This week's top pick is the religious epic "Noah", directed by Darren Aronofsky. It's a doomsday tale that's well-known around the world, even to those with only a casual knowledge of the bible. With Aronofsky at the helm, the story is given his own unique interpretation, delivering something that fits well within his daring filmography.
If you're one of the few without any knowledge of the story, here's a quick refresher. The setting is an ancient time, many years Before Christ. Noah is a simple man who recieves a prophecy from God, depicting an impending flood that will wipe out mankind for their wickedness. Due to the goodness of him and his family, he is charged with building an Ark to save his loved ones and the innocent animals that roam the earth. In this interpretation, this sets up a war between Noah and the masses, who are lead by a man named Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone).
As you watch the events unfold, you're likely to ask yourself several key questions. Why save the animals? Why such drastic measures? Why is only Noah's family being saved? It must have been a hard task for Aronofsky to adapt this material coherently enough to appeal to a wide audience. The concept is one that's so ludicrous that it can only come from a basis in religion. In tackling this challenge, Aronofsky gives us a strong philosophical interpretation that we can relate to.
To address the first pair of questions, Aronofosky made a rather brilliant choice to take an environmentalist perspective. To show man's insatiable appetite for consumption, he depicts them as brutes who savagely mistreat man and animal alike. Even cannibalism is on the cards for these wicked people. The horrific imagery involved is a far cry from the Sunday School concept of cute zoo animals walking up to the ark "two by two, hurrah!" From my memory, it always seemed like they were saving the animals "just because". To see the destruction on display then, was a great way to internalize the severity of the situation. What's even more fascinating about the environmental take is how defiantly un-Christian it is! The common philosophy of Christian teachings is that man is to have dominion over all things on earth, including the ability to eat the animals who are so generously provided by God. The blatant environmentalist framing is therefore a bold choice that works well, giving a more understandable context.
The other question goes through a more complicated examination. When Noah first breaks the news to his family, his son asks "But what of us?" He responds by explaining that they get to start over in the new world like the animals. This isn't the first instance that the question arises however. Later in the film, when the sh** hits the fan, he starts feeling some survivor's guilt, prompting him to declare that they need to die as well. As Noah struggles to understand to God's true intent, he goes through great internal debate over the true meaning of good and evil. It turns out to be the most significant moral quandary of the film, as the ramifications of God's wrath results in much of the internal family drama that makes up a large portion of the plot.
As this is an Aronofsky film, the strength of these philosophical questions is equally matched by his bravura directing style. From the suitably brash score (at once "ugly" and captivating) to his lurid visuals, this is a tour de force of directing. Say what you want about the success of this vision, but at least you can't accuse him of phoning it in.
Admittedly, he does get carried away with the theatrics of certain plot points and the fantasy elements. Personally, I was a bit perplexed by the "rock monsters" and the general presence of supernatural forces (why do some people still have these powers when man has fallen from grace?). Still, these flaws weren't enough to take away from the rich themes and thrilling production values. Indeed, a few scenes are seared into my memory. Namely, the image of the earth covered in clouds and another where Noah sits alone in the Ark with the wailing cries of those left behind in the background.
His willingness to go to these dark places is the true mark of a confident auteur. It's a wonder then, that Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly manage to carve out such fully-realized characters within this obvious director's showcase. Connelly exudes a perfect air of grace, while Crowe captures the deeply flawed, tortured soul of Noah. Seriously, talk about a misanthropist!
In the end, Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" is unlikely to convert any new disciples to his "fandom". It's just too "out there". For those willing to go along with it though, this is a noteworthy entry alongside his other audacious films (especially "The Fountain"). If you're a fan of these types of films, then you should be able to find something to like here.