EXPECTATIONS: One of the few things that The Day After Tomorrow actually got right about the apocalypse is that when the lights go out, everybody's going to need firewood. And what are libraries if not giant buildings filled with trees? It should come as no surprise that books are in short supply these days. Personally, I own two. One of them is the Bible; the other is Joseph Wade's Big Book of Disaster Crap. The only reason I haven't cut Mr. Wade's book to shreds for kindling is that most every disaster movie covered in his book has come true in one form or another. Also, the fact that his book corroborates the Biblical story of Noah gives me cause for concern.
Insert joke about Les Miserables here.
REALITY: Religious or not, most of us learn the story of Noah's Ark before we can even tie our shoes. Before we have any concept of religion or history or even how boats work, Noah's Ark is one of a dozen stories parents and teachers tell us to understand how the world works. Bad things are going to happen, and all we can do is be prepared. Every spring, I have an old filmstrip about tornado safety that I like to show the kiddies in the Laird Compound. Everybody knows tornadoes went extinct back in the 2050s, but preparedness is still an important lesson. Tornadoes, biblical floods, packs of ravenous cactigers; they're all the same, in a certain sense. We can't stop them, but it's our job to weather the storm. Darren Aronofsky's insanely fantastical retelling of Noah is more grandiose by a factor of ten, but the lesson remains the same.
Back when the world was still new, and looking very much like the desert wasteland of my day, there lived a man named Noah (Russell Crowe). Noah, his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), their three sons and adopted daughter (Emma Watson) live as nomads in the wilderness, far away from the twisted abominations of the cities built by the sons of Cain. One night, God -- always referred to as the Creator -- sends Noah a vision: A blood-soaked earth, followed by an all-consuming flood. Noah seeks counsel with his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins, apparently just chilling at home), who guides him to his purpose: To build an ark and rescue the innocent creatures of the Earth from the coming deluge.
Is this what a poultice is? I always wondered.Generally speaking, that's the story we all know. Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel pull other elements from biblical apocrypha to make Noah into something truly unique. Artistic liberties are almost a given with a production like this, and Aronofsky's telling does not shy away from the weirdness. Noah introduces conflict in the form of Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), a king whose insatiable greed and anger at the Creator sends him to lead an army against Noah. Standing in Noah's corner, however, are the Watchers, a group of fallen angels whose bodies have been encased in stone. As these towering giants help Noah build and protect the ark, Tubal-cain does everything in his power to find his way aboard or destroy it while trying.
Noah is tinged with more than a bit of Peter Jackson's Middle Earth, particularly in the sweeping crane shots of Watchers doing battle with Tubal-cain's army. More than that, though, Aronofsky does a splendid job of marrying heavy doses of CGI with physical sets and locations. His vision of an antediluvian Earth is grimy and caked with soot. Before the film's first moments, we see that something has already gone terribly wrong with this world.
Once he has established the premise that a man is going to build a giant vessel with the aid of towering stone creatures, Aronofsky sets about relating this story to our time (your time, whatever). The way he tells it, the world is not destroyed because of humanity's murderous nature or desire to sin. No, we pissed off the Almighty by burning through our resources and scorching the Earth at an exponential rate. Russell Crowe's Noah finds himself tortured by what his kind has done to the world, and eventually comes to believe that God has chosen his family to be humanity's last. What follows is a pretty blatantly manufactured bit of drama, but one that Crowe pulls off with grim effectiveness.
What? I just think saying "insert joke here" is the same as making a joke. I don't think that's lazy at all.Still, other moments of the film are quite beautiful, particularly as Aronofsky presents the passage of time. He shows us a machine-gun barrage of images, as a stream bursts forth from the earth and flows through the land, carving out rivers, spawning trees and leading creatures to the ark. It's overwhelming at first, and seems almost completely at odds with the broad, ponderous story being told, but taken on their own these are breathtaking sequences.
Aronofsky also uses this device as Noah sits his family down to tell them the story of Creation. In a move seemingly designed to piss off the kind of people that probably already hated this film, Noah bridges the gap between "In the beginning..." and the Garden of Eden with another rapid-fire montage illustrating the path of Man's evolution. From a fish flopping onto land to the first bipedal human, Noah embraces this idea and presents it as just another legend told by fathers to their sons. It's an incredible bit of visual storytelling, but the intent behind it is clear: This is a story. The images we create and the language we use are a metaphor. The way Noah tells it, who's to say where or how humanity was created? This is but one interpretation, and it's thrilling to watch it all unfold.
Shoving one creation story into another and stitching the two together may seem like a moot point, given how crazy some people get whenever they hear the dreaded 'E' word, but this is something we've been doing since the beginning of time. The Sumerians had flood myths similar to the one in the Bible, and I'm sure Mr. Wade had charts and graphs detailing the similarities between Noah and whatever garbage Roland Emmerich was doing that week. Aronofsky embraces all aspects of the Deluge myth, and crafts them into a pretty fascinating tale that anyone can appreciate, assuming you're okay with rock monsters voiced by Nick Nolte.*
|Ray Winstone Casually Munching Snakes and Screaming at God||5/10|
*Fun fact: After appearing in as the Watcher Samyaza, Nick Nolte refused to break character. Legend has it he continues to roam the Wasteland to this day, warbling nonsense about being voted the Sexiest Fallen Angel Alive to any wandering travelers.
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