It seems the last great sanctuary of controversy in cinema is the age old institution of religion. With sordid liaisons, general genitalia and sex being thrust in our faltering eyes by the likes of Nymphomaniac and Stranger by The Lake, and boundary pushing violence consistently converging towards a pinnacle of detached numbness, it seems only organised religion brings out the holy fire of rebuke in people.
Darren Aronofsky, a man who’s faced his fair share of unsubstantiated controversy, must have known Noah would offend anyone with a mouthpiece at some point- the atheists will call it nonsense, the Christians incorrect and most other religions will probably just ignore it. The story of Noah, and the Old Testament in general, is ludicrously impossible and succeeds on parable or metaphorical level, rather than a literal one, for the majority, namely those who aren’t offended by the notion of evolution, which is the best way to approach the film.
Once the obvious impracticalities and impossibilities of Noah are cast aside we’re left with an entertaining epic that channels the 1950s biblical sagas starring Charlton Heston without all the overblown pretension, replacing it with a sprinkling of humane angst and accidental, inopportune humour.
Aronofsky takes the basic story of the wickedness of man and the subsequent flood to destroy it, bar lucky Noah and his family, from Genesis 5:32-10:1. One of the classic childhood bible stories, almost everyone at some point has comes across the familiar notions of the animals going two by two on to the ark or how the flood raged for 40 days and 40 nights. While the story we’re all accustomed to provides warmth in its reliability it wouldn’t be much of a spectacle if it didn’t embellish, or enrich, the narrative, especially since we all know the ending.
Noah takes the encouragement to deviate from the ‘facts’ with surreal gusto; Lord of The Rings style fallen angel/giant rock men give Noah a helping hand, Ray Winstone is an axe wielding cockney nutter and Anthony Hopkin’s enjoys some magic healing powers. These fantastical adjustments will probably rile the Pope, but to everyone else they should be welcomed as enticing extras to liven up an already unbelievably story, don’t question the logistics, just enjoy it.
Rather than settle for fantasy and spectacle, for which some impressive flooding sequences do the trick, Aronofsky has the nuance to add emotional depth and gravity to the tale, edging the story away from overly pious leanings. Russell Crowe may be one of the few actors who can simultaneously carry the tormented, conflicted burden of Noah as well as accept the absurd, boarding on comic, narrative. Crowe handles the role of Noah fittingly, rather than submit to ‘The Creator’s’ mysterious ways he agonises over his own humanitarian desires. His wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), epitomises the contradictions of following a religion and existing as a human with morals and compassion. Winstone, Watson and Hopkins are all big name support, but they’re little more than clichés and caricatures; Winstone the pick of the bunch for his stereotypical portrayal of the bad guy, a culmination of ridiculous, hilarious and sinister.
Moments of harrowing violence and death, unexpected for an apparent 12A rating, are cancelled out by some accidently hysterical ones. Regardless of whether Aronofsky is a genius by adding some tongue in cheek humour or if it’s a by-product of the mismatching of gravity with absurdity is irrelevant, the end result is beneficial. The sniggering and muffled laughs of the audience may detract from the ability to take Noah too seriously, but instead it adds an extra dimension of enjoyment and entertainment needed to avoid a long, tedious blockbuster of a film.
Unlike Aronofsky’s dark, and relatively low key, predecessors Noah is a blockbuster with a massive budget, cast and release. One of cinema’s great conundrums is how to make a blockbuster with mass appeal and artistic integrity, Noah certainly isn’t the answer as it fails to make a defining stance or statement on religion or anything else, typified by the appeasing evolution sequence, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an entertaining take on a well-known story. Noah isn’t a great film in the conventional Citizen Kane sense, but instead is a thoroughly enjoyable outing that impressively manages to avoid being the disaster many would have anticipated. Religious films tend to be overblown and a slog to endure, luckily Noah doesn’t take itself too seriously meaning biblical epics have never been so much fun.