Posted on Tuesday, March 25th, 2014 by Peter Sciretta
I’ve been a fan of director Darren Aronofsky since I first saw Pi. His film Requiem for a Dream remains one of my favorite movies of all time. Aronofsky has yet to make a movie I have dislike; his last few films were all in my top ten films of those respective years. Over the last decade, Aronofsky has become attached to a bunch of big budget projects including the films that later became Batman Begins, Watchmen, The Wolverine and Robocop. I’ve been itching to see what Aronofsky could accomplish with a larger budget. Noah is that film. Read my Noah review after the jump.
A larger budget also means more studio interference. We’ve heard reports of Paramount editing and screening their own cut of the movie to religious test screening audiences. It seems to me they were hoping for a Passion Of The Christ scenario where they would be able to sell tickets in bulk to church groups who would bus their congregations to the sold out screenings around the country. This is not a film that caters to that crowd, unlike the recently released Son of God.
I was brought up catholic during my preteen years, but I’m not a religious man. I’m not sure I believe in God, at least in the same kind of God I read about in regions texts. I believe in science, but even that at too times is so beautifully constructed to completely deny the existence of a supreme architect. If anything I would classify myself as agnostic yet spiritual.
Something has always drawn me to the great biblical epics of film history. I can’t tell you how many times I watched the Ten Commandments. There is a reason why so many people have connected with the stories of the Bible — some of the tales are hugely impactful pieces of storytelling. It probably doesn’t hurt that they are probably some of the first serious superhero movies captured on celluloid.
But I’m not a fan of all biblical films. I didn’t connect with Mel Gibson‘s Passion of the Christ because it felt like only a sliver of a story, stretched to a manipulative guilt-inducing feature length torture porn extreme. I completely understand those of you who connected with the movie — the power of that film comes from the external, from what you bring in to it.
Before giving my reaction to this film, it should also be noted that earlier this month I flew out to Mexico City to see Noah at the world premiere as a guest of Mr. Aronofsky (if this bothers you, please stop reading now — there will likely be other reviews from other /Film contributors closer to release). I have since taken in a second screening of the film as the world premiere experience is not as great as you may expect. (Imagine projecting a subtitled movie and Clint’s score in a arena called the Pepsi Center, with a crowd of people on their phones and a not-so-quiet baby). So my following review/reaction is after having seen the film a second time in a more proper setting.
I have also tried to avoid delving deep into the plot of the film to keep this reaction mostly spoiler-free. You think you know the Noah’s ark story but there is a lot in Aronofsky’s adaptation that is either created or sourced from other places. I’d rather not delve into details to keep the story a new experience for those who buy a ticket.
Darren Aronofsky’s Noah Reviewed
Aronofsky chose not to make a standard biblical adaptation, and the result is an interesting, complex, imaginative expansion of the classic flood myth we’ve all grown up on. It’s a powerful epic reimagining of one of humanity’s most iconic stories. Aronofsky, with his tag-team writing partner Ari Handel, expand upon the short story, extrapolating questions and developed into complex situations.
The film is a much different movie than is being advertised. It features mystics with magical powers, fantastical creatures, a bleak apocalyptic wasteland and angels imprisoned on earth as giant rock monsters. The story is somehow still grounded in the face of the fantastical. Noah brings a Lord of the Rings-style epic take on this classic story of mass genocide, mixing myth with fantasy to create a biblical mash-up that has me more interested in re-exploring the mythic stories of the bibles than I have been since childhood.
And so this isn’t the Noah story you might remember, or think you remember. Aronofsky cleverly weaves other portions of the Bible, stories of Genesis, Adam and Eve, Cain & Abel into the story to give his myth a sense of it’s own history. He also mashes the story with some of what, in one conversation, Aronofsky jokingly referred to as “the extended universe.” For example, Aronofsky includes the Watchers, a group of angels who were dispatched to watch over the humans and are now imprisoned on earth until Judgement Day. That story comes from Books of Enoch, a Jewish publication while considered outside of traditional biblical canon, is attributed to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah.
And then there is the fact that many of us remember the story of Noah and the Flood, but few of us have either read the actual bible scripture or remember the details. For instance, the Bible says that Noah turned 560 years old before the flood begins, and (spoiler warning) lived 950 years before dying. And you might not remember the part where after the flood, Noah builds an alter where he sets some of the innocent animals he saved on fire, sacrificing them for God (who “smelled the pleasing aroma”). The Bible even has a story in the later years of Noah’s life, where the savior of humanity passes out drunk and naked on the beach. Not all of these tidbits factor into Aronofsky’s story.
One of my favorite parts of the film is Aronofsky’s beautiful retelling of Genesis, which will please pro-science and will likely piss off creationists. Its this kind of passionate visual storytelling that mixes bible verse with science fact to present one of the most well-known stories in existence in a completely new light. For me, the beauty contained in the construction of this segment is worth the ticket price alone.
While I really enjoyed the film, I suspect many people will have a problem with Noah. The film’s five-act structure might make the film feel longer than other studio movies, and the non-traditional heroes journey might pose too much of a challenge for mainstream audiences. Our hero, the titicular character in this story, struggles between doing God’s bidding and doing what he might otherwise believe to be right. Its this struggle and challenge that may lose some viewers, but it is thematically one of the more interesting things Aronofsky explores in this film — the challenges of fanaticism. And of course, it wouldn’t be an Aronosfky film if it didn’t follow a character through obsession, to the point where he approaches the edge of insanity.
Clint Mansell‘s score shows shades of The Fountain, but is bigger and louder, feeling both galactic and mythic. I can’t wait to blast his score at home. Russell Crowe delivers his best performance in almost a decade.
Noah might be the most ambitious piece of cinema ever produced on this big of a budget (reportedly $140-160 million) and released by a major studio. The film isn’t something you would expect — the moments of spectacle promised by the advertising peak about half-way through the film (the big battle that happens when the flood finally hits). The film is much more complex than an action scene, delving into interesting ideas, grappling with morals and developing the story we all think we knew into an incredibly imaginative character drama at the edge of the end (and beginning) of the world as we know it.
/Film Rating: 8 out of 10