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Noah

March 28, 2014

When Darron Aronofsky says after a handful of intense but very tight movies that he wants to do a big Biblical Epic, you probably stopped and asked yourself, “Really?” Then, because you know his work, you end up just sort of nodding your head and saying, “Well, he has to see something in this that I’m just not getting. Let him go and let’s see what happens.”

That’s basically the line of thought that the studio took and that’s what got my butt in the seat to see Noah. Based on how the theater was pretty evenly divided between older women and families expecting some moral majority film and young urbane pop culture nerds, I think there are a lot of people following my line of thought here. You don’t just go from The Fighter and Black Swan to Noah without something up your sleeve. Then again, it still blows my mind that the same guy who did Pi did The Fighter so clearly Darron Aronofsky knows what the hell he is doing.

Also, the last time we put Russel Crowe in a sword-and-sandal flick it was kind of awesome.

The story of Noah is one of those Biblical stories that you learn whether or not you’ve ever set foot in Sunday School. A man named Noah gets told by God to build an ark to preserve the innocent while the wicked get washed away in a great flood. The concept of a flood washing away the old world and creating a new one is almost universal across cultures, and in many ways Noah is just the old Hebrew version of that same tale.

Of course, what a lot of people forget about the Old Testament, and stories involving old Biblical figures like Noah, is that they are quite clearly mythic tales. The pre-Flood world is a different one from the one even Abraham lives in. It’s a world where wickedness and sin are palpable things, and Man’s relationship to his creator is much closer than it is in other parts of the Bible. Aronofsky doesn’t shy away from this, if anything he enhances and embellishes it.

This is a story that directly descends from Adam and Eve being banished from Eden, and Cain killing Abel. Man in this story is a wretched and untrustworthy thing who spits in the face of God (cleverly sidestepped as being referred to as the Creator), and believes strongly in his own will and dominion. This wickedness is perfectly captured in Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone being fantastic), the leader of Cain’s descendants who have poisoned the world, who believes that as the children of God they have a right to dominion over the land. Meanwhile, Noah and his family obey God and his laws in an attempt to seek redemption for the Fall. It’s this complex relationship between Man and God that fuels the whole film.

The idea that Man should obey God because he is God, is one of the most important aspects of the Old Testament (and some schools of Rabbinical thought) that this movie plays with. Noah will do everything he can, even kill and let humanity itself die, if that is the will of God. This is the moral struggle at the heart of the movie, and it gets played out in the relationships within Noah’s small family unit. How he views himself, his wife, his sons, and his daughter-in-law are all reflections on how he feels about Man, how Man has failed God and why this apocalypse is happening.

The fact that this is an apocalypse is made quite clear in several beautiful scenes where we watch the world falling apart. This movie is actually quite brilliant and epic in the way it’s shot, and the use of CGI and practical effects to create a world that is so similar but so different from our own. Aronofsky knows exactly what he’s doing with every single line of dialogue and every shot, and the fact that he has a passion for doing this particular project comes out in every minute of the movie.

On top of this the cast is a great mixture of well known actors and people who you will probably confuse with other actors. Each of them hits their marks perfectly though. Obviously, Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson as the female leads really end up anchoring the film around Russel Crowe’s intense and fanatical Noah. It’s hard to imagine someone besides Crowe delivering these big epic lines, but what he really sells is Noah’s descent into zealotry in the third act when they’re trying to survive the flood inside of the ark.

As much surprising love as I have for this movie, I can’t pretend that it doesn’t have some definite problems all of which basically stem from what the film is. It’s an Epic, in every sense of the word, and because of that a lot of the characters are fairly one dimensional or broad because they’re more pieces of the plot than characters. Also, at times, the dialogue is a series of exclamations in vaguely British accents that audiences associate with Important Acting! In another movie it might rub me the wrong way, but in this it just made me frown a few times. Really the movie’s biggest problem is that despite being only a little over two hours it just feels like it’s never ending. Maybe it could have been paced a little more smoothly or maybe it’s that it just covers so much, but there were distinct moments where I felt like the whole movie was dragging its feet. I wasn’t bored but I was distinctly aware of the fact that there was a smartphone in my pocket.

Ultimately though, that’s part of watching Epics. By their nature they’re long and they have some dumb dialogue and some characters that are cardboard cutouts. That’s what helps make them universal and what makes them persist for years. I think a large portion of people will be surprised by some of the twists, mysticism, and themes that Noah plays with but they’ll be very happy that they went to go see it.

I suggest seeing it, you may be surprised with just how much you enjoy it.

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