Prometheus, Oblivion) – an earthly paradise, now corrupted by the sins of man. Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family  shun mankind, living a simple life (“collect only what you need“). When he starts to experience powerfully disturbing visions, he comes to believe he has been chosen to deliver “all that creeps and crawls” to safety aboard the ark.

To say Aronofsky takes liberties with the text is like saying Herod was “just this guy, y’know?”  Noah’s grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) is like a shaman, with magical healing powers, guardian of Eden’s remaining secrets. Giant stone creatures, The Watchers, fallen angels, are sentinels that help Noah build the ark (you didn’t really think he did it on his own, do you?) from a forest that springs magically in time lapse fashion from a single seed. A greedy, vicious war-lord, Tenpole Tudor, I mean Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) is shoe-horned in very well. Correctly in Biblical terms, the first forger of iron and metal into weapons of war, he leads an army of Orcs, I mean men, against these defenders of the new world. Noah’s Ent-reaties to leave them alone are in vain.

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Taken at face value, this sounds absolute bobbins, and I was sceptical, then intrigued by positive reviews. I’m pleased to add my voice to that babel. The story gripped from the beginning. Its powerful imagery, sound design, photography, and subversive subtext, immediately draws one in. Whether you would go so far as to endorse Noah’s vegetarian stance and belief that mankind is but an interloper on the planet is up to you, but the ecological urgency of Aronofsky’s sermon is hard to ignore.

Noah’s arc reminded me of other films. This is very much a spiritual (or fantasy, depending on your stance) equivalent of Douglas Trumbull’s science fiction eco-fable, Silent Running. Like its protagonist anti-hero, Freeman Lowell, Noah is a nurturer who would kill any man who tramples on his new Eden. The Watchers are akin to Silent Running’s Drones, helping, not to maintain a forest, but rather build from it so one day others may thrive. And, of course, Lowell and Noah are non-meat eaters.

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But it is once the flood comes in all its apocalyptic sound and fury, that the tale takes on an even darker turn. As the family are cooped up in the dark, wailing survivors clambering upon each other on a mountain peak like the Zombies in World War Z are swept aside by crashing waves. Noah believes The Creator (God is never mentioned, as if to nullify offence?)  means for only the beasts to thrive when the waters subside.  His bloodline is meant to fade away with his last child. So when he discovers adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson) is no longer barren, but is pregnant by son Shem (Douglas Booth) Noah becomes a brooding, implacable monster, a throwback to The Searchers‘ Ethan Edwards.

Jennifer Connelly impresses as Noah’s wife Naameh, alternately soothing, then pleading, begging him to see reason. The scale is epic yet intimate, the message both spiritual and populist. Aronofsky skillfully straddles a multi-layered approach that only the most rabidly right-wing evangelical would take offence at. Clint Mansell’s superb score reflects each acts mood, by turns emotionally fragile and wondrous, darkly malevolent, and serene. Noah is a celebration of dogged belief that “nature will find a way” – but warningly, not without some effort from ourselves.

 

 

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