Noah (2014)

Wednesday, April 09, 2014
Photo Credit: Noah / Paramount Pictures
Based on the religious story known as Noah's Ark, Noah (Russell Crowe) is called upon God to build an ark. A great flood will wipe the world clean of mankind's wicked greed and violence. Noah and his family prepare for their pardon as well as saving two animals of every kind. When Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), a king of pure mercilessness, receives word of the flood encourages his fellow civilized man to take part in a war against Noah trying to cement his own survival.

Director Darren Aronofsky's modern environmentalist interpretation of Noah's Ark is more fit for a fantasy film than religious adaptation. Noah becomes a bigger than life anti-hero, who Aronofsky portrays and personally categorizes him as the first environmentalist, contrasted to Tubal-Cain's villainous selfish consumption. As much as the movie brings in original or altered details, the fervor between Noah and Tubal-Cain are depicted through strong symbolic themes of sin and judgment, mercy and forgiveness, love and hate. Gorgeous visual effects and an all-star cast keep this 2014 version of the popularly known tale in a relatively sensible bubble.

The main conflict of the story is not building the ark but who surrounds its creation. Surrounding Noah is his family Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), Ham (Logan Lerman), Shem (Douglas Booth), Japeth (Leo McHugh Carroll) and his adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson). His son Ham wishes to take a wife since Shem is blessed in union with Ila (who is barren and cannot have children). Noah becomes convinced that God's reason for his family to build the Ark is so the animals rule Earth and all of human creation stops. As Tubal-Cain manages to sneak aboard as the flood approaches and preys on Ham's anger towards his father, Noah grows a self-righteous image of himself as the one to halt further evolution.

Taking creative liberties with the original story, mankind's raw consumption of nature, our violence and wickedness are told continuously (almost too repetitiously) through Noah's quest to build the ark. Aronofsky's parallels to today's modern world facing global warming, deforestation etc. is a great beginning source of divinity worthy of personal reflection (nature vs a heavenly figure - or none, whichever you choose) but slowly loses its steam once the grand flood has to be waited out.

This is where my feelings are split because I loved the first half of the movie and the performances enveloped me into the second half of the film. (Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson for starters). Yet the creative interpretation grows unnatural. Noah can be perceived as warping the titular figure into a maniac. Though Crowe's performance is a welcoming sobering portrayal instead of a caricature of the grey-haired Ark builder, Noah's journey becomes somewhat contrived when he is embroiled with doubt and shouldering the responsibility of his heavenly visions. When one of his three sons Shem and his wife Ila become pregnant, Noah pretty much threatens for hell to break loose once their child/children are born. At first, the drama is interesting, but gradually Aronofsky's themes made me feel like banging my head against the wall as a holy smackdown consumes between Noah and his family.

Noah is not so much a religious adaptation as it is the director's environmental cautionary tale. Depending on your stance, the thematics may cause controversy if you follow a monotheistic religion or believe the theme of environmental friendliness is too fluffy. The film doesn't follow basic scripture almost anyone who knows the story; retelling a montage of Adam and Eve, God's creation and His cleansing of the world's evils through a great flood. The pro-environmental stance is shown through the character of Noah, scenes depicting forests being ravaged by Tubal-Cain and merciless hunting of exotic animals by a desperately panicking mankind. I enjoyed the explorative nature of the conflict Noah faces with this obedience to God versus Tubal-Cain's egomania because it adds substantial layers to the story.

Personally being open-minded to both ends of the spectrum, I didn't leave the movie up in arms about its tone or messages. At most I expected it after falling in love with Aronofsky's views in his 2008 film The Fountain, which arguably tackles religion/spirituality/creation more so. As a growing religious/spiritual person, and becoming more conscientious about the natural world through ethnobotanical studies, the mixture of themes didn't bother me so much as the film's message grows almost too heavy-handed in the second act. The film becomes much less about experiencing the anger God must have felt to want to deplete mankind or his love of animals are allowed to roam as nature intends, and transforms into an hour-long second half of mankind assuming responsibility for the rest of the world.

What perhaps makes up the redemption for the prolonged conflict between Noah and his family is that eventually, we all see the light and love of nature, God, and creation. Coming through the heavy second half, there is a perceived awareness of humankind and our interconnectedness to God as well as nature. There is hope and love for us and the film's tall tale after all.

This is not to say that this was not an enjoyable movie (for me, at least compared to other audiences), but at times, the story seemed to grow bigger than what it knew to do with its components. At times the story worked to add layers to the notable figures and fictionalized characters. With other scenes, it felt like themes were thrown against a dartboard and many of them clung for dear life. Overall, if you let it be, the movie is an exceptional follow-up to Black Swan; one that will surely incite controversy no matter what.

Rating: ★☆☆
Have you seen Noah? What did you think?

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