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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 28.21%
Average: 2.56%
Pretty Bad: 2.56%
Total Crap: 15.38%

3 reviews, 21 user ratings

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by Brett Gallman

"We built a zoo."
5 stars

With the cinematic landscape currently smoldering in apocalyptic ruin on a pretty constant basis, Darren Aronofsky has revisited the original, more watery Biblical end-time with "Noah." However, it's quite unlike any Biblical epic before it, as he treats the story of Noah's Ark less like a sunny parable and more like an ominous, paranoiac tome that broods and boils with disquieting questions--it isn't exactly a reassuring tale that explains rainbows.

Whatever it shares with the story from Genesis is mostly cosmetic. While "Noah" does take a traditional slant with its backstory and family lineages, it takes the skeletal story from its scant chapters and further contextualizes the flood myth. In this antediluvian world, the offspring of Cain and Seth have spread across the globe, with the former taking on the form of a godless horde bent on ravaging the Earth with industry. Meanwhile, the sons of Seth have proceeded much more respectfully by living peacefully as vegetarians. Noah belongs to the latter tribe, and his dedication and piety bless him with visions from "The Creator."

With images of a Great Flood in his mind, he journeys to visit his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), here re-imagined as a wise sorcerer. In the shadow of Methuselah's mountain, Noah and his family begin constructing an ark, and it's at this point the film diverges quite heavily from the Biblical tale.

If I recall, the Sunday school version rounds off the edges considerably: Noah is a saintly, white-haired man who single-handedly builds an ark and faces ridicule from locals who dismiss him as a madman. Aronofsky's tale, on the other hand, introduces a more violent conflict when Cain's progeny (led by Ray Winston's Tubal-Cain) descend upon the mountain with every intention of taking the ark to ensure their own survival. As such, the first half of "Noah" is more akin to a sword-and-sorcery movie, or perhaps something from the same order as "Lords of the Rings," complete with gathering armies, impending battles, and giant rock monsters.

Say what now? You may recall that the film's trailer (which was seemingly cut to safely resemble Bible Belt bait) features an exchange between Noah and Tubal-Cain where the former insists that he's "not alone" in this battle, presumably referring to the presence of God himself. Instead, he's actually talking about The Watchers, a group of fallen angels doomed to walk the Earth after they came to sympathize with Adam and Eve after the fall. A cross between Peter Jackson's Ents and the Nome King from "Return to Oz," these creatures intrude onto the film and all but announce Aronofsky's intention to explore the story's margins and craft a big, broad epic.

For about half of the film, anyway. The first hour of "Noah" climaxes with the deluge, and Aronofsky unleashes all of its horrifying implications: innocent bystanders are trampled upon by Tubal-Cain's followers as they fruitlessly storm the ark, only to be swatted away by the Watchers and The Creator's absolute wrath. Water spews from the skies and sprouts from the ground, violently tossing the heathen hordes aside in a grotesque but awe-inspiring sequence. The fury peaks with one of Aronofsky's most striking, painterly visuals as a small pocket of ill-fated survivors clings to a rock and wails for sanctuary in Noah's ark, which now rests in the background upon a tumultuous sea.

It's the stuff of a Gothic painting and gracefully provides a segue to what seems like the film's more intimate denouement : the calm during and after the storm, where Noah's family is cloistered inside of the ark. Each is forced to reckon with their status as Earth's lone survivor, a fate the patriarch especially struggles with. Unlike his Biblical counterpart, Crowe's Noah has bouts with doubt--not so much in God himself but in his own interpretation of the task at hand. As he constructs the ark, he begins to suspect that The Creator doesn't intend for mankind to survive the flood, so he decides that the entire family will off itself once his work is done. Noah's turn towards ritual suicide obviously doesn't sit well with his family, who protest and insist that they, too, are among the righteous.

With this shift, one can especially sense Aronofsky moving towards familiar ground, as he weaves his typical preoccupations into the familial strife. Chiefly, he once again explores self-destruction and obsession with Noah, a character that joins the parade of previous Aronofsky protagonists in his singular, bullheaded quest. With the stakes blown up to apocalyptic proportions, though, Noah becomes the director's most fascinating subject yet. This is Aronofsky's own take on "The Last Temptation of Christ," which allows him to deconstruct the image of Noah-as-Biblical-Superhero and explore the margins and implications of a man burdened by such enormity. Crowe's performance seems to use the saintly facade as a launching point: he begins the film rather laconic and pious, but there's turmoil rumbling like distant thunder just below that surface.

Watching him transform into a zealot and lunatic is disturbing, especially since his turn guides the film into ambiguous moral territory. Once he promises to slay his unborn grandchild, he shifts into an antagonist role opposite of the surviving Tubal-Cain, who stows away on the ark and becomes a Luciferian figure whispering temptations into Ham's (Logan Lerman) ears. While I'll stop short of saying Winstone cuts a sympathetic figure out of Cain, he at least cuts a pragmatic, sensible one who finds himself in the position of several modern cinematic heroes in his attempt to stave off the apocalypse.

The reversal is disorienting and odd, but such is "Noah": an audacious, weird movie that feels like a calculated attempt to recall the unrelenting and often disturbing savagery of the Old Testament and infuse its fire and brimstone into a story that's been largely sanitized over the years. Man's sins are inescapable, as one of Aronofsky's signature hip-hop montage becomes a refrain that captures the forbidden fruit, the serpent, and Cain's murder. If "Noah" seems fucked up, then it's right in line with other instances in the Bible that imagine the world to be at the mercy of a wrathful, war-mongering god hell-bent on smiting and destruction.

I don't think that's the extent of Aronofsky's aim, though--he's up to far more than the sort of musings one might hear from a college freshman that suddenly realizes how troubling the Bible can be. Instead, he finds some measure of beauty and awe in all of this terror. The film might callously toss legions of humanity aside, but "Noah" is a humane film that balances the immense with the intimate. It's a feat that Aronofsky has achieved in the past, as each of his films have centered on dreamers tasked with facing the enormity of Life itself; with "Noah," however, the balancing act is most impressive because aims to capture nothing less than Creation itself, here repurposed as one of Noah's bedtime stories. Nothing quite reflects the film's intimacy and grandeur like this scene: in hushed, suffocating tones, Noah begins to recount Genesis before Aronofsky provides visual accompaniment in the form of a stunning time-lapse sequence charting the evolution of the Earth.

Such juxtaposition is evident throughout "Noah"--particularly in its bifurcated structure and Matthew Libatique's gorgeous photography, which frequently alternates between massive, landscape-heavy shots and more intimate handheld work--but that evolution scene is truly staggering and captures the breadth of Aronofsky's vision.

That it ends with Noah's insistence that humanity be purged from the Earth also reveals Aronofsky's cock-eyed tone. At any given moment, "Noah" is rousing and disturbing, uplifting and a total downer. Such a disparity might betray a schizophrenic approach, but it's actually an incredibly insightful reflection of faith itself. Aronofsky's previous two films have literalized leaps of faith in their climaxes, but, in this instance, he's turned that duty over to the audience: are Noah's trials a critique of religious zealotry or a reinforcement of faith? Does he make the correct decision to repopulate the Earth and spare humanity, or was he better off succumbing to his apocalyptic fever, especially since mankind has proceeded to ignore the moral of the story and continue to ravage the planet?

Even as The Creator cascades rainbows from the skies in the film's final shot, it's difficult to say. At first blush, "Noah" feels like the most optimistic movie of Aronofsky's career; however, beneath that veneer, he still shrouds himself in ambiguity. Confronting that uncertainty in this context is apt, as faith is nothing more than an attempt to find comfort in ambiguity. While there's little comfort to be had here, "Noah" provides plenty of horror, wonder, and beauty, so it's a rather faithful and sublime representation of religion. The Book of Genesis might provide answers, but Aronofsky's far more intrigued by questions.

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originally posted: 04/04/14 15:05:31
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User Comments

2/19/18 Langano Unique take on a familiar story. 4 stars
2/13/17 morris campbell good religious movie hopeful not gloomy 4 stars
2/12/17 Horace Blount Fills in some of the gaps in the traditional biblical story 5 stars
7/21/15 Pammie Interesting, sometimes silly 4 stars
5/30/15 Pduvall192 DeMille and Heston are spinning in their graves...a disaster of biblical proportions! 1 stars
5/15/15 Bents Gets extra credit for originality and cinematography 4 stars
11/25/14 DeNitra good 4 stars
11/24/14 zenny Noah = Agent Smith. Think about it 4 stars
10/22/14 Richard Brandt Like a PETA wet dream. 3 stars
10/12/14 mr.mike Better than I expected. 4 stars
7/28/14 Quigley An engrossing and sometimes wondrous fantasy retelling of the Noah story. 4 stars
7/08/14 Mell Solid film, Darren and Crowe appealing to men rather than toddlers(most fiilms) 4 stars
4/13/14 alice how eating animals corrupted mankind. Amen to that ! 5 stars
4/05/14 turner One of the worst movies ever 1 stars
4/01/14 chaz A bible movie that omits or changes everything that's actually in the Bible. 1 stars
4/01/14 gc the j.r. tolkien version of the book of genesis 1 stars
3/31/14 Eric Powerful movie 4 stars
3/30/14 action movie fan noah missed the boat-dull lifeless souless movie 2 stars
3/28/14 jcjs bleak, drab, dark, not one smile, so bad it's laughable...cookie cutter slow bla bla bla 1 stars
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  28-Mar-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 29-Jul-2014

  04-Apr-2014 (12A)

  27-Mar-2014 (M)
  DVD: 29-Jul-2014

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