Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Stars: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins, Marton Csokas, Mark Margolis, voices of Nick Nolte, Frank Langella.
Darren Aronofsky’s films have often been concerned with themes of obsession and tortured
characters (The Fountain, Black Swan, etc), and his seriously flawed take on the Biblical parable
of Noah is no exception. But this is not the tale of Noah and his ark as you might remember from
Sunday school readings. Rather, Aronofsky and his regular collaborator Ari Handler have taken
liberties of Biblical proportions with the familiar tale that occupied a mere 97 verses in the book of
According to the accepted Biblical story Noah was a sort of prophet who was commanded by the
vengeful God to build an ark to save all manner of wildlife from the apocalyptic flood that he was
going to send to wipe out mankind and its wickedness from the face of his earth. Noah was aware
of the inherent evil nature of man from an early age when he witnessed his father brutally killed by
a group of hunters. And he has seen how rapacious humans have laid waste to the land.
So when God decides to send down a massive flood to wipe the planet clean and start all over
again, Noah is the one chosen to play a key role. He builds a massive ark and stocks it full of
every species of animal. He also takes his family aboard. Then the flood waters come. There is a
growing sense of dread in the second half of the film as Noah and his family await deliverance
from the flood.
But Aronofsky’s unorthodox retelling borrows liberally from a number of other different versions of
the story as well, and it has earned the ire of many conservative Christian groups. And several
Islamic countries have already banned the film. While it is not as compelling or as visceral as Mel
Gibson’s bloody The Passion Of The Christ nor as controversial or potentially blasphemous as
Martin Scorsese’s The Last temptation Of Christ, nonetheless Aronofsky’s Noah is an ambitious
film in both scope and themes.
But it is also downright borderline bonkers, and Aronofsky’s direction is at times heavy handed.
One of the more bizarre elements of the film is the inclusion of rock creatures known as the
Nephilim, supposedly fallen angels, who help Noah build his massive ark. But these prehistoric
creatures resemble something out of Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth or The Neverending
Story, or prehistoric ancestors of Transformers, but some shonky special effects renders them
unbelievable creatures. They are voiced by the distinctly gravelly tones of Nick Nolte and Frank
Langella. And there is no mention of God anywhere in the film; rather he is referred to only as “the
Creator.” Noah is also full of blatantly environmentally friendly messages that would make Bob
Brown and his like green with envy.
The early parts of the film are full of numerous references to other characters from the Old
Testament, and an early montage sequence depicting the creation of the world in seven days
resembles something out of Terrence Malick’s Tree Of Life.
Noah was filmed in Iceland, and its bleak and alien looking landscapes suit the cold and
unforgiving tone of Aronofsky’s vision. His view of this ancient world is almost dystopian in its
bleak depiction of a harsh landscape devoid of vegetation and life. And the bleak, greyish
cinematography from Matthew Labitique enhances this grim tone.
The ark itself is quite spectacular, and some of the film’s rumoured $125 million budget went on
building a life size replica of the ark. There is no chance that Noah is going to need a bigger boat
here! The flood itself has been created through some special effects from the Industrial Light &
Magic firm, although the digitally recreated flood waters and succession of digitally created
animals do not look very real.
Noah has been played many times before on both the big screen and the small screen, most
memorably by the stentorian John Huston in the star studded 1966 epic The Bible, Jon Voight in a
1999 television miniseries, and even by Lorne Greene of Bonanza fame in 1986. But Oscar
winner Russell Crowe stamps his own commanding presence on the role here, portraying him as
an obsessed character who is almost driven to madness by his actions, even to the point of
considering sacrificing his grandchildren to ensure the future of God’s unspoiled world. Noah is
apparently chosen for his grand mission not for his compassion but for his strength and
unwavering sense of purpose.
Crowe has a strong, sullen presence and a surly attitude that at times recalls his avenging,
wronged hero from Gladiator, and there are a couple of scenes here where he is called upon to
flex his muscles to fight off enemies. But he also seems cold and detached, and his Noah comes
across as an unsympathetic figure weighed down by the burden of saving the world. Aronofsky
apparently sold Crowe on the concept of the film by assuring him that he wouldn ‘t be standing
shoulder to shoulder with giraffes and elephants. He obviously forgot to mention that he would be
interacting with those CGI-developed creatures known as the Nephilim though.
Aronofsky has assembled a great cast to flesh out the rest of the characters. Anthony Hopkins
cashes in another pay cheque with his one dimensional and batty reading of Methuselah, the
Bible’s oldest man and Noah’s supposedly wise grandfather. Ray Winstone has a formidable
presence and he brings a ruthless, vicious quality to his role as Noah’s main nemesis Tubalcain,
a selfstyled king who plans to take the ark by force. He also becomes the world’s first stowaway.
Jennifer Connelly, who previously worked with the director on his Requiem For A Dream and who
doesn’t seem to have aged much in the years since, plays Noah’s patient and long suffering wife
Naameh. Although it is something of an underdeveloped role, Connelly manages to bring some
real emotion to the role. Connelly also appeared opposite Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, but here the
pair do not display the same rapport or chemistry.
Douglas Booth plays Noah’s oldest son Shem, but he is a rather bland and passive character (and
Booth is currently playing a rather bland Romeo in the umpteenth screen version of
Shaekespeare’s classic tragedy). Emma Watson (from the Harry Potter series) plays Ila, Noah’s
adopted daughterinlaw who is supposedly infertile but undergoes a miraculous pregnancy that
creates some tension. Logan Lerman (from the Percy Jackson series) plays Noah’s son Ham, a
virginal lad swayed by the charismatic and brutal TubalCain. He is selfish, rebellious and full of
teenage angst, and Lerman actually makes his complex character work.
Aronofsky is certainly an idiosyncratic film maker with grand ambitions. His massive flop The
Fountain was a frustratingly oblique Christian allegory, but his take on a more straightforward
Christian parable is just as frustrating. He has given this epic Biblical film a 21st century
senseibility. Noah is a far cry from those epic Biblical films of the 50s and 60s which were much
more reverential of the source material.
The production was apparently beset by a number of problems and this is reflected in the uneven
tone of the film. The studio behind Noah has been forced to defend its controversial treatment of
the Biblical story by issuing a press release that stated that the film was only inspired by the story
of Noah, and that while it may have taken liberties it has remained true to the “essence and
values” of the source. What film goers will make of it is anybody’s guess. And as both Scorsese
and Gibson can attest, a little bit of controversy goes a long way in stirring up interest in a biblical