Noah and the Ark is a parable recognised by most, regardless of religious beliefs. Hell, even atheists are aware of the story. Darren Aronofsky has been clamouring to retell it in his vision for quite some time – since he was 13, in fact, when he first wrote a poem on the subject matter. As is evident after having watched the film, his ambition was to create a new interpretation; a re-imagining of the epic. Starring Russell Crowe as the title character, Aronofsky’s NOAH is successful in doing this while raising moralistic questions, and not once becoming preachy (thank God!)
NOAH begins with a prologue examining the origins of sin and murder in humankind. Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation before birthing three sons – Cain, Abel and Seth. Cain – “The First Murderer” – spilt the blood of his brother Abel, proceeding to leave the Garden of Eden for Nod. Cain’s evil spread, as he roamed the lands a wanderer, but amassing an army of followers who pillaged and populated the Earth, reaping it of its resources. His descendants carried on with the same wickedness. The descendants of Seth lived in harmony with nature and the world, proving polar opposites to their brethren. Ten generations pass until we meet Noah, only a young boy when the responsibility of protecting the land for the future is in the midst of being transferred to him by way of a family ritual. His father Lamech (Marton Csokas) speaks the words, “May you walk alongside the Creator, in righteousness”, but is interrupted by the presence of Men. The unnamed leader approaches Lamech as Noah hides in the background. Claiming the Creator’s land as his own, the man reveals himself to be Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) before snatching the enchanted snakeskin that would transfer Noah’s birthright from Lamech and killing him, proclaiming “the line of Seth ends here!”
Years later, Noah is married to Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and the father of three boys, Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and baby Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll). Gathering from the land’s gifts, Noah witnesses a single rain drop at his feet sprout a flower instantaneously. That night, Noah has a dream, or vision, prophesying in his mind death by flooding. Upon waking, he knows that the Creator has spoken and he must trek to his grandfather Methuselah’s (Sir Anthony Hopkins) mountain, which he saw in the vision, for guidance. In their travels, the family come across a wounded girl named Ila (Emma Watson) at a depleted mining site, treating her as best they can before being spotted from atop the hill. Speedily, Noah picks her up as the family start to run. They venture into the blackened, desolate and tainted beyond, with very few Men fearless enough to follow suit. As Noah turns around to face them head on, they cower in fear, as a Watcher awakens behind Noah and knocks him out.
Left in a dry valley, Noah rouses with Naameh leaning over him. Huge masses of rock, mud and tzohar emerge, walking with the gait of a tortured soul. They are the Watchers – fallen angels who were punished for disobeying the Creator and attempting to intervene in humankind, promptly melding with the very Earth they plummeted down to save. Judging, they disregard Noah’s claim of being chosen… all but one. The lone Watcher escorts the family to Methuselah, who facilitates another vision of Noah’s with a special tea and gives him a seed of Eden. Planting the seed results in the almost instant growth of a forest, providing the wood needed to build an Ark to survive the cleansing flood. The Watchers offer their aid, and so the story skips ahead as years are spent constructing this mammoth vessel. During this period, where Noah’s offspring are coming into adulthood, that he faces adversity from within and without. Tubal-cain makes his re-appearance, now weathered and battle-scarred. Spewing the same rhetoric as always, he is backed away by the intimidating Watchers, vowing to return to slay them with stronger weapons and board the Ark among the pure and innocent.
Shem and Ila have grown quite fond of each other, and would be the last hope for re-population if it weren’t for the fact that Ila is barren due to her prior wounds. Ham is left alone, with Japheth too young still to worry about not having a mate. Conflict brews between father and son when Noah insists the Creator has given them all they require, which may seem ridiculous to viewers of today, but imagine if you were told that your destiny involved decades of loneliness while everyone else around you weds. That’s a pretty crappy existence! Bolstered further by the looming threat posed by Tubal-cain, ambiguity is instilled in Noah’s character when he realises there is wickedness in all man. Many questions are raised, and topics discussed throughout; most of which are heavy and deeply rooted in humanity’s nature. Once the flood hits, the movie slows down dramatically, though thankfully not for an extended period. Aboard the Ark, it’s not all congratulations and high fives. A tense situation arises that tests Noah’s conviction, and the love and commitment of his family to their purpose. This is where the aforementioned ambiguity creeps it, but it’s executed masterfully, to the point where you never really know for certain how things will end. Maybe purity is a myth? But if that were the case, does that leave room for forgiveness and mercy?
Visuals & Audio
NOAH is surprising in that, visually, it features spectacular moments which veer it towards the fantasy genre more than ever expected. Of note, the Watchers move in stop-motion, and themselves are quite the creative and whimsical representation. Aronofsky also utilises a brilliant stuttering effect on numerous occasions, both during striking montages and combined with time-lapse in scenes such as the retelling of “Creation” (in quotes because it controversially intertwines with evolution). Clint Mansell composed the music for NOAH, continuing his collaboration with director Darren Aronofsky, which began in 1996 when Mansell created the score for Aronofsky’s directorial début, the surrealist psychological thriller π (Pi) – also his introduction to the industry. Performed by Grammy award winning artists Kronos Quartet alongside an orchestra and choir, the score successfully captures the magnitude of events, showcasing many textures. Patti Smith lends her signature vocals for the credits track “Mercy Is”.
Darren Aronofsky has taken the well-tread biblical tale and twisted it to create an epic film that is at the same time grounded in the human element, but fantastical and surreal in parts of its visual presentation and premise, naturally. Performances all around are strong, with particularly emotional beats delivered by Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly. The film unfortunately drags once we board the Ark and begin to wait out the flood waters, but the movie soon after introduces a high tension scenario to reel us back in before its too late and we drift too far out. Religious bodies and followers will surely feel the need to point out the differences between the original writings and the plot here, but it is imperative to note the line “inspired by” when watching and discussing the movie. The inherent message, however, is just as potent, with effective commentaries on ambiguity of good vs evil, forgiveness and mercy. NOAH is a stunning take on the source that successfully introduces it to the 21st century in a way only such a visionary director as Darren Aronofsky can do.
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