Noah Review: Awash in Wonder, Adrift in Madness
Say what you will about Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, but he obviously thinks that The Bible is a pretty cool book. The Black Swan director dumped $125 million on this spectacular-spectacular Old Testament epic that takes the original religious fable seriously, views Genesis as a spot-on metaphor for the Big Bang and evolution, and throws in badass rock monsters simply because they’re nifty. He’s making the argument that the tale of Noah and his fabulous ark is relevant whether you’re a believer, a non-believer or simply looking for a good old-fashioned yarn, and his argument is sound. Noah is a thrilling, sumptuous and downright bonkers film.
At turns, Noah takes its cues from Batman, “Cosmos,” Gladiator, The Greatest Story Ever Told and even that underrated post-apocalypse tragedy The Divide, running a cinematic gamut that offers adventure, scale, action, reverence and psychological horror. Aronofsky travels from one enormous set piece to another with a masterful pacing because he seems to understand that Noah needs to be periodically huge, but that it won’t earn its set pieces unless character drives his story forward, and that he won’t keep his audience’s attention unless he puts reverence aside on occasion to let Noah be utterly freaky.
Enter those rock monsters, who are actually fallen angels who landed in magma and got trapped within the rubble as it cooled. Enter Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), who murdered Noah’s father and now plots to lay siege on the ark as soon as the rain starts (and not, for some reason, any sooner), and who spends his time seducing Noah’s son Ham (Logan Lerman) to the dark side and indulging in death, mud and carnivore orgies the likes of which we’ve rarely seen on camera. Enter the scene-stealing Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), who has a decade-long craving for berries, a penchant for psychedelic drugs and whose fleeting touch makes young women extra horny.
The excess justifies God’s wrath and Noah’s 138-minute running time, since the tale of a kindly Russell Crowe building a zoo for pacified beasts and then taking a leisurely boat ride would have been boring as hell. Noah ratchets the melodrama and gorgeous imagery up past 11 in order to make every moment a memorable one, whether or not you actually buy it. In turns Darren Aronofsky is presenting a delirious pageant of scale and wonder and nonsense, and an intimate story of faith, doubt, psychological horror, infanticide and incest. Indeed, Noah goes so far in every conceivable direction that it could be accused of lacking focus, but the focus is actually squarely on how grand and symbolic a single adventure can be. Its occasional failures are the result of trying too hard, which is always preferable to phoning in a story we’ve heard time and time again.
Aronofsky strives to include every facet of human existence and large-scale fantasy into a single tale that, for the most part, seems capable of holding them aloft. He juggles ancient world preoccupations like continuing the species even if it means knocking up your sister with modern concerns like resource management and vegetarianism. He pauses halfway through the movie for a glorious intermission, in which the creation of the universe by God himself looks exactly like the scientific theories we think are oh-so-clever today. He gets away with his kitchen sink approach to The Bible by making it all so ludicrously enormous that we can’t help but be fascinated even when it seems unthinkably bizarre.
They don’t make them like this anymore, but not because movies were more epic back in the Hollywood heyday or because Biblical sagas are no longer de rigueur. They don’t make them like this anymore because the urge to take religious stories seriously has robbed the more interesting allegories of their suspensefulness and fun. Noah is overwhelming, yes, but also challenging, exciting and risky in a way that few movies with this much money behind them ever dare to be. Aronofsky’s film is awash in wonder, adrift in madness, soaked in ambition, and – whether it entertains, enrages or appeases you – bound to go down as one of the most fascinating epics in decades.