By Eleanor Ringel Cater
About the only thing Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” has in common with the Bible’s Noah are an Ark, a Flood, and a guy named Noah.
Oh, there’s also Mrs. Noah and their three sons Shem, Ham and Japheth. And all those animals,
After that, the versions are radically different. And I think Aronofsky’s is better. Well, maybe not better, but at least more entertaining.
It’s still — basically — the same old story. God, referred to here as “The Creator,” tells Noah (Russell Crowe) a world-soaking deluge is on the way. God/The Creator does so via a series of visions or, perhaps, bad dreams Noah has.
So he, the boys and Mrs. Noah (Jennifer Connelly) start collecting wood. Luckily A) a forest has miraculously sprung up right where they are and B), some gigantic thingies called the Watchers are on hand to help.
These Watchers represent the picture’s most radical (laughable?) addition. Aronofsky daringly asks us to suspend our disbelief — in the Bible or plain old common sense. Referred to as fallen angels (I think the source could be Genesis 6:4), they resemble what might happen if a Transformer had sex with a Pet Rock (remember them?)
At any rate the Ark gets built — and just in time. Before you can say don’t let the rain come down, raindrops are falling on Noah’s head (well, nose).
However, it’s not exactly smooth sailing The Ark barely has its sea legs, so to speak, when hundreds of nearby villagers — who considered Noah more of a Chicken Little than a meteorologist — storm the Ark. The worst of them (“Sexy Beast’s” Ray Winstone), even manages to stow away among the sleeping animals, meaning trouble ahead.
Aronofsky, whose previous films include “Requiem for a Dream, “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan,” has never been afraid of excess — emotional, physical or hallucinatory.
He takes Noah’s story seriously, if not literally. How does the lion lie down with the lamb, especially in such close quarters? They are somehow magically sedated once they come on board. Meaning, they sleep through the entire 40 days and 40 nights.
If, indeed, we are talking 40 days and 40 nights.
A young girl rescued from the aforementioned villagers, grows up to be Emma Watson, aka, Shem’s intended. They fall in love, she gets pregnant and gives birth while they’re still at sea.
That leads to the filmmaker’s most inspired interpolation on the story we learned in Sunday School. In the Biblical version, Noah’s sons are already grown up and married (Genesis 6:18). So, re-populating the world is something of a given.
In the Bible according to Aronofsky, Noah insists that God feels He goofed up. Therefore, The Flood is meant to save the animals (hence two-by-two). But Mankind…
Noah firmly believes the Creator isn’t interested in a Do-Over.
Aronofsky is fascinated by the idea of a different sort of Noah. Not the pious sailor we know from the Old Testament, but a two-fisted, rough-and ready sort (which Crowe does better than just about anyone). Further, there are simply not enough females to go around; Shem has Watson, but there’s nada for Ham and Japheth.
They’re unhappy. However, Noah is unhappier. Should Watson have a girl, well, so much for the Creator’s Divine Delete Button.
Crowe’s Noah has internalized the Creator’s apocalypse as a message: animals should continue, but mankind was a cosmic goof.
In other words, if you’re a cobra or a llama, have at it. But the whole Adam/Eve deal has to end. So, Watson’s bun in the oven is okay only if the child is a boy.
Sort of like China today….
The picture looks fabulous. Aronofsky hasn’t dealt with this sort of cinematic scale before and he handles it artfully. An image of the rest of humanity clinging to a jagged rock as the waves engulf them is worthy of a Gustave Dore illustration.
However, Aronofsky has handled actors before. As you may remember, Natalie Portman won an Oscar for “Black Swan.” Seeing Crowe return to the sort of forceful performances he gave in “Master and Commander” and “Gladiator” is most welcome.
Connelly has nothing to do. But let it be said she does nothing with as much conviction as she did in “A Beautiful Mind“ — and that performance won her an Oscar.
In a sense, “Noah” is almost Talmudic in its obsessive pouring over and questioning of Biblical text. Yet, at the same time the movie is daringly 21st Century.
It may not be kosher, but it works.