The ‘a la carte’ theology of Darren Aronofsky

Some liberties are taken with this biblical epic

Noah (12A)

This at times apochryphal re-telling of the story of and the Great Flood has been banned in some Middle Eastern countries. Many Catholics have also been lukewarm about it on account of the fact that it plays fast and loose with the biblical events it

Its director, Darren Aronofsky, gives us a kind of tabloid Sunday School Bible lesson in some of his montages and there are also sartorial and verbal anachronisms. In defence of Aronofsky, one has to say his intentions are honourable, whatever liberties he takes. His overall ambition is to chronicle a parable of love and redemption.

Focussing on the idea that mankind must end before it can begin again in a more purified form, Aronofsky essentially re-enacts the Garden of Eden story in a different context.

From this point of view, Ray Winstone as Tubal-cain becomes a kind of reconstructed Lucifer or even a symbol for generic evil. Noah doesn’t encounter him in the Bible but here he does. In another ‘artistic’ liberty, Winstone tempts Noah’s son to ‘eat the apple’, as it were, i.e. to wreck the Ark and scupper Noah’s regenerative mission.

Noah is played by Russell Crowe, his sonorous tones ranging from pristine to vengeful as he struggles tortuously against the task he’s been set by ‘The Creator’ (a term preferred to ‘God’ by Aronofsky). Its most worrisome feature is the fact that he feels constrained to kill the daughters of Ham (Logan Lerman) and his adoptive daughter Ila (Emma Watson) if mankind is indeed to be eradicated. Here he more resembles Abraham than Noah.

Noah is resoundingly powerful. It will probably be used as a resource for secondary teachers for their Bible classes in time to come if they can get over the obvious scriptural incongruities. Crowe grows as an actor in the part. One can accept the fact that he doesn’t look anything like 500 years old, as he is in the Bible when he has his first child.

Rarely has Watson looked as captivating, especially in close-up. She traverses a huge emotional range as she both looks forward to and fears the immanent birth of her progeny. Jennifer Connelly is equally resonant as Noah’s wife Naameh, her support for her husband waning when she realises his mission could result in the killing of their own grandchildren. 

Aronofsky keeps the tension at a high pitch as he unleashes a cornucopia of special effects on us, most particularly with The Watchers, huge rock-encrusted creatures who represent the purgatorial need to atone for one’s sins.

They do this by helping Noah to build the ark and protecting him from Tubal-cain and his ferocious army. 

These feature slightly in the Books of Daniel and Enoch. Aronofsky has created them as symbolic constructs for fallen angels. They’re said to be derived from the biblical Nephilim, or human-angel hybrids. When they die their souls go to Heaven, thereby indicating the atonement is complete.

Noah cost $130 million to make. It looks it, but considering such a budget I was surprised Aronofsky hardly features the animals in the Ark at all, content with showing them to us as they approach it.

The second half of the film is all power, the first half more ominous. Waiting for the first drop of rain to fall is a bit like waiting for the alien to arrive in a science fiction film. When it does we’re suddenly in a different film.

To quote the minimalistic Crowe, “It begins”.

***** Unmissable