Film reviews and more since 2009

Noah (2014) review

Dir. Darren Aronofsky

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★★½

NOTE: This is a re-review of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah following my recent rewatch. My original review is available to read on Influx Magazine.

When released 10 years ago, less than a month away from Easter, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah garnered modestly positive reviews, but came and went in the eyes of audiences. Sure, moviegoers helped make the film Aronofsky’s highest grossing picture to date (nearly $360 million worldwide), yet despite this, the film’s legacy is muted and its standing in the court of public opinion is complicated.

I had the urge to rewatch it for this exact reason. My original review, published on Influx Magazine, was more of a simple overview without much depth. Surely a film that proved to be this divisive amongst audiences deserved a second look. I no longer see Noah as a serviceable blockbuster. I see it as a daringly defiant adaptation of one of the world’s most popular stories, underscored by thrilling artistry and themes that fit the modern world.

The story of Noah in the Book of Genesis is famously not very long at merely four chapters. Noah’s wife and sons weren’t given names, and what happens after the flood wasn’t covered in great detail. With that, screenwriters Aronofsky and Ari Handel inevitably had to take some artistic liberties in order to make a feature-length film. Consequently, this might be why Noah‘s legacy is as complex as it is: the film is neither a true-to-text, faith-based retelling of events, however, it takes too much from its source to be viewed as its own separate entity. Who exactly the target audience for this film was remains a mystery.

Here’s what Aronofsky and Handel have crafted: a fascinating story that drops us into a divided world following Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden coupled with Cain’s recent murder of Abel. The latter resulted in Cain’s army exploiting various resources, and wiping out Seth’s people, who, conversely, lived in peace.

Enter Noah (Russell Crowe), many years later, and his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), who are trying to raise their sons, Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), along with their adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), in an ostensibly hopeless world. One night, Noah’s vivid visions of a catastrophic flood prompt him to pay a visit to his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). Methuselah gives Noah some hallucinogenic tea, which results in Noah stubbornly convinced that he must build an ark to save Earth’s animals from a flood orchestrated by God (referenced as “The Creator” throughout the film).

Also present are a group of towering, Transformer-like creatures known as “the Watchers.” They’re a race of fallen angels, who were once shimmering balls of light only to be smote by God for their allegiance to Adam. God’s wrath resulted in them being dropped down to the Earth and encrusted by rock, dirt, and magma. They are as tall as skyscrapers, and one of them looks like that skeleton in Scary Movie 2 after Cindy and Brenda put him back together. At first, it appears that the Watchers (voiced by Nick Nolte and Frank Langella) will inhibit Noah’s quest to build the arc, but they come to his assistance just as the waters begin to rush and Cain’s army threatens their behemoth ship from setting sail. That is a great scene; Aronofsky conducts it on a Peter Jackson-esque scale. 10 years later, it remains a visually astute, stirring sequence of peril.

So much of Noah feels insurmountably large. In an era where blockbusters have become more weightless and uninspired, be it due to their lack of a defined scale, a POV perspective that makes everything gargantuan, ruining our sense of perception, or being smothered in CGI to the point where artificiality overtakes even the emotion of the picture, Noah‘s accomplished use of VFX enhances the experience rather than hinders it. It succeeds in giving depth and dimension to the ark, the Watchers, and the immensity of the battle for Noah and his family even to board the ark.

Some of the film’s most exceptional visuals come during time-lapses of the birth of the universe; what amounts to a Big Bang story told in the matter of seconds. It’s self-contained, looks gorgeous, and brings about larger ideas of being kind to the land as well as a broader, larger perspective on life.

Similar to Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Aronofsky is unafraid to tell a biblical story by highlighting the violence, horror, and brutality within it. Time seems to go beyond sanding down the edges of these movies, and makes its way into the material, where we picture Noah as a cartoonish old man happily boarding willing animals onto a large wooden vessel with no pushback from family nor the townspeople. Aronofsky’s epic addresses the character of Noah as much as the events for which he famous.

I mentioned Noah‘s relatively muted legacy in the face of other biblical epics, and I think that has a lot to do with the film not being terribly certain on who it wants to entertain with this story. The religious crowd saw the film as a bastardization of a definitive story, and its invitations of “rock monsters” and environmentalists themes into the narrative as sacrilegious. Conventional moviegoers probably saw a film that was commendable on its artistic merits, if they bothered to see it at all. Aronofsky’s most expensive movie to date deserves a second look both by those who saw it in theaters and those who dismissed it upon its release.

NOTE: As of this writing, Noah is available to stream on Pluto TV, free of charge, and on Netflix and Peacock with a subscription.

Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Leo McHugh Carroll, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Winstone, and Madison Davenport. Directed by: Darren Aronofsky.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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