A Review of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (2014)
By Jake Bann
First, let me just note that Noah, Darren Aronofsky’s second epic, sixth feature, and first directorial effort since 2010’s Black Swan, is a good movie. It’s good. No doubt. I admit that.
But at the same time, Noah is the second victim of Darren Aronofsky Syndrome. Well, it’s not so much a syndrome as a predilection, but it’s a thing nonetheless that this guy seems to do that sometimes gets the best of him. He dreams big; he suffers delusions—kind of like Noah himself. And when the scale grows as big as the vision, it gets messy.
Communicating the relationship between humanity and the universe is no small task, and much like the protagonist of Mr. Aronofsky’s current film, it seems as though that’s what our director is concerned with: reconciling the obsessions and, well, humanity of humankind with the greater nature of his environment. And, yes, he’s pretty great at it—actually, incredible, re: Pi (1998), Requiem for a Dream (2000), and Black Swan. But communicating this relationship on a large palette just doesn’t seem to work out as nicely. Twice now, Mr. Aronofsky’s made a film on an enormous scale (2006’s The Fountain was his first), and the repercussions of The Syndrome have presented their rotten face both times.
While Noah is rife with amazing editing flourishes (at one point, for roughly two minutes, evolution is presented to us like a Smashing Pumpkins music video on crack), amazing photography from longtime cinematographer Matthew Libatique (of dawn/sunrise shots in particular), and amazing performances, especially from Russell Crowe and Ray Winstone (as the sinful king Tubal-cain), it’s also a film whose Band-Aids are particularly noticeable. A corny, oddly paced, hyperbolic “in-the-beginning” montage that begins the story bookends the film alongside an equally corny final sequence that sees Noah overcome his survivor’s guilt underneath a rainbow. These moments, coupled with gigantic rock-encrusted angels (Ents, really) who help Noah build his arc (the ultimate deus ex machina) are either results of the intervening hand of a More Palatable Hollywood or just, simply, Band-Aids for an ill-conceived vision. It’s hard to tell.
What we do know, however, is that the film’s inspirations come from, according to Aronofsky, both the Jewish Midrash (which includes interpretations of the very vague, very brief story of Noah) and his own graphic novel Noé, which helped secure financing for the feature. The latter perhaps explains why the film feels and looks like both the distant past and distant future—an admirable and prophetic touch. Noah’s future and, likewise, our future, are more similar than they seem, and the indubitable message here is that 21st Century global warming and rampant, carnivorous (perhaps American?) appetites could lead to the second Great Flood. Whether this is a direct result of our humanity or a part of the greater nature of our environment will forever remain up to interpretation.
With a fantastic score by Clint Mansell. Scripted by Aronofsky and writing-producing partner Ari Handel.
Critic’s Rating: ★★★ 3 out of 5 stars