The sign of a good religious picture is the controversy surrounding it. Whenever a movie asks you to seriously grapple with theological issues, it’s bound to rile those who like their religion safe and comforting. Noah certainly prompted its share of screeching op-ed pieces, along with the smug indifference of the secular crowd. In truth, director Darren Aronofsky has punk’d them all: creating a serious, thoughtful and unbearably intense study of our relationship to God in the context of a giant Hollywood blockbuster. Hit the jump for my full Noah Blu-ray review.
Indeed, if the heavier theological musings don’t work for you, then Noah flies on sheer spectacle alone. Aronosfky knows how deploy cinema as a tool of shock and awe, and he pulls no punches here in a reimagined version of the Biblical flood. Right away, he eschews the coddling Hallmark Channel model of Biblical tales, with a pre-Flood world as alien and hostile as any science fiction epic. Noah (Russell Crowe) remains one of the few truly good people left on Earth: the rest consumed with greed and power, and committing all manner of atrocities in the name of absolute dominance.
Hence the need for God to hit the cosmic reset button. Hence the need for Noah to build a big-ass boat and gather matching pairs of every living creature on earth to fill it up. That much is self-apparent to the project (the basics of the story don’t change). The curve ball involves Noah’s perception of God’s wishes for him. He sees them in dreams and visions, aided by the ancient Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins, enjoying every moment), but maddening in their vagueness. Noah grows obsessed with his Maker’s intent as the stakes rise. Does God want to wipe humanity out for good and leave the world to the animals? Has He chosen Noah because He views morality as weak or strong? What is accomplished by the sacrifice of good people (and some do exist in this world) along with the wicked? Noah grapples with these questions and comes to some increasingly disturbing conclusions, conclusions he’s not certain he can live with.
Aronofsky revels in fixated protagonists, and he uses Noah’s agonized search for certainty to launch a full-bore examination of how we as humans fit into the Divine plan. His intent is not to settle the question but to elevate the discussion: to seriously reexamine what this story tells us and how it relates to our own lives. It’s a fascinating exercise in part because it dispenses with any pretense of comfort. We witness the power of divine creation and destruction in some of the most white-knuckle action scenes of the year. God is big. And scary. And He’s going to do what He wants regardless of what we think. The depiction of that kind of power I suspect fed into the most vocal condemnations of the film, since it makes for more sleepless nights than images of God as a nice guy with a white beard sitting on a cloud somewhere.
In any case, Aronofsky knows exactly what to do with his concept of divine wrath, peppering the smaller human drama with shards of apocalyptic fear and pitting their survival instinct against what looks for all the world like the fiat of the all-powerful. That makes it shine as a catalyst for debate, but it works just as effectively on a simpler level. You could see Noah in simple terms of an action picture, complete with CGI angels trapped in bodies of broken stone and a Flood that holds its own against any of this summer’s spectacle machines. From a talented cast (including Emma Watson and Jennifer Connelly) comes a winning nucleus of protagonists: Noah’s family, as torn and terrified as he is about the prospect in front of them. We feel their pain and can root for them to endure with all our might, even though we know at least a few things about their final destination. It makes a great basis for a survival story, augmented by Aronofsky’s tight direction which ranks among the very best in cinema today.
That all gives Noah a multi-layered approach that lets you embrace it on whatever terms you bring to it without feeling lost or disconcerted. It’s a rare feat, one that makes the film’s first-rate technical polish shine all the brighter in comparison. Like all of the director’s work, Noah represents cinema at its finest: a ferocious marrying of high art and sheer spectacle that would have driven a lesser filmmaker mad. It should wear the controversy surrounding it as a badge of honor, proof that it has accomplished its goals in the most spectacular manner possible.
The Blu-ray maintains Universal’s usual sterling audio and video qualities, with a high-definition image unclouded by pixels or flatness. The sound matches it (and man is this a movie to watch with the volume turned up). Special features are a little sparser: three separate documentaries covering the Ark set, the Ark interior and the Iceland locations, along with standard DVD and digital copies. None of it’s bad, and I can understand the need to focus on the film itself. Just be prepared for a little less than a movie this epic deserves.