Thoughts on Noah
Lots of spoilers ahead.
I saw Noah last night. While hardly Darren Aronofsky’s best work, there were quite a few interesting ideas and sharply executed scenes relating to the question of humanity’s purpose. Is it to spread our seed? Is it to exert our dominance? To love one another? Each pivotal character represented a different answer, albeit in a script that didn’t leave much room for subtlety.
Fortunately, Matthew Libatique’s terrific cinematography did most of the talking. The muted color palette resembled a near future apocalyptic scenario more akin to Children of Men than the expected period piece, which helped ground it in a surreal and fantastical world.
Noah’s retelling of the creation myth was shot beautifully, placing the camera in the perspective of various animals around earth while speeding up time. The ambient sound also cut out as soon as Noah put out his candle to begin the tale, which was a nice touch and good segue.
The choice to cut Ila’s birth scene against Noah’s fight with Tubal-cain was admirable, cleverly encapsulating one of the film’s most powerful themes with juxtaposing images of life and death. This is the kind of subtle handling I have come to expect from Aronofsky, and he plays with the connection between life and death several times throughout the movie (flowers bloom before a vision of the flood, an innocent girl hides within a mass of dead bodies).
I wasn’t sold on “The Watchers”, although I think I understand the reasoning for their inclusion. They served a few purposes:
1. Make use of the large budget and show off the VFX team’s muscle
2. Depict humanity’s destructive relationship with nature
3. Serve as a plot device to explain how a small family built a giant ark “on their own”
4. Serve as a plot device to explain how a small family defended themselves from an army
Regardless, I’m not sure giant rock monsters would have been the first solution that came to mind for the plausibility problems. Perhaps Noah could gain some more magical qualities like his grandfather, or the Creator could intervene at the right moment. If more natural elements had life and physicality, I may have bought it, but only giving rocks the special treatment felt rather forced.
Aronofsky usually gives his audience a lot more credit. We didn’t need Ila to tell us she was pregnant, or for Naameh to explain how this was possible just in case we missed it. The characters as a whole were disappointingly cardboard cutouts. Russell Crowe’s Noah rarely spat out a line longer than four words (I counted), in what seemed to be an attempt to make him feel as biblical as possible. Tubal-cain might have been an interesting villain if he weren't portrayed as so completely evil. His idea that men should determine their own fate is not outlandish, but his other two ideas (men must dominate other creatures, you become a man when you kill) easily pushed him into Satanic territory. And then of course to drive the point home even more, Aronofsky had him eat animals alive and slit their throats. Okay, we get it.
The one notable exception was Jennifer Connelly’s stellar performance as Naameh. The other actors did a fine job with the lines they were given, but none struck an emotional chord with me quite like Connelly. It’s good to see her in an Aronofsky flick again.
Noah is a tricky story to film, and I was glad to see its most interesting ideas make its way to the big screen. I was hoping that they would be handled with more subtlety and nuance ala Aronofsky's previous films, but perhaps the demand for an epic film with a massive budget compromised his vision.