We all know the story, and we should since it’s been around for over 4000 years, but how about the film? Well, I must say that it takes the expression “suspension of disbelief” to a whole new level, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad film. The projectionist at the cinema where I saw it (UA Times Square in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong) had the sound slightly out of sync with the moving image for the first half of the film – that did spoil things a little bit. He also had the volume up too high, which gave me a headache.
But is this a good film? I’ve heard that it’s gotten mixed reviews, and I feel like my review is going to be a mixed one. There are many things to like about this film. Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, and Anthony Hopkins are but four. Now I’m no biblical scholar, but I’ve read all of it, and I’m pretty sure that a certain degree of artistic license has been taken here by director Darren Aronofsky (of Black Swan fame). The conscious choice here is to not focus too much on a very literal retelling of the story that everybody already knows, but to focus on the bigger themes and to grapple with them through the use of our main characters.
So The Creator makes the world and he puts two people in it (first mistake), one of them listens to a talking snake (that should have been a red flag) and tells the other to eat an apple from a tree that their creator specifically told them not to eat the apples from (the original rebels without a cause). So they’re cast out from paradise and have three kids, one kills one of the others and between the two remaining ones (who are both male) they populate the earth. We pick up the story at the tenth generation where Noah is informed by the creator (an interesting artistic decision not to actually use the word “god” in the film) that he’s fed up with all the people (a sentiment I can often relate to) and wants to wipe them out and start anew. This film is basically all about how Noah deals with this responsibility.
What I liked about this was that it made everything much more real. Traditionally, biblical tales are told in a very “and then this happened, and everyone was happy” kind of way, mostly because you first hear many of these stories when you’re very young, and also because that’s how they’re written. In this film we’re allowed to delve into the mind of Noah a little bit, with some help from Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson (it seems that women in biblical times were all gorgeous). How does one deal with the responsibility of having to rescue all the animals? How does one deal with the PTSD from watching all of humanity drown while you lock yourself inside an Ark? And how do you reconcile the fact that to “succeed” in your god-given mission is to “fail” in the most absolute sense as a father and a member of a species fighting for survival. These were handled surprisingly well by Crowe who was actually not the first choice to play the part of Noah (Christian Bale was, but he was already occupied – playing Moses (I’m not making that up)).
Realism is not this movie’s strong point. You’d be best to check your rationality, and any knowledge you have of human history at the door (although, as a biblical epic, that was not exactly unexpected) otherwise this film will be painful to sit through. Where did all these people come from? What did they eat? What about saving plant biodiversity? Why is everyone white? Where did they learn such advanced metallurgy in a story which pre-dates the bronze age? How does everyone have such perfect teeth? Why is there no pottery? The list goes on, and on, and on… I tried very hard to forget these questions and just go along with it, but it really was a constant barrage of inconsistencies in the alternate reality of the movie universe. This detracted somewhat from my viewing experience.
Honestly, the internal struggles of the main characters were the only things that made this film watchable. We might have been better off if the entire movie was a series of monologues of the main characters talking about the events in the past tense, with the occasional flashback. At 2 hours and 18 minutes, it’s just a little bit too long to have to sit through if you are, like me, unimpressed by loud noises and people being nasty to each other for no apparent reason. Toward the end, as everyone dies, Noah’s character takes a turn for the unsympathetic, and he really begins to lose the audience. Say what you like about Russell Crowe (and from what I’ve read, he’s a bit of a dick in real life) but the guy can act, and his mercurial ability in this regard just keeps the audience strung along when lesser actors would have had me looking at my watch.
Overall, it’s a well-directed piece of work. The acting is brilliant from Crowe, Connelly, Watson, and the bad guy (Ray Winstone, I think), everyone else’s effort is so-so except for Anthony Hopkins who really should have been given more screen time. The special effects are a bit overdone, and you really just have to forget everything you know about… physics… and history… and reality, or at least not let it distract you. It’s a bit too long, and too loud (I feel very old saying that). I watched it in 3D, and to be honest I didn’t even notice (which in this case is probably a good thing). It’s probably worth seeing, if only because it might generate some meaningful discussion on our role as humans on this earth, regardless of whether or not you happen to believe in god. As a film it holds its own and not, as many other reviewers have suggested, because of its story – it holds its own despite it. Between Crowe and Aronofsky, they’ve made a film which somehow works (just) with a concept which I felt sure was going to fail, and for that they deserve a lot of credit. They might even deserve your hard-earned money to see this film.