A contemporary interpretation of an ancient tale

Vivid and powerful special effects keep the otherwise sanctimonious epic biblical story 'Noah' from sinking.

By
March 27, 2014 14:48
2 minute read.
noah russell crowe

Still from the upcoming film 'Noah'. (photo credit: YOUTUBE SCREENSHOT)

 
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There’s an awful lot to marvel at in Darren Arronovsky’s Noah.

Gargantuan fire-wielding giants set to protect the Earth, an onslaught of every creature imaginable quickly gravitating to Noah’s ark – and water. Lots and lots of water.

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In that sense, the stunning special effects anchor the director’s first foray in the blockbuster entertainment world. Budgetary considerations aside (the film reportedly cost Paramount upwards of $130 million to make), thematically Noah isn’t a stark departure from his previous films such as Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan.

In those films, Arronovsky delves into his character’s inner conflict and anguish. As a director, he is not kind to his characters. In the psychological thriller Black Swan, his protagonist succumbs to violent hallucinations for the sake of her art. In Requiem for a Dream – arguably one of the most painful and uncomfortable films to watch – his characters all self-destruct on account of drug addiction.

There is no happy ending. There is no mercy.

Noah (played by Russell Crowe), then, is in similar company as a man pushed to his limits by the “Creator” (the film, interestingly, never once uses the word “God”).

The story, of course, is as old as story- telling itself. What is interesting about the film, though, isn’t the building of the ark as protection from the upcoming storm. The film shines when it highlights the repercussions of building such a threatening structure. Constructing the ark results in being alienated from his family and hated by those who are kept out.

Despite all the drama and inner turmoil between (and within) the characters, however, there is something off-putting about how self-righteous the movie is with regard to its pro-environmental message.

Arronovsky, as a passionate environmental activist, portrays a modern-day telling of how global warming and a blatant disregard for Earth will inevitably bring about the next apocalypse.

“There is a huge statement in the film, a strong message about the coming flood from global warming. Noah has been a silly-old-guy-with-a-whitebeard story, but really it’s the first apocalypse,” he said, explaining his reasoning behind giving the tale this contemporary in a recent interview with The New Yorker.

That message is a noble one and one worth telling, but the tone of the film – where anybody who disagrees with Noah is dismissed or castigated as evil – gives an unnecessarily preachy subtext to one of the less judgmental directors of all.

Crowe, for his part, is well cast as the morally upright crusader. The actor has a long history of playing men strongly bound to a sense of duty.

From stealing from the rich and giving to the poor in Robin Hood, to the anti-tobacco whistle-blower in The Insider, to a man seeking vengeance for his slain family in Gladiator, his characters all tend to travel on a straight and narrow path toward justice. Heck, his Javert even said it in song in Les Miserables when he intoned, “I am the law and the law is not mocked.... there is nothing on Earth that we share! It is either Valjean or Javert!” And that may very well be the problem with Noah: There are only Valjeans or Javerts in Arronovsky’s interpretation.

The black vs. white dynamic, while generally appropriate for a biblical tale, does not suit a director who is at his best when he shows just how gray life is.

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