About halfway through Darren Aronofsky’s epic retelling of the story of Noah, the Black Swan director opts to illustrate Russell Crowe’s narration of the story of creation with a strobing, time-lapsed montage of evolution, taking us from the Big Bang right up to Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. It’s an incredibly ballsy move; but then Noah is a pretty ballsy movie – combining an ambitious scope with provocative themes to deliver a thoroughly modern blockbuster.
Though ostensibly set 3000 years in the past (according to Dr Osgood anyway), there’s a suggestions that we’re not worlds away from the present day. Aronofsky presents us with a near post-apocalyptic world where a rapacious humanity has mined the planet of its divinely-powered resources and turned it into an industrialized wasteland where the water runs green with pollution and long-forgotten species have been hunted to extinction.
Outside the primordial smog, Noah (Crowe) and his young family eke out a nomadic existence, only taking from the earth what that absolutely require. In this way they should be considered as the world’s first environmentalists.
This ecological theme feeds nicely into a harsh critique on the arrogance of man. Noah’s depiction of mankind as a festering cesspit of sin – children are stolen and traded for food; the poor are made to live in ditches among the dead – is indicative of a species that has taken the concept of man being created to protect all things and bastardized it into a God-given right to taker ownership of everything in sight.
It’s a view embodied by Ray Winstone’s brilliantly menacing Tubal-cain, whose colossal god-complex allows him to stomp around spitting “I’ll take what I want” with all the arrogant authority of man who sees himself as God’s equal.
The only downside is that the plot takes far too long to get going. Aeons seem to pass as Noah, plagued by diluvial visions, unites a team of naff-looking stone-age Transformas – actually fallen angels, or ‘Watchers’, who have been shackled by molten rock – to construct a 300-cubic-long shipping container and finally fills it with all the world’s beasts and creep-crawlies. Large parts of this feel wholly unnecessary, especially when the basics of Noah’s story are so well known, and only detract from the best moments which come post-flood.
At this point the claustrophobic atmosphere on board the Ark shifts the tone into a kind of psychological thriller as Noah beings to torment his own family in the belief that even his children and grandchildren must perish if the world is to be saved.
Such a tonal-shift requires a strong performance from the movie’s lead actor, and Russell Crowe is the perfect casting for Noah’s beleaguered patriarch, who has to play the part of both saviour of humanity and accomplice in its genocide. The emotional toll this takes on Crowe’s character is intelligently portrayed via Noah’s dramatic ageing as he declines from a buff, idealistic hero into a aged, lassitude drunk, weathered by time and the effects of survivor’s guilt.
But Noah is also boosted by a strong supporting cast, whose roles have been greatly expanded from the source material. Emma Watson in particular shines as Noah’s adopted daughter Ila, who questions her own worth in the new world when she is unable to have children, as does Logan Lerman’s Ham, the classic middle son whose enforced isolation is made all the more insufferable after his father allows his innocent love interested to die violently.
Noah may start slow but it ends on a high, tying together difficult themes of environmental disaster and our own arrogance of our place in the world into a hopeful conclusion. It’s not always comfortable viewing – at times it’s outright brutal – but that’s precisely what makes it such an affecting watch, something which can’t be said of many modern day blockbusters.
Runtime: 138 Minutes Genre: Adventure/Drama Released: 4 April 2014
Director: Darren Aronofsky Writer: Ari Handel, Darren Aronofsky
Cast: Russell Crowe, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman
Click here to watch the trailer for Noah