I suppose I should have expected it, but Darren Aronofsky’s ‘Noah’ is not the bouncy beardy that leaps out of kids’ bibles grinning beneficently as the Earth’s creatures sweep into his big wooden ship. Nor is his world the kind of debauched & dustblown desert that Chuck Heston might have strode across, bitterly blocking out the orgasmic cries of the head-scarfed masses as the skies blackened. Instead, Aronofsky paints a bigger picture, starting from Cain’s murder of Abel splitting the tribes of Man, with Noah as the last descendant of Adam’s third son, Seth. By the film’s opening, Abel’s line has been obliterated, Cain’s children dominate the ruined world and only Noah stands for any ‘good’.
But what is ‘good’? Here, it’s the choice between violence and non-violence. ‘The Creator’ (never ‘God’) wipes the world clean because Cain’s act has so totally corrupted his offspring. The film’s pivotal battle, then, is within Noah himself, as he comes to believe that all Man – including his own family – was a mistake from the moment he plucked the forbidden fruit – that, as he stands, Man can never be devoid of violence, and so should be erased to leave a truly sinless world.
It’s an easy choice when two of his boys are wifeless and his eldest son is devoted to Ila, a barren girl, but, when she mysteriously becomes pregnant, the need to fulfill The Creator’s will starts tearing everyone apart.
Russell Crowe is brilliant as this particular Noah. When he advances on the poor girl with knives in hand, you really think he might do it. Just as you believe it when he totally, finally becomes his true self again. If anything, the problem with ‘Noah’ is that Noah is too good. The rest of the cast can’t really touch him. Emma Watson, in particular, just can’t bring the necessary intensity to Ila, and his sons are just gaping fish-mouths of ‘manhood’ compared to their dad. Even Jennifer Connelly struggles to go toe-to-toe with Crowe, and it throws the film off-kilter.
But, visually, it’s arresting. The world is oddly post-industrial, thanks to Cain’s children being assisted by The Watchers, fallen angels turned to stone who only wanted to help Man and who eventually help Noah build the Ark. The Ark itself is less a ship and more an artless rectangle of assembled wooden cubes, through the walls of which we hear the screams of the damned, and I thought Aronofsky was brave to handle the flood so minimally – with more sound than any overblown CGI spectacle. This isn’t The Bible by Michael Bay, thank God. It’s fundamentally about the choices that can wreck a world and make a man.
And there are no guns or superheroes, which makes a change. Russell sings in it, though. It’s a very brief warble, but it was enough to trigger a Les Mis flashback. Just to warn you. And at one point he looks like Kenny Rogers, but then, hey, don’t we all?