"}
Film

Noah

A locavore’s tale

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Having made movies about obsessive characters looking for God—or something like Him—in the numerology of the Kabbalah (Pi), at the end of a heroin needle (Requiem for a Dream) and in the outer reaches of the galaxy (The Fountain), surely it was only a matter of time before Darren Aronofsky got to making one about a man with a direct line to the Creator. And so we have Noah, in which the world’s most famous shipwright becomes neither the Marvel-sized savior suggested by the posters nor the “environmentalist wacko” prophesied by some test-screening Cassandras, but rather a humble servant driven to the edge of madness in his effort to do the Lord’s bidding. Counterintuitive, perhaps, but by no means sacrilegious, Aronofsky’s uneven but undeniably bold, personal, visually extravagant take on the Old Testament tale will surely polarize critics and audiences. Only time—and word of mouth—will tell if it can stay the course for anywhere near 40 days and nights.

Whatever comes of Noah, the film certainly ranks alongside The Great Gatsby and Gravity as one of the riskiest director-driven passion projects to be gambled on by today’s ever more cautious major studios. And if Aronofsky’s $130 million, 137-minute movie ultimately feels compromised at all, it’s less by studio interference than by its director’s own desire to make a metaphysical head movie that is also an accessible action blockbuster (where The Fountain tilted heavily toward the former). Noah does not always sit easily astride those competing impulses, but it is never less than fascinating—and sometimes dazzling—in its ambitions.

For starters, “Noah” doesn’t look like any biblical epic we’ve ever seen before, with the verdant hillsides and ashen volcanic flatlands of Iceland standing in for the deserts of the Middle East. Likewise, the costumes eschew robes and sandals in favor of heartier attire that might best be described as proto-army surplus. As for the supposed “liberties” Aronofsky and co-screenwriter Ari Handel have taken with their sacrosanct source, they aren’t boldfaced transgressions so much as interpretations, additions and embellishments designed to flesh out the spare Noah narrative to feature length. This includes making the characters far younger than those described in the Good Book—which, if followed to the letter, would have yielded an antediluvian Amour.

Aronofksy’s Noah (superbly played by Russell Crowe) doesn’t hear God’s voice booming down from the heavens like in Bill Cosby’s celebrated standup routine, or sit on the stoop shooting the breeze with the Creator like Steve Carell in Evan Almighty. Rather, the looming flood and the mission of the ark come to him in the course of two vividly rendered hallucinogenic dreams—one natural, the other induced by some special “tea” served up by Noah’s grandpa, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins, leaving no bit of scenery unchewed). And because the story lacks a natural antagonist, the film corrals one from elsewhere in Genesis in the form of Tubal-cain (played as a youth by Finn Wittrock), a descendant of the Abel-slaying Cain first seen in a brief prologue delivering a fatal blow to Noah’s father, Lamech (Marton Csokas)—a scene that, like much of Noah, feels straight out of a 1940s frontier Western. Later, as a full-blown supervillain (Ray Winstone) hip to Noah’s survivalist scheme, Tubal-cain and his rogue army vow to hitch a ride on the ark or else die trying. (This leads to a large-scale battle sequence that, while impressively staged, is easily the film’s most conventional passage—an extended outtake from Middle-earth.)

Here is where you feel Aronofsky and Handel laboring intensely, with only partial success, to turn what has traditionally been something of a one-man show into more of an ensemble affair. Where Noah is the model locavore, who takes from the land only as much as he needs and strives to be at one with his surroundings (but who, being Russell Crowe, can also kick serious butt when need be), Tubal-cain personifies the debauched, resource-plundering wastrels God seeks to smite from the universe. And though Winstone plays the part with sinister flair, the character never becomes much more than a stock bad guy, on hand to pop up like a jack-in-the-box at the least convenient moments, and to try wooing Noah’s petulant, Skywalker-ish son, Ham (Logan Lerman), over to the dark side. Ham, meanwhile, may be patient zero for middle-child syndrome, spending most of the movie sulking about wondering when he’s going to become a man, and staring dolefully at the beautiful Ila (Emma Watson), an orphan girl who was adopted as a child by Noah and his wife, Naameh (a solid but underused Jennifer Connelly), and who becomes betrothed to their eldest son, Shem (Douglas Booth).

But if the interpersonal dramas don’t quite fully engage, as spectacle Noah rarely disappoints, commencing with the building of the ark itself. Designed by production designer Mark Friedberg (and built, to the actual dimensions specified by the Bible, on a New York soundstage), it is an awesome thing—not the traditional sailing vessel of many an artist’s interpretation, but rather an enormous wooden warehouse that makes the Maersk Alabama look like a lifeboat.

The arrival of the animals, which appear to self-organize by phylum, is a similarly marvelous sight (even if the creatures retain a conspicuous CGI appearance). Then comes the Frankenstorm, in which the waters of the earth quite literally rise up to meet those of the heavens—a suitably Dramamine-worthy sequence, expertly rendered by Aronofsky and all his technicians. Not soon to be forgotten: the image of humanity’s last dregs clambering for a foothold on a lone rocky outcropping as it, too, is finally swallowed by the sea.

Yet it is only after the tide has ebbed and a new day has dawned that Noah seems to come to its real place of purpose. Taking inspiration from a line in Genesis about Noah’s post-flood descent into drunkenness, Aronofsky and Handel imagine an exhausted hero who can’t understand why, if all mankind was meant to perish, he and his family should be saved. And since that telephone to the heavens only receives calls, Noah has no one to ask. Crowe is incredibly good in these scenes—you feel his torment as if it were a fire burning him from the inside out—culminating in a terrifying moment of near-infanticide.

The purists will blanche—injections of existential angst and self-doubt into Scripture are always guaranteed to rankle (as The Last Temptation of Christ proved). But it’s here that one feels fully why Aronofsky wanted to make this movie in the first place, as Noah’s own age of anxiety seems to echo directly into our own. The movie leaves us with a crystalline image of a man who feels most adrift when he is finally standing on dry land—and who, regardless of what faith one subscribes to, cannot relate to that?

SVCR-0672 QMT_770x150 CW
More Film...
London Road
A musical murder mystery

The techniques of verbatim theater go back decades, to at least the 1950s, when young German theater troupes would reenact complicated court cases word for word onstage. Even earlier, in the United States, the WPA paid for a form of this performance with its “Living Newspapers,” in…

more »
The Magnificent Seven
Another day, another remake

The big difference between the new version of The Magnificent Seven and the revered 1960 feature is the ethnic background of the main characters. The titular seven in director Antoine Fuqua’s take are a diverse bunch, while the ruthless villain of the piece is no longer a Mexican bandito…

more »
Bridget Jones’s Baby
Renee gets a rebirth

Hapless London-based media type Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) returns to the big screen after a 12-year break to battle unexpected pregnancy, 20-something hipsters and, once more, the perils of live TV in Bridget Jones’s Baby. With our heroine now a successful single producer in her…

more »
Events
Today
A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Connected by climate

10:00am

Bard on the Beach

2:00pm|Vanier Park

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Skagit Garage Sale

9:00am|Skagit County Fairgrounds

Oktoberfest Cruises

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Love, Loss & What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

A back-to-school guide

8:00pm

Welcome Back Students Shows

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Community Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Lynden Community Center

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner

Farm Toy Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Skagit Valley Giant Pumpkin Festival

9:00am|Christianson's Nursery

Harvest Festival and Pumpkin Pitch

9:00am|Skagit River Park

Oyster Run Motorcycle Rally

9:00am|Anacortes

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|Peace Portal Drive

Fall Family Fun

10:00am|Glen Echo Garden

Run with the Chums

10:00am|BP Highlands

Harvest Field Day

11:00am|WSU Washington Research and Extension Center

Wild Foods

11:00am|Deming Library

Food Truck Roundup

11:00am|Civic Stadium

Making memories at Make.Shift

12:00pm

Council of the Animals

12:00pm|Larrabee State Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Museum Day Live!

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum

Family Trees

1:00pm|Mount Vernon City Library

Holly Street History Tour

1:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Fingerpainting for Grownups

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Trio of Writers at VB

2:00pm|Village Books

Salute to Satchmo

3:00pm|Sudden Valley Dance Barn

i.e. Reception

4:00pm|i.e. gallery

Artist Talk

4:00pm|Smith & Vallee Gallery

The Ferndale Challenge

5:00pm|Ferndale Senior Activity Center

World Peace Poets Read-In

5:00pm|St. James Presbyterian Church

Democrats Dinner

5:30pm|Silver Reef Casino

Irish Concert and Workshop

7:00pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Night Hike

7:00pm|Tennant Lake Interpretive Center

Artifacts Wine Bar CW BOB 2016
Tomorrow
Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Connected by climate

10:00am

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Love, Loss & What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bellingham Bay Marathon

7:30am|Gooseberry Point

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Veterans Breakfast

8:00am|VFW Post 1585

Starry Night Chamber Orchestra

3:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

I, Angus

4:00pm|Village Books

Art of Jazz

4:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Sunday Night Fusion

7:00pm|Presence Studio

Deobrat Mishra

7:00pm|Majestic

Culture Shock

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Standup Comedy Showcase

8:30pm|The Shakedown

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Northwood Steak and Crab
Monday
A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

We Grow Market

3:00pm|Northwest Youth Services

Yoga for Outdoor Fitness

6:00pm|REI

Candidate Forum

6:30pm|PUD Building

Cooking with Sea Vegetables

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

The Happy Elf Auditions

7:00pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Open Mic

7:00pm|Village Books

Poetrynight

8:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

see our complete calendar »

Swinomish 2016 Northwood Steak and Crab Andrew Subin Bellingham Farmer’s Market Village Books Artifacts Wine Bar Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Everybody’s Store CW BOB 2016