Saturday, 17 October 2015

Looks Like Rain

Noah


This is one of my first reviews, written before I had a blog, when I first saw this movie. Youll notice disparities between my current writing and the writing found in this early work. I hope the difference reflects well, if not on me, at least on your judiciousness.

An example of a distinctive image in Aronofsky's idiosyncratic Biblical epic "Noah"

Nearly sixty years after the release of DeMille’s vast epic The Ten Commandments, and ten years after the significant success of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Darren Aronofsky and Paramount have taken the sizeable risk of producing a biblical epic, the story taken directly from scripture, and releasing it as a major commercial feature.

Naturally, it took time to get the project backed and produced, with Aronofsky beginning work on the script in 2000, and continuing with it, along with his collaborator Ari Handel, intermittently between other ventures until they released it as a graphic novel in French in 2011, under the title Noé: Pour la cruauté des homnes (Noah: For the Cruelty of Men). After this was published, a deal was struck with Paramount for a budget of $130 million, still no mean sum in Hollywood terms.

I can report that Aronofsky’s persistence – and Paramount’s capital – have paid off… somewhat. The film, not without flaws, is mostly a success, in some ways a marvel, and often an entertaining work, not to mention one of the craziest big films in years. It’s not a subtle work, but Aronofsky has not aimed for restraint and understatement here. He’s made a film telling an ancient, archetypal story, loaded with celestial beings, centuries-old patriarchs, supernaturally-endowed plants and trees, sacred animals, divine retribution and, bizarrely, environmentalist fury. The parts of Noah that don’t work really and truly don’t. But the parts that do sweep you away entirely.

Abandoning the customary Middle Eastern desert setting, Aronofsky has chosen instead the black, barren lava-fields of Iceland, never-ending and unbroken except for a single, vast green mountain, reminiscent of the lost Garden of Eden, to which mankind can never return. The descendants of Adam inhabit the earth, in two different groups. On the one hand is the line of Seth, Adam’s third son, who revere and value Creation, eating only plants, taking only what they need. From this line comes Noah (Russell Crowe) and his family. On the other hand is the line of Cain, Adam’s second, murderous son. His nefarious descendants are the industrious branch of humanity, building large structures, exploiting the earth’s resources, and eating meat for sustenance. Like I said, Aronofsky is not subtle in expressing his sentiments of mankind as a multitude of greedy, filthy thugs. The origin of their malice, namely the murder of Abel by their ancestor, is shown to us in silhouette a number of times, in each instance following the loud chomp of a bright red apple, heard but not seen. The film is magnificently redundant at times.

Also present are The Watchers, a clan of fallen angels who came down to earth to help Adam when he was expelled from The Garden.  They taught men the sciences and the arts, but were quickly turned on as soon as the men grew strong enough to look after themselves, for reasons not made clear in the film. Their punishment for disobeying God – or The Creator, as he is called here – is to be clothed in rock, making them look rather like Michael Bay’s Transformers, one of the more commercial choices made for the film. They live out their time on earth in the burnt-out No Man’s Land, avoided by all men, who now, again unexplained by the filmmakers, are now mortally afraid of running into a single Watcher, never mind the whole brow-beaten tribe.

Noah and his family live in rudimentary tents out in the open, far from any other people, indeed far from almost any other life forms or really anything other than moss-covered rocks. It’s no wonder that when Noah has an especially vivid dream he assumes its source is divine. He attributes it to The Creator, conveying firstly the information that the world faces imminent destruction in globe-encompassing floods, next the instruction that Noah build a massive wooden boat to save the animals, the only innocents on the planet, from total annihilation. Noah, considering his own faults, and those of his wife and sons, comes to the conclusion that no human is worth saving, and, although The Creator never speaks to Noah, he believes he knows what The Creator wants: he wants only the animals preserved and the human line, including Noah and his family, to expire. Noah, when telling his family the story of existence in a sequence that combines creationism, Darwinian evolution, the fall of man, conflict through the millennia, the end of days and fanatic environmentalism, seems to think that man, stained by original sin, is so darkly stained that there’s no possibility of salvation. He says, “If we were to re-enter the garden, it would only be to destroy it once more.”

The film is a visual marvel. Aronofsky and his digital artists have created an apocalypse of true splendour, and Noah’s nightmares of the coming cataclysm are genuinely enthralling. The end of the world has never looked better than this. But then Noah and The Watchers, whose help to save the animals he has enlisted, fight off attackers who try to get on the ark when it starts raining, in an uninspired action-movie fight sequence. This is the film’s wearisome split personality, between visionary work of art and unremarkable and imitative blockbuster, which bedevils most of its running time, and exasperates the viewers who had hoped for a film that would rage wholeheartedly, for its full 138 minutes, against the timidity and unoriginality to which Hollywood subjects us year after year. To be sure, we are treated to and heartened by such boldness and audacity for something like half the feature or a little more, but Noah fails to be the great film we’d love to expect from an indie arthouse filmmaker equipped to shake up the maddening dullness of the annual CGI blockbuster frenzy.

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