Two quick reviews before the weekend!
NOAH is a crazy film by Darren Aronofsky (THE FOUNTAIN, BLACK SWAN) manifesting the filmmaker’s trademark tussle with the unknowable and a feverish attempt to reconcile good and evil, faith and fear, while yoking the otherworldly to concrete reality.
Russell Crowe as Noah gets the message to build an ark to rescue the earth from evil mankind before all hell breaks loose. Water fountains up from below, and pours down in buckets from above. Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson as wife and adopted daughter stand up for love and family, while Noah makes sure that all of humanity dies, including his own family, even if it means killing off any unforeseen offspring–which of course is the heart of the problem: how to reconcile our civilized and uncivilized inclinations, the literal vs figurative interpretation of the bible, the old vs. new testaments, the survival of the fittest vs. the less fit but just as worthy among us.
Get ready for a strange hybrid, a biblical epic with videogame-like CGI effects, crossed with a primordial potboiler and laced with contemporary guilt about ruining the planet. It’s carnivores versus vegetarians, Transformer-like fallen angels caught between God and a hard place, patriarchy challenged on all fronts–by sons, daughters, wives, mothers, plus a full recapitulation of the creation of the universe since before the beginning of time, and topped off by the notion of original sin vs free will.
Visually, it’s not pretty. Dark and dismal, each frame looks saturated in mud, the light clogged with evil– could it be the tainted air these fallen men emit and breathe? The fallen angels look like lunky action figures, giant rock piles hulking around the landscape with glowing eyes. Shot wide and from above, they look insubstantial– the God’s eye view? Well, at least my view.
The best drama occurs after the flood when Noah must decide if he’s all wet: how should he interpret the knowledge that has been revealed to him and who is he after all? It’s a big and important question and points to the seriousness of Aronofsky’s intentions here, but the filmmaker is only moderately successful in harnessing all of these competing elements in one movie. He’s bitten off more than he can chew– and I couldn’t swallow it.
Apparently I am not alone. The film is deeply polarizing– on both sides! There is dissension among religious folks– some love it, some don’t, the same for the secularists– some find it entertaining, others not so much. As a film critic, I think it fails aesthetically as a coherent work of art; among other things, I didn’t care about these less than meaty characters. But the film has certainly created a flood of conversation– and on that score, NOAH is fertile ground for keeping the cultural landscape alive.
Much more easily digestible is DIVERGENT– a straightforward sci-fi action thriller starring Shailene Woodley in post apocalyptic Chicago where the human race is divided into five categories to keep things running smoothly– but she, Divergent, fits none of them and so threatens the order, which Kate Winslet is determined to preserve. I say, send the kids for the vocabulary alone– the six categories are: Candor, Erudite, Amity, Dauntless, and Abnegation, and of course Divergent. By the end of the film, they should be able to use these words in a sentence and spell them. Mission accomplished. They may even absorb the titular message: being different is a good thing.