Fri April 4, 2014

Humanity Deserves Its Fate In Aronofsky's 'Noah'

It’s tempting to say that Darren Aronofsky's over publicized Noah is just a bucket of baloney, but that’s not all it is. Once in a while, the movie makes a surprising move, or shows a flash of genuine imagination and nerve.

The good things don’t happen often enough, but one thing comes through loud and clear – if you’re a literalist on things biblical, this telling of the story of Noah and the great flood of the Old Testament is probably not for you.

It’s only in recent years that some people believe that they own biblical material and no one else gets to have their vision of things.

Some years ago, Bill Cosby told a funny version of Noah, and no one considered it an offense against religion or anything else. In the Middle Ages, what are called mystery and miracle plays were performed in many towns of England and Europe. They were short scenes that in sequence told the theological history of the world, and each play was put on by one of the local guilds. In the English city of York, the building of the ark was staged appropriately by the ship builders. The mariners put on the second half of the story, which told about the flood itself. The Noah plays had some humor. In one, the wife of Noah doesn’t want to leave her friends and she belts her husband when he forces her aboard.

These were church-approved dramas.

The new movie Noah manages to incur plenty of wrath from literalists without having any fun at all. It is one glum movie with real scorn for humankind. Director Aronofsky sets the film in an ugly, inhospitable, unhappy world that looks and feels like Game of Thrones, and other adolescent fantasies populated by barking hordes of angry savages who haven’t bathed or shaved since they appeared in the first of The Lord of the Rings movies.

From the time Noah is a child, the only human beings outside his family are nasty marauders. Like the Mel Gibson Mad Max post-apocalyptic dreams, humanity is made up of bands of roving killers. Noah himself (Russell Crowe) is an obsessive puritanical sort dedicated to the idea that all human beings are supposed to die with the flood, including his family who are simply supposed to die last.

The movie is also puritanical – dedicated to the idea that human beings really are a curse upon the beauties of the natural world, which can only regain its splendor if humanity is washed away. Noah is both a new-age Calvinist environmentalist picture and in favor of an equally self-righteous brand of vegetarianism.

It’s only a few times that the movie catches the haunting, mythological spirit of the biblical story, with its abrupt dislocations of time and space, and the sense that the story is about a race of beings who are like us, but bigger and grander, and engaged in the primordial tasks of creating the world that we ordinary human beings now inhabit.

Otherwise, Darren Aronofsky seems trapped in Hollywood. He’s unable to escape the silliest conventions of action movies.

Jennifer Connelly is a fine Mrs. Noah, but she’s dressed right out of the J. Crew catalog in a nice woven top that looks like it could be cashmere. Her pants are formfitting and she sports stylish tall boots. Some fallen angels called The Watchers, trying to get back in the Creator’s good graces, may well remind you of The Lord of the Rings or even Star Wars. While Noah’s grandfather Methuselah, now over 900 years old, cannot be played by the late Alec Guiness, he is acted by the most available distinguished, old British actor Anthony Hopkins in full hammy wisdom.

The clichés are indeed abundant.

Darren Aronofsky is no fool. Did he really want to engage one of the great biblical stories and some notion of a fundamental part of human consciousness? Or did the material finally defeat him?


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