Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"Noah" Review: Aronofsky's Vision Adds Much Needed Humanity To This Fantastical Tale Of The Biblical Figure


Darren Aronofsky's Noah has apparently stirred up the hornets nest in the religious community. This was to be expected though, as unless you make a film that is a direct interpretation of the words in the Bible, which is hypocrisy of the highest order when those stories lack the details needed to tell them properly, your film will be targeted as an enemy of the church. This happened nearly 20 years ago when Martin Scorcese's The Last Temptation of Christ was released, now Aronosfsky is facing a similar battle.

Although, Aronosfky's tale of Noah and his ark isn't exactly an attack on religion or its many faiths. Instead it is more him taking a smaller story with very little in detail and filling in the gaps and maybe making a change here or there to tell a much deeper story. So the question everyone should be asking themselves isn't whether or not Aronofsky's leaps of faith are blasphemy, but more if they are logical interpretations of a story that lacks those significant details to back up its claims. Depending on countless factors, your final verdict will likely be radically different than you can possibly expect. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:  
Theater: Cinema City
Time:6:10 pm, March 28, 2014       
Projector Type: Digital 2D         
Film Rating: PG-13              
Film Runtime: 2 hr 18 min    
Studio: Paramount Pictures

Biases:  
Loves: The story of Noah and his ark
Likes: Some of Darren Aronofsky's work, Russell Crowe
Neutral: Most biblical stories
Hates: That a third chapter won't be happening for a while
Subtitles?: Don't be a baby, go see it now!



I am not a religious man. I have only been to church a handful of times which were then only to attend a wedding or two. But there were a couple times where I was present at a reading of select passages from the bible and witnessed its effects on the faithful few who were mesmerized by the retelling of these fantastical, almost impossible stories that reinforced many of the beliefs we still hold true to today. It was then I realized that these stories aren't just meant to anger those of us who want proof that any of this really happened, but they are conduits for those who want or need to be reminded why they believe what they believe.

The story of Noah and his building of the ark is likely one of the most renowned and famous of all stories from the bible. It's popularity, if that is the right word, lies in this idea that a man was singled out to perform actions bestowed upon him by God and how his will is tested over the course of his life. Noah isn't all that different a figure than that of Moses, who he too was selected by God to be his servant on Earth and do his bidding. But where Darren Aronofsky's interpretation comes in is when we discover that Noah isn't just a biblical figure blindly carrying out a mission for his creator, he is a man who like all of us, is conflicted, flawed and ultimately, human.


The film opens with a recounting of the creation of man. How Adam and Eve were tempted to eat the forbidden fruit and then expelled from Eden forever. Then how their sons, Abel, Cain and Seth went on to define the world they would live in with Cain becoming the embodiment of evil and Seth being the only good left in the world. We see how Cain's evil spawn covers the Earth with cities of industry that destroy the land and all God's creatures as Seth's ancestors live on in relative peace away from said evil. Then we meet Noah.

We then jump ahead and find Noah a husband and a father who is living off the land and keeping his family safe away from the burning cities and the evil men who reside within their walls. It is then Noah receives the first of many signs that something is coming. Something that will wipe the Earth clean of all the vermin who have decimated all the gifts bestowed upon them by their creator and start anew once again. The reason he chooses Noah is because he is the last surviving relative of Seth and in turn the last man on Earth who can carry out the job that must be done. Noah must then create an ark, which will carry two of every animal, and protect them from the impending deluge that will cover all the lands in a great flood and once the water recedes, release them to help refertalize the blossoming land.


That is the story of Noah as told in the bible. There are some minor details here and there about Noah getting drunk, cursing one of his sons and what not. There is also the fact that Aronofsky has deliberately changed who exactly entered the ark, which is possibly the biggest alteration made, but one that was done to help emphasize the story he is telling. There is a lot of room for interpretation here though and even more room for expanding the story beyond its simple tale of a man on a mission for God. That is where Aronofsky's Noah comes in and turns this small story about God wiping the planet of its evils and giving mankind another chance at getting it right into a story about faith and holding true to ones faith when faced with insurmountable odds that will make us question who and what we believe in.

The greatest achievement in Aronofsky's epic retelling of Noah is in the character of Noah himself. He is no longer just an instrument of God who does as he is told. He is a man who does what he is asked based on his faith in the one that created him, but whose faith isn't all encompassing. When Noah is given a sign that soon Earth will be covered by a great flood and that he must help protect the innocent from its cleansing force, he does so because that is how he has always lived his life and what he has taught his children. But as time goes on and Noah is faced with certain realities for his children, he suddenly has doubts and that is where the genius of Aronofsky's Noah lies.


The bible depicts Noah and his family as these individuals who are more incorruptable figures than actual human beings with faults. Aronofsky gives them their humanity and in turn gives them their frailties as well. This is likely where most of the controversy over the film comes from as most religions, whom have it engrained in their skulls that these characters are without fault, are suddenly faced with this proposition that Noah and his family are actual human beings with free will and independent thought. He places them in the same situation from the bible, but by giving them their humanity he also gives the story of Noah a much more meaningful lesson to be learned.

There comes a point in the film where Noah is faced with a dilemma that seems somewhat petty at first but quickly blossoms into the catalyst for the undoing of his family. While Noah received the message clear as day to create the ark and save the animals, he was never given any message about the fate of his family. The question here is why shouldn't each of Noah's children be paired with a member of the opposite sex, just like the animals? Are they not as important? Does God have a plan or purpose for them after the ark is built? These are questions that come from not only an interesting place, but a logical one at that given the changes Aronofsky has made to the story.


Telling someone that you just need faith is like telling them, "I don't know" and has always felt like more of an insult than an insight. But Aronofsky's answer to that question is astonishing and infinitely more compelling than anything I had imagined before. When Noah asks God what he should do and receives no answer, he takes matters into his own hands and does what he "thinks" his creator would want him to do which results in a string of catastrophic events. This single notion of Noah acting on his own and doing what he thinks is right is quite possibly one of the most significantly altering pieces to the Noah tale and changes everything by giving his story much more weight and depth.

Aronofsky doesn't stop there though as he also adds to the mix this notion of fantasy and magic that will undoutbedly ruffle some feathers, but once again makes the story and the world in which it resides that much richer and that much more interesting. One of the coolest additions being the advent of the watchers, these once beautiful and brightly lit beings that decended from the heavens to help humanity, but because of their defiance towards the creator are turned into these hulking rock monstrosities that move about the land as if every bone in their body has been broken.


At first they will beg comparison to films such as The Lord of the Rings and other fantasy fare, but that is only due to their appearance. As the film goes on and we learn more about them they, like Noah, become tragic figures who despite their best intentions have been persecuted for believing in and trying to help man. They are also used to solve one of the biggest riddles of the bible, which is how Noah and his family were able to create such an immense structure as the ark on their own. Their ultimate fate though is where Aronofsky proves he isn't just out to spit in the faces of the religious, he actually has something meaningful to add to this story that just feels like it should have always been there.

Other additions such as the evil king Tubal-cain and a truly disturbing scene with Noah infiltrating their camp, help show why this world needed to end. While it isn't really all that different than say the Medievl times, it isn't that far flung from what we now use as a possible apocalyptic future. As Noah walks through that camp, there is an ever growing sense of disgust and sadness that fills our senses and it is that moment when we understand why Noah makes the decisions that he does, thus helping us feel the conflict that he does. While Noah is a bastard on the surface, it's hard not to agree with his concensus on the matter.


Bringing all this together are the performances, all of which are brilliant across the board. Starting with Jennifer Connolly as Namaah, despite being given what was not only the most obscure character in the biblical tale, but also a character that on the surface is nothing more than a worried mother, she is firing on all cylanders when she is needed most. The children are all great as well, with a special shot out to both Logan Lerman as Hem and Emma Watson as Ila who give some of the best performances of their young careers. Ray Winstone provides us with a villain who is deceivingly one note, but by the end proves to be a more subtle kind of evil that will definitely leave an impression. Anthony Hopkins very brief appearance as Noah's grandfather Methuselah even finds a way to add a slight bit of humor in a story devoid of it.

Then you have Russell Crowe as Noah, the performance that anchors all the others while simultaneously besting them as well. Russell Crowe is a fine actor who like all actors has picked some good projects and some bad ones. His personality sometimes led him picking roles where he was the focal point instead of picking a role that was best suited for him. But regardless, he has always remained a solid prescense in all his work. Here he shows us a side of him that may seem somewhat familiar at first, but slowly transforms into a something we have never seen from him before.


Since Aronofsky has imbued the character of Noah with so many extra layers, the pressure was on Crowe to bring those layers to life in a way that wouldn't outright contradict what we know of Noah from the bible, but also bring some new elements to his legend. Crowe has always done great subtle work, but here he turns in some truly fantastic bits of acting that only an actor of his caliber could deliver. During those moments of conflict we see him go through during the later half of the film, Crowe sells every scene like its his last and helps bring some much needed humanity to a character that up til now has seemed like nothing more than an instrument as opposed to a real flesh and blood person.

The last element that ties all this together nicely are the effects work, which have been the focal point of all the films ads. From the awkward motions of the watchers to the great flood itself, the film as a whole is a visual tour de force. The overall look of the film is so well thought out and organic to the world itself that it only takes a few minutes to become fully enraptured in its reality. Visually speaking, there are no flaws to be found here as every single inch of the screen is constantly filled with amazing treats for the eyes.


There are two trains of thought when attempted to come down to a verdict on a film like Noah. First is whether or not it was true to its source material. Second, is whether or not it did the source material justice. In the case of Darren Aronofsky's Noah, it is easy enough to say that it was indeed true to the source material, at least enough so that when watching the film you will have no doubt in your mind that this is the story of Noah. Sure, some significant things were changed such as there being no wives for Noah's sons, but beyond that the film is still about Noah creating his ark and providing safe passage for God's innocent creatures. As for if it did the source material justice, well that really depends on how open minded you are and how much you are willing to accept the very fantasy driven aspects of the film.


As ironic as it may seem, those angry religious folks out there who are condeming the film for changing certain things or adding and expanding on others show extreme little faith in the idea that this interpretation of the ancient story of Noah and his ark actually has more beneficial and meaningful aspects than that of the actual story of Noah. Aronofsky's Noah is a film that holds true to the same beliefs that were part of the biblical tale of Noah while adding some much needed humanity to a story that was in desperate need of it. It is strange to think that there are so many people out there who will believe in an instant stories about a single man creating a vessel large enough to fill all the world's animals or a story about mystical apples and snakes, but won't for a second entertain the idea that anything in this film could have happened.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Darren Aronofsky's Noah has a lot to say about religion and how for many, their motivations are in direct conflict with what their God asks of them. He goes even further by implying that Noah had to make a number of impossible decisions, making him an almost tragic figure instead of simply the savior many have made him out to be. Like the best stories about faith, the film reminds us that despite what we may or may not believe, the final decision is up to us and we need to be accountable for those decisions. If this was the story of Noah I was told during bible school when I was a child, perhaps I would have attended church a few more times than I did.

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