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Review: Noah

March 31, 2014

By John Corrado

*** (out of 4)

Noah Poster

It’s never an easy task to adapt a beloved story, let alone one of the most famous tales of all time, one that has been told for centuries all over the world and has become a cornerstone of multiple religions including Judaism and Christianity.

But director Darren Aronofsky has boldly risen to that challenge with the surprising, ambitious and controversial Noah, his take on the accounts of the Great Flood.  The epic film opened atop the box office over the weekend with an impressive $44 million, and this is already one of the most talked about cinematic experiences of 2014.

This version has Noah (Russell Crowe) foretold that the world will be destroyed through dreams of death and rising water, visions that are interpreted by his enlightened granddad Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins).  Noah is chosen to build an ark that will house two of each animal and protect his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and their three sons, including Shem (Douglas Booth) and his partner Ila (Emma Watson), as well as Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll).

They are helped by the Watchers, a group of fallen angels that appear as rock monsters and are trying to redeem themselves after being kicked out of heaven for reaching out to Adam in the Garden of Eden.  The society around them has become evil and the ruthless Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), a descendant of the first murderer, leads the wasted remains of humanity into battle for space aboard the ark.  Things take a different turn after the water starts rising, and the film becomes a dark struggle for survival as Noah is burdened with the guilt of his family being chosen to survive the end of civilization.

Some religious groups have already expressed concern over the liberties that Darren Aronofsky has taken with the text as found in the Book of Genesis.  Details have been added and there are some fairly major changes, but Noah expands on the characters by exploring themes that are found throughout the Old Testament.  Those who are able to accept these differences will find a story of tested morals and mercy over violence that plays out on an appropriately Biblical scale.  The film is made relevant for modern times by focusing on the themes of environmentalism and overpopulation, with the people being punished for destroying the Earth.

This isn’t the version of Noah’s Ark that you learned in Sunday school.  God is referred to as the Creator throughout the film, a higher power that sends the flood as a way to test this man who is struggling to follow the path that he believes has been set out for him.  Although some viewers will take issue with how the film deviates from many stereotypical versions of the character, Noah is intriguingly depicted as a conflicted man.  He is plagued by apocalyptic visions and being increasingly tested in his faith, struggles that are brought to life through a compelling performance from Russell Crowe.

The beautifully barren landscapes of Iceland provide an almost mythological backdrop to the story, and give the brutal battle sequences a Lord of the Rings quality.  A scene aboard the ark when Noah recounts the Creation story provides one of the most unforgettable sequences, as the visuals provide a mesmerizing look at the origins of the universe in a way that suggests both creationism and evolution, a balance of science and religion.  This is a meeting in the middle of different ideas, a version of the story that doesn’t necessarily preclude any single belief system, but rather leaves room for a fascinating conversation that could include them all.

This balance of differing ideas is exemplified by the beautiful final scenes.  The film ends on a redemptive note, leaving the messages of the story surprisingly open to interpretation and whatever beliefs you bring to the theatre, whether they are religious or humanistic.  Although it’s been a long journey bringing Noah to the screen, I think this is every bit the film that Darren Aronofsky has dreamed of making since he was a teenager, and for the most part I have to applaud his vision.  The production is impressive throughout, from the striking cinematography and captivating sets to the immersive sound.

This is a film that encourages people to talk about the experience, a conversation that will span multiple faiths and has sparked new interest in the story.  For these reasons alone, Noah is a bold, ambitious and often thrilling retelling of the Biblical story, rich with complex characters and haunting visuals.

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