Russell Crowe as Noah

 
I saw this with a co-worker at the end of a long work week (I’m now working 8-4 every weekday and 10-5 every Saturday, plus commuting time, which is why I haven’t been posting here much). I thought it was going to be a stupid three-hour blockbuster, like Apocalypto or 10,000 B.C., and it was in a way, but it was also WAY weirder, so when Darren Aronofsky’s name came up in the credits I was like oh yeah that explains it.

The main thing that makes the movie weird is that it completely lacks the three-act structure of a modern blockbuster movie, or really any sense of cinematic pacing at all. Many individual scenes do have a dramatic build, especially the ones that develop Russel Crowe/Noah’s puritanical zealotry*, but there was also a tendency after about the halfway point to try to wring maximum melodrama out of EVERY domestic scene, which leaves you-the-viewer with no sense of which scene is a “climax” and therefore no sense of when the movie is going to end.

(After the Ark reaches land, presumably – but then the movie continues for another half-hour, RoTK style.)

Spoilers ahead!

Overall the old-school chronological pacing style makes an already long movie seem even longer, but personally I’m glad that Aronofsky didn’t attempt to fit a biblical epic into a structure that couldn’t have fit it. It’s not that he lacks a sense of how long each scene should be – the opening voiceover about The Fall of Man and The Curse of Cain is mercifully short, about the length of the opening of the Avatar TV series, for instance, because we already know how those stories go. But the movie is faithful to its source material in this way: it follows all the events and doesn’t leave anything out, not even the genealogy bits. Biblical epics are SUPPOSED to seem long because the idea is that we should get to enjoy them for the maximum length of time – sort of like how you might prefer American comics over Japanese ones because the dense writing and lack of visual flow means they take longer to read. I’m completely sick of Saves the Cat style blockbuster pacing so I thought this was a nice change.

In other ways Noah is not faithful at all, LOL, and personally I really enjoyed all of the movie’s attempts to take a story that doesn’t make sense (it rains so much that the world floods instantly, the Ark is big enough to house two of every animal, five adults build the whole thing, etc) and to invent ways to MAKE it make sense. It was kind of like Chris Nolan’s Batman in that way (and just like Batman, there’s still that one thing the movie doesn’t even attempt to explain). The stop-motion-ish Guardians were cute, and the human King was a good foil.

Personally, though, my favorite change was the thematic shift from ALL DESCENDANTS OF CAIN MUST DIE BECAUSE THEY ARE IMPURE – ONLY SETH’S LINE IS WORTHY (ugh) to ALL OF HUMANITY, INCLUDING OUR OWN LINE, MUST DIE BECAUSE WE AREN’T ANY BETTER. By making that change, in a single stroke you remove the racism/tribalism/determinism/whatever you want to call it of the original story, turn Noah into a more interesting character, and provide the drama that powers the rest of the movie.

Though speaking of drama, as a gay person the emphasis on how Noah’s kids HAD to find a Faithful Wife and Have Kids to be happy seemed kind of misplaced to me, like for instance a lot of the conflict in this movie could have been averted if Shem and Ham had only shared the barren Emma Watson** between them. The film’s unquestioned assumption that heterosexual monogamy is The Way Things Are seemed odd especially considering the incest themes in the biblical Noah story, which the movie didn’t get into, but did kind of imply (Emma has twin girls, Mom says Hurrah The Creator has given us what we need for our other two sons!). But I’m sure for many people this wouldn’t even have pinged.

There’s a scene of doomed humans dying on a rocky outcropping as the stormwaters raged on that I thought was a nice touch, like something out of a Goya painting. Apart from that one (brief) scene, Russell Crowe’s visions of death and destruction were probably the most visually interesting part of the movie, which for a “blockbuster” action movie looked pretty shockingly low budget at times (for instance it’s hard to make a couple of raggedy actors in a totally barren, untouched-by-human-hands landscape look like anything but a way to keep costs down). But since I thought I was watching a popcorn-blockbuster for a Christian audience, I kind of enjoyed that cheapness too. I’m easy, I guess.

*Russell Crowe is not only starting to get typecast as a zealot after his role as Javert in Le Mis, he also sings (badly!) in this movie, too! I personally was happy to see him characterized as a zealot – one of the frissons of “Noah” is that Noah is clearly not wrong that humans are going to mess up the planet again and therefore the only permanent solution is to wipe us out – the radical environmentalism of some Japanese anime directors – but at the same time, his horror at humanity is clearly also at least partially psychological, f’rinstance when he visits the human camps outside his own settlement and decides humans are venal and weak based on a half-real-and-half-dream interpretation of what he sees there.

**Emma Watson is too good-looking and too charismatic and has too much chemistry with everyone, including Russell Crowe. In fact she might have MORE chemistry with Russell Crowe than with the actor who plays Shem, although we could also put that down to the fact that her scenes with Noah are a lot more emotionally intense. The chemistry between her and Crowe reminds me of how John Cusack is drawn to teen-popstar Hillary Duff in War, Inc, resists because he’s old enough to be her father, and later finds out that he really *is* her father! The moral of the story: don’t sleep with anyone who’s young enough to be your own daughter because you just never know. Anyway, Russell Crowe is working with Jennifer Connelly again in this movie, whom he also worked with in A Beautiful Mind, and would never ever go there.

***

To sum up, I personally enjoyed this movie, despite all its shortcomings. It made a well-known story from the Hebrew Bible seem bizarre, which as a Jew I’ve also felt was the case. Maybe my expectations were low, maybe the movie was just stupid enough at the end of a long work week, maybe I’m so sick of formulaic dreck that I’ll happily take idiosyncratic dreck instead, but I’d say it’s worth seeing.

Tags: , , ,