by Rob Gonsalves
David Lynchâ€™s "Dune." Stanley Kubrickâ€™s "The Shining." Ang Leeâ€™s "Hulk." David Cronenbergâ€™s "The Fly." Francis Coppolaâ€™s "Dracula." Spike Jonzeâ€™s "Where the Wild Things Are."These are all big-budget movies, based on popular material, directed by artists who made them a lot stranger and wilder and more idiosyncratic than they actually needed to be. These directors could have delivered bland, lowest-common-denominator adaptations â€” except that they couldnâ€™t have, because the artist demon inside wouldnâ€™t let them. To this short list we might now add Darren Aronofskyâ€™s Noah, a genuinely odd and sometimes off-putting work of art, folly, and often both at once.
"A pure shot from the source."
Aronofsky takes the Biblical story of Noah (Russell Crowe) absolutely seriously, though by all accounts heâ€™s not a Christian. He may not believe in it literally, but he believes in it as a story, a parable. A few years back, the legendary cartoonist Robert Crumb published his word-for-word illustration of the Book of Genesis, and while it was an immaculate work of craft, it had very little of Crumb in it. He seemed to take it on entirely as an exercise. Aronofsky does the exact opposite with Noah, though the craft is still impeccable; he fleshes it out as a psychological war between man and his Creator, which is really a war between man and his own poor understanding of the Creator, who cannot be understood.
Noah receives dread-ridden visions of the catastrophe to come: the Creator is going to wipe the slate clean, leaving only two of each animal to survive and multiply, because they, unlike warlike and greedy man, â€śstill live as they lived in the Garden.â€ť The Creator is wrathful on the highest level: Man, created in His own image, has turned out to be His greatest and most destructive failure. Noah, charged with the preservation of the animals, becomes the conduit for the Creatorâ€™s loathing of humanity as Noah understands it. Noah comes from the blameless (and lesser-known) bloodline of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve, but he still bears the weight of original sin. Rather than making all this into a bloodless psychological study of a deluded man, Aronofsky does something more difficult â€” he literalizes the miracles and madness, so that Noah, like Jesus in Martin Scorseseâ€™s Last Temptation of Christ, comes across as a flawed human tormented by what he thinks the Creator wants from him.
Aided by cinematographer Matthew Libatique, Aronofsky gives Noahâ€™s world a harsh, savage beauty. The Watchers, fallen angels who help Noah build his ark and defend him against the army of the corrupt Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), are truly bizarre monstrous creations, covered in rock and mud as punishment for defying the Creator by helping Cain. Noah is a frequently dotty mash-up of fantasy, scripture, environmental activism, and dreamlike cinematic technique. As such, itâ€™s the most fully alive and exciting film out there right now, and quite possibly the yearâ€™s first great American movie, or at least one with greatness in it. It feels utterly uncompromised, a pure shot from the source.
Crowe anchors the whole unwieldy thing with a calmness that comes to seem a bit frightening. He almost never even raises his voice; he doesnâ€™t need to. By the time Noah is contemplating murdering his own newborn granddaughters to adhere to what he interprets as the Creatorâ€™s plan, heâ€™s essentially lost us, but Crowe hasnâ€™t. The movie is full of moral wrestling like this, as well as king-hell battle scenes and the genuinely horrifying disaster of the great flood itself, which sweeps away the innocent and sinful alike â€” though whoâ€™s innocent and whoâ€™s sinful? The society we see thatâ€™s judged worthy of extinction isnâ€™t much different from ours â€” weâ€™re actually worse. Noah might look at whatâ€™s become of creation and stab the hell out of those babies. The movie doesnâ€™t quite reconcile Noahâ€™s convictions with the future of mankind, but it doesnâ€™t have to.Itâ€™s a work full of life, splendor, terror, awe, and foolishness â€” the kind of stubborn art-epic we get once in a blue moon, the sort that makes me feel protective of it, grateful for it.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=23710&reviewer=416
originally posted: 11/08/14 05:00:00