So, there I was, thinking Noah was a happy story. Thinking that it was a story about bright yellow giraffes and candy floss pink hippos entering a huge wooden boat in pairs, whilst some guy with a beard—and the trendy middle-class name Noah—watched over them. But, what do you get when this image is reimagined by a director with a morbid fascination of addiction, innate evil and death? Well, you get Noah.
Like so many of Darren Aronofsky’s other films (The Wrestler, Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan just to name a few), Noah is emotionally heavy. Despite its mythological scale and the story’s huge injection of CGI, Aronofsky does what he does best: making the drama crushingly brutal. The supposed holy character that anchors the whole film is, rather controversially, the reason why the drama is brutal. As a man faced with saving the innocent from a corrupted world, Noah has the task of distinguishing the worthy from the unworthy—and the decisions he makes in the name of “the Creator” are enough to make the audience and his own family categorise him under the latter heading. Russell Crowe plays Noah with suitable brevity, yet the weight of the decisions Noah makes doesn’t always resonate with the audience. Crowe’s concentrated, brow-twitching performance is marred by Aronofsky’s tendency to ‘ground’ everything Noah says with a cheesy CGI sequence or an over-used silhouette shot—you know, just because Aronofsky needs to remind us all that these were crucial, ‘world-shaping’ times. Aronofsky uses his famed technique of repeating images/sound (hip hop montage) to ram the gravity of the decisions Noah makes down our throats, but he does it to such an extent that the sequences end up taking on a burlesque tone—not the same haunting tone that he achieved in Requiem for a Dream. Moreover, it’s hard to see what message Aronofsky is trying to put across with his characterisation of Noah: is his characterisation mocking religions’ dogmatic idolisation of deities or is Aronofsky simply saying that family and love can overcome all evil?
One thing that’s hard to accustom to in the film is how quickly time passes. One minute, Noah is a young boy scavenging with his father; the next, Noah is a father scavenging with his young boys. Aronofsky’s assumption that the audience can stick to this pacing is rash. In fact, the frequent skipping-over of years actually makes the audience lose interest in the characters’ developments, and it's only when this action slows down that one can start empathising with certain characters and feeling abhorred by the immoral decisions made by others. And I do not use the word immoral lightly. Unless, of course, you see rape, murder and infanticide as perfectly moral actions. In which case, you should probably take a little trip to a hospital or some place like that.
But, in spite of all this, the film can be thrilling. As it should be. It is in this film that the vagueness of the biblical story is fleshed out and wondrously explored by the cinematicity that the film’s blockbuster status grants. The wide shots are so deeply coloured that every crag in the rocks and every leaf in the trees appears distinguishable, whilst each fist punch and stab is so clearly cut that one might be forgiven for thinking it was Tarantino or Kurosawa behind the cutting machine. Yet between the lingering shots of landscapes and fast snap shots of fighting, the film never takes time to laugh. Yes, we know that it’s a lesson on morality, but did these people have no humour as well as no humanity? Oh, there’s that ‘funny’ bit about the berries… But then again even that minor subplot ends in death. What made Requiem for a Dream so great was that the characters had a sense of humour that humanised them and made them more relatable to an audience, thus giving their downfalls more resonance. Here, Aronofsky delves straight into the drama forgetting to familiarise the audience with the characters. Although empathy is eventually dragged out after all the characters’ lives take a turn for the tragic, it feels as if the audience should have made these emotional connections with the characters sooner.
Then again, perhaps Noah’s seriousness is representative of a new movement occurring in blockbuster cinema. Ever since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, it appears that Hollywood’s filmmakers are desperately trying to cement their action with an emotional core in order to draw in wider audiences. Ironically, this forced emotion is taking away from what a blockbuster is supposed to be: a mindless action binge with boobs, bombs and destruction. I have no qualms with this new shift in direction. If anything, blockbusters are becoming (slightly) less sexist and more money is being spent on the quality of the scriptwriting—an investment area that Hollywood has all but forgotten about for a while. Noah, despite my discrepancies with its overdramatism and use of CGI, is well-written. And, like many of its modern blockbuster partners, such as Man of Steel and the Batman trilogy, it is oftentimes a visual treat. I would go as far as saying that some of the CGI sequences are impressive... But that doesn’t stop it from being a difficult watch.
Noah is hard to recommend when its heart is so dark and so devoid of humour, and despite it being well-crafted, it’s not the kind of film you leave thinking: “I can’t wait to re-watch that!” The film tries over and over again to make you leave the cinema questioning your own habits of existence, of man’s existence as a whole, but all these force-fed lessons mean nothing when the film is essentially disenchanting. So, if you do decide to go and watch it, just make sure you have Ferris Bueller’s Day Off/500 Days of Summer/some Disney film to watch afterwards. You’ll need it.