I’m “biast” (con): I worry about people who think this is based on a for-real actually-true story
I have read one of the many versions of the source material (and I recognize it as an important work of literature but nothing else)
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
If Sunday school — or as it was for me, Wednesday after-school — had been this much fun, eight-year-old me probably wouldn’t have gotten into arguments with the nuns about how silly it all was: I would have just shut up and went, Wow o wow o wow. Cuz Darren Aronofsky has made a Biblical action disaster fantasy epic that is completely bonkers, endlessly entertaining, and actually religious in that inspiring-and-instructional way that you don’t need to take as literal truth to see the wisdom of. “Don’t break the planet, humans,” is the message here, “or you will get a smack upside the head, big time.”
It’s like an ancient The Day After Tomorrow. It’s The Day Before Yesterday. Or maybe The Day After Old Testament? Whatever you want to call it, it’s kind of awesome.
You don’t even need to believe in Aronofsky’s The Creator — and you won’t want to; she, he, or it is a mean bastard, even without making an appearance at all — to see this as good advice. Because the world the filmmaker drops us into may be full of terrible examples of humanity, all rapin’ and bein’ mean to animals and stuff, but even without the Flood that The Creator promises is coming to wipe them out, it’s pretty clear that the world they’ve ruined is going to kill them eventually, and soon. The lands are ravaged; the trees are dead; the rivers are spoiled. We glimpse the towers of cities in the distance — or are those the towers of Mordor? — but we never visit them; we are beyond Thunderdome here, folks. This could be the same dying world of The Road. This is a world like our own but not our own: Noah stops a gang of postapocalyptic thugs from hunting a weird, not-of-our-Earth scaly beast for its meat, which they ain’t had in they dunno how long. The food is running out.
(Spoiler! The scaly wolfy-piggy things apparently didn’t make it to the ark Noah later builds. Also: no brontosaurs, and no T. rexes. Damn. Maybe the prequel will explain why. Except… right. This isn’t really Earth. Like how Middle-Earth isn’t really Earth, either. Unless you want to squint real hard and hold your breath and wish it so with all your little heart. And then… no, it still won’t be real.)
But there are stars in the sky at daytime. I mean, more stars than just our sun. If you look up, it’s a beautiful place. And Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Fountain) — who also wrote the script, with Ari Handel — does look up. This is not like any Bible movie you’ve ever seen before, all people in robes and sandals in the sand staring beseechingly into Jesus’ beneficent face and seeing nothing beyond that. This is a movie that is big. In an earthly way. Aronofsky frames his people against big landscapes and big skies in a way that inspires awe of the natural world, and fear and shame that people have destroyed it. (If that has a certain relevance for today’s world, well: yeah. Suck on that, Bible believers who think the only way to bring your B.C. beliefs into the modern world is by being mean to gay people and shaming women who like sex.)
And for everything that’s beautiful here, there is something deeply crazy-ass. You have not seen the Watchers in any of the ads or trailers or posters or anything for the film, because they are so audacious that Aronofsky is probably going to be chased by torch-wielding mobs of fundie pastors back into whatever heathen cave in Brooklyn spawned him. I think they make perfect sense in the context of this story: they are a magnificent and awful depiction of the punishment The Creator meted out to those angels who defied her/him/it and came to Earth to help humanity when The Creator expressly forbid that (or so we’re told). But they do also look like something out of Galaxy Quest. I love that Aronofsky has not been guided in almost anything here by preconceived notions about that this literally hoary story is “supposed” to look like.
Anyway, Russell Crowe (Winter’s Tale, Man of Steel) is Noah, who is basically the only decent person left on this planet, except for his family, which features Jennifer Connelly (Winter’s Tale, The Dilemma) as his wife again, so another explanation for this whole implausible story is that it’s just a schizophrenic fantasy of his beautiful mind. He has a dream about the world being destroyed by water, and goes to his grandfather Methuselah for advice, and then The Creator magically makes a forest spring up in this dead land so there will be wood for the enormous ark that Noah takes it into his beautiful mind to build, with the help of the Watchers. (When Noah was climbing the mountain to visit Methuselah, I was all: Oh god please let it be Ian McKellen playing Methuselah. But it’s Anthony Hopkins [Thor: The Dark World, Red 2], which is almost as good. Also: Marton Csokas [Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Alice in Wonderland] plays Noah’s dad, which is like: finally! Someone notices that that is a perfect pairing of actors who could be blood relatives.)
I used to piss the nuns off in Wednesday after-school by asking questions like: “But how come the animals on the ark didn’t all eat one another?” And the nuns would only sputter and get angry. Aronofsky has an answer for that, and again: bonkers, yet perfect. It’s certainly no more ridiculous than anything else we see here.
There’s not a lot that’s happy here. I mean, apart from the whole destruction-of-humanity thing, which is a feature of many disaster movies, there’s a pretty undeniable streak of “yeah, but humanity deserves to die” that is hard to refute from the evidence offered. The nasty bitterness of the Old Testament is in full force. The apparently joyous subplot of Ila, the orphaned little girl rescued by Noah and his wife, who grows to become a wife (Emma Watson: This Is the End, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2) for their hot eldest son, Shem (Douglas Booth), descends into jealousy from sullen, wifeless middle son Ham (Logan Lerman: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, The Three Musketeers), and later pushes Noah into perpetuating that “humanity deserves to die” meme. (Emma Watson is scarily good at crying in terror.)
So: coolness. But also darkness. It’s kind of like the Silmarillion of our world. And that wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs. But monsters and miracles? Always an entertaining story.