THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Few things are as exciting as when a talented artist interprets something well-known, bringing his or her own unique spin to it. Whether it's Frank Miller tackling Batman with his classic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns, Whitney Houston covering Dolly Parton's “I Will Always Love You,” or Peter Jackson adapting J.R.R. Tolkein's The Lord of the Rings for the screen, there can be magic when the right person interprets the right source material. Those are merely three examples; there are many more. We can now add another to the list: Darren Aronofsky's Noah, which offers a fresh take on one of the most beloved and powerful Bible stories.
Russell Crowe plays the title character. In a world where immorality has become rampant, the Creator (as God is referred to here) gives Noah a vision of total destruction. He confers with his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), about it. Instead of the annihilation by fire that Methuselah expects, Noah tells him that the vision is of a massive flood. That vision is then refined, and it becomes clear that Noah is supposed to build a giant ark to save all the animals so that they may begin again. With the help of giant stone golems, he begins building the massive ship. His mission is greeted with some trepidation by his family; wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) laments his assertion that humans will have to perish in the process, son Shem (Douglas Booth) longs to continue his relationship with girlfriend Ila (Emma Watson), and other son Ham (Logan Lerman) would like to marry someday as well. Another one who doesn't approve of Noah's plan is Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). He resents the idea of being punished by the Creator and has no intention of seeing humanity wiped out.
Noah takes some dramatic license with the famous Biblical story, yet it does so in ways that nonetheless remain faithful to its spirit. The Noah we see here is somewhat conflicted. He trusts the Creator's judgment, while also struggling to accept the implication that the completion of his mission will mean the end of mankind, including his own kin. This, not the animals, is the focus of the picture. Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel portray Noah as trusting completely in the Creator in spite of the dire repercussions. They then let Russell Crowe inject a sense of subtle hesitation. There are moments where Noah makes tough decisions to let people die, and Crowe outwardly takes a stern tone while still projecting Noah's sense of “I don't like this, but it's the way things have to be.” Through it all, though, there is a very palpable sense that God's hand is firmly in everything that happens. Noah often lets go, allowing things to play out because he realizes that resisting it is pointless. What he – or anyone – wants is secondary to what the Creator wants.
Darren Aronofsky is one of the most interesting, innovative filmmakers working today. From Requiem for a Dream to The Fountain to Black Swan, he never fails to bring inventive cinematic techniques to his work. Noah is no exception. The director often utilizes carefully-timed overhead shots, providing a true God's-eye view of things. These moments serve to remind us that there is a Heavenly aspect to what's happening, and they almost subliminally make God another character in the film. Aronofsky additionally contrasts the dark, borderline gloomy visual scheme of Noah's scenes with brighter, more stylistic imagery during his visions. There's even a magnificent sequence in which Noah relates the story of the creation of the universe. Aronofsky uses a strobe-like effect to depict everything coming into being, including the sudden creation of multiple species of animals. Whereas in the 1950s, Biblical epics were a little grandiose – and more than a little stagey - Noah feels edgy and urgent. The style is used to convey the magnitude of Noah's journey as well as the presence of divine intervention.
Russell Crowe is terrific in the title role, making Noah a man of relatively few words but immense presence and dedication. Jennifer Connelly is good too, playing the wife who hopes her husband's vision isn't entirely correct while supporting him nonetheless. Connelly lends the film an air of sadness for the concept of lost humanity. The other standout performance comes from Emma Watson as the barren Ila. Her character sets the third act in motion, creating a dramatic divide between what Noah sees as his obligation and a recognition that his family is fearful.
The story of Noah is familiar to us all, but Darren Aronofsky puts a spin on it that's new. The result is a movie that makes you think about the inherent meaning of the story in ways you may not have considered before. Noah takes seriously the idea of God's will, putting it in a very human context so as to probe what it truly means to be faithful. With a canvas this large, it is almost impossible to pay everything its due and, in fact, a couple of the supporting characters – Methuselah and Shem, specifically – are slightly underdeveloped. By and large, though, Noah is stirring, spiritual, and thoughtful, with superb special effects and a genuine curiosity for the wonderful mysteries of faith.
( 1/2 out of four)
Noah is rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content. The running time is 2 hours and 18 minutes.
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