April 1, 2014

in Movies

Film (2014)

Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Screenplay by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel

Music by Clint Mansell; Cinematography by Matthew Libatique; Film Editing by Andrew Weisblum

With Russell Crowe (Noah), Jennifer Connelly (Naameh), Anthony Hopkins (Methuselah), Emma Watson (Ila), Logan Lerman (Ham), Douglas Booth (Shem), Nick Nolte (Samyaza), Frank Langella (Og)

Giovanni Bellini, 'The Drunkenness of Noah' (1515)

Giovanni Bellini, “The Drunkenness of Noah” (1515)
Le musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie de Besançon
Besançon, France

A large, blustery, arbitrary version of the Biblical story of the flood and its hero.

From the Bible, we know that Noah was given the mandate to gather a lot of species aboard his ark in preparation for the devastating rains that were to come and wipe out civilization and most of nature so that they could get a fresh start. Noah, his wife and three sons and their wives came aboard, along with a lot of animals. They eventually landed on a dry spot where Noah proceeded to grow a vineyard, make some wine and get drunk. Some embarrassment about Noah’s nakedness and the relative appropriateness or inappropriateness of his son Ham’s response to that led to future apportionments and withdrawals of divine blessings.

In order to spice up the narrative, Darren Aronofsky, obviously fresh off the mythological and psychological intensities of the Natalie Portman dance-fest, Black Swan (2010), decided it was important to complicate the story. Here, all of a sudden, Noah, rather than being a simple noble man who gets chosen to save life on earth, has to become a self-starter. And, in Aronofsky’s peculiar view of him, this new-found interpretive autonomy and attendant self-assured moral obligation involves self-destructiveness. Whoops.

So, the dramatic hub of this maximized epic now becomes Noah’s intense determination to kill of his grandchild because in his view this must have been the will of the Almighty. Under this new view of his function, humans are just provisional instrumentalities, temporarily mandated as sailor, to save the animal kingdom before they, themselves yield to divine annihilation.

Michaelangelo, 'The Flood' (1509), Sistine Chapel, Detail

Michaelangelo, “The Flood” (1509)
Sistine Chapel, Detail

There is something so ridiculous about this interpretation of the story it takes the wind out of the sails of the whole overblown production. It just seems arbitrary and cooked up to create a drama where there need not be one. Isn’t the destruction of the world dramatic enough? Why can’t Aronofsky and co-writer Handel just leave well enough alone, embellish a little bit, but let the existing drama speak for itself?

As a CGI fest, the film is just fine. It makes wonderful use of a whole tribe of large lumbering stone-like giants who help to build the ark. They are right out of central animation casting and do their jobs very well. And the roiling of the seas is splendidly rendered in the hands of the software simulators who create it. No problem there at all.

The cast itself gives some color to the dark seas and darker insides of this overblown vessel.

Russell Crowe certainly has the gravitas to play Noah, though there is a kind of hard-headedness in his performance that makes one wonder what it is about him that has earned divine recognition. Is it merely that resolve that gets him appointed captain of this cosmic vessel, or is there some degree of thoughtfulness and reflectiveness that figure in? Crowe’s persona in Aronofsky’s directorial and authorial hands gives one concern that the divine judge of character is simply picking a strong-willed guy, not necessarily the most thoughtful one.

Jennifer Connelly is certainly a lovely presence and if she did not have to play into the nutty intrafamilial arguments cooked up by this script she would have had more to call her own.

Logan Lerman (Ham), who was great as the brooding but delightful lead in The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), is mostly tapped for his sullenness and rage here, alas. There is a promising love story for him which begins to emerge in this version of the story, but poor Ham, revisioned ultimately without an enduring wife, takes on an even darker hue than he might have. Oh well.

Emma Watson, known mostly as Harry Potter‘s Hermione, but also more recently as a compelling lead in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, does a reasonable job as Shem’s wife, Ila, though she is underused here.

This film represents a huge budget, a good cast, a tremendous amount of work, but unfortunately traps most of it into an adapted narrative that makes the bulk of the sound and fury signify not all that much.

– BADMan

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