Big, beatific and (more or less) Biblical, Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” is a mad vision of a movie, an action adventure take on The Flood that cleansed the Earth.
Aronofsky (“Black Swan”) envisions this epic through the lens of Hollywood, interpreting the Bible as myth and telling one of its most fantastical tales as a grand and dark cinematic fantasy — a Lord of the Rains.
And with Russell Crowe as his Master & Commander & Shipbuilder, Aronofsky has concocted an accessible, modern and mythic version of this oral history that may make purists blanch even as it entertains the rest of us.
A prologue tells of the spawn of Cain, who spilled blood, left the Garden of Eden, populated the world and made a mess of things. Ten generations later, Noah (Crowe) and his small family (Jennifer Connelly, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth) wander the wastelands, waiting for…a sign.
Noah’s dreams tell him The End is nigh. By fire, his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) wants to know?
“Fire consumes all,” Noah prophesies, “water cleanses.”
The wicked world “which men have broken” will be flooded, the pure will rise and float above it. The rest? Drowned.
“The storm cannot be stopped. It can be survived.”
More visions, and Noah starts building an ark, first, by planting the forest that will be hewn into that ark. Stone creatures straight out of “Lord of the Rings,” “The Watchers” (angels) help him.
But out there, in the world begat by Cain, his descendant (Ray Winstone) is offering up an alternative theology.
“A man isn’t ruled by the heavens. A man is ruled by his will.”
Tubal-cain’s violence, meat eating (Noah’s people are vegetarians) and weapons are attractive to Noah’s son Ham (Lerman, aka Percy Jackson), who has no female companionship in their tiny circle. Shem (Booth) has the foundling they raised, Ila (Emma Watson). Ham is tempted to change sides to find himself a woman.
Still, animals gather and are sedated, the ark nears completion, and then the skies darken and empty.
It took guts to change Noah from the pious original naval architect into a two-fisted man of action, and then to cast Crowe in the part. But it works. Noah’s fanatical devotion to his faith and his task make him capable of anything.
Aronofsky serves up images of lyrical beauty — stark sunrises, time-lapse versions of the Story of Creation — and terror. Hieronymus Bosch would be pleased by the sight of the victims of the flood clinging to a rocky mountaintop, awaiting the wave that will punish the unjust as well as a few innocents.
Hopkins and Watson and Connolly provide the tale’s moving moments — scenes of heart and humility and hope. The acting is of the first rank, as you’d expect from a cast with three Oscar winners and some of the brightest rising stars in film in it.
But the gutsiest move on Aronofsky’s part is in the film’s interpretation of this tale through modern eyes. Here is a myth that allows Creation and Evolution to live in the same film, a touch of “Cosmos” with just a hint of “In the beginning,” as oral tradition. Effects assist the telling at every turn, but so does arresting geography.
Maybe it’s a little too sci-fi (check out the costumes, the metallurgy, the pre-historic boots). It isn’t “The Ten Commandments” and Crowe is no Charlton Heston. But “Noah” makes Biblical myth grand in scope and intimate in appeal. The Biblical literalists can always go argue over “God Isn’t Dead.” The rest of creation can appreciate this rousing good yarn, told with blood and guts and brawn and beauty, with just a hint of madness to the whole enterprise.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content
Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson
Credits: Directed by Darren Aronofsky, written by Darron Aronofsky and Ari Handel. A Paramount release.
Running time: 2:18