Boy, do I love me some crazy. Movies like David Lynch’s “Dune” that are just so wildly over-the-top one wonders how they ever came to be. In the final scenes, when Kyle MacLachlan rides a giant worm into battle, accompanied by a smooth-rock soundtrack provided by Toto, one just has to marvel at the insanity. Or, any of the big-budget works from the warped mind of Terry Gilliam. I could watch “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen of Time Bandits” a thousand times. So many blockbusters are churned out every year that are uneventful, uninspired multi-million-dollar tributes to mediocrity. However, every so often comes a movie like “Noah.”
Darren Aronofsky’s latest film is kind of a masterpiece. It’s an unconventional biblical epic that combines crazy mythology, apocalyptic action, and the challenges of blind faith. The best compliment I can pay the movie is that I can’t recall ever having seen anything like it.
For those unfamiliar with Aronofsky’s surreal films, he has made a very diverse slate of movies like the science-fiction laden “The Fountain,” and he’s generated gritty, depressing dramas like “Requiem for a Dream” and “The Wrestler.” “Noah” feels like a natural evolution of his dark, dour dramas and the grand ideas of his more experimental works.
Everyone probably knows the basics of the story. Noah (Russell Crowe) stands as a good man in a wicked world. God (or ‘The Creator’) shows him a vision of a world where the sinners are washed away in a grand flood, and Noah is tasked with saving the innocent non-human creatures of the world.
The world feels remarkably non-biblical. There are no sandals or flowing hippie robes here. It’s a barren landscape that somehow manages to feel like the end of days and the beginning of humanity simultaneously. Noah follows his vision to the mountain of Grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), and begins to build the ark that will carry the last vestiges of the old world.
Noah’s family obliges, but even they question the wisdom of their actions. Noah has three sons, and only one has a female companion. His second son, Ham (Logan Lerman), wishes to find a wife, and doesn’t exactly care for the idea of spending the rest of his days alone with a boat full of farm animals.
The characters are portrayed with a lot of depth, frailties, and failings. Noah begins to wonder if his journey isn’t just about saving the animals but shepherding humanity into oblivion. If every human being is wicked, shouldn’t they, too, be purged from this new Eden “The Creator” sets into motion?
There are so many things going on in “Noah.” Character moments shine through via a family being torn apart by the unyielding faith of their father. As well, the film chronicles the struggle for survival of the remnants of the human race, led by Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), who aren’t that pleased to hear that God plans to wipe them from the face of the earth. They form a tent city near Noah’s precious ark, and decide the best way to survive God’s wrath is to bum rush the ark, kick the animals to the curb, and ride out the whole thing.
Aronofsky blends some great epic fantasy elements with a grounded, real-world logic. The story of Noah’s Arc ingrains itself into anyone who’s attended Sunday school, but here’s the story of what was going on with everyone else. Apparently they weren’t thrilled with their death sentence, and their efforts to survive were thwarted only by a bunch of magic rock monsters that are actually fallen angels. Yes, there are giant rock monsters in this movie. You didn’t think Noah just built the whole thing himself, did you?
Life. Death. Annihilation. Giant magic rock monsters from heaven. This movie is 10 pounds of crazy stuffed into a 5-pound bag, and I loved every weird minute of it. “Noah” is one of the most wonderful cinematic surprises I can remember. The performances revel in realism, despite an insane trajectory of events. And the visuals are spectacular. I wish Hollywood took more risks like this from filmmakers who are interested in doing something different. Some will love “Noah.” Some will hate it. That’s the divine sign of a successful film.
Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, and Anthony Hopkins
Directed by Darren Aronofsky