Film (2014). Paramount Pictures, Regency Enterprises, Protozoa Pictures. Directed by Darren Aronofsky. Written by Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel. Cast includes Douglas Booth, Leo McHugh Carroll, Jennifer Connelly, Russell Crowe, Nolan Gross, Anthony Hopkins, Logan Leman, Mark Margolis, Nick Nolte and Ray Winstone. 138 minutes. Colour.
It would be overreaching to claim that Noah is an sf epic manqué about the Invention of a superior boat which survives the Disaster of a world-wide flood; but Darren Aronofsky has all the same written (with Ari Handel) and directed a film whose complexly-funded exegesis of its main source narrative (Genesis 5:32-10:1) is entirely twenty-first century in its final effect. This surprisingly radical transformation of the Hollywood epic à la Cecil B DeMille (1881-1959) shows its intentions quickly, with a voice-over backstory which soon departs radically from the Biblical version. Accompanied by distanced CGI background visuals whose effect is Nordic, we hear that, after killing Abel, Cain has gained the aid of fallen angels (see Supernatural Creatures) known as the Watchers, who had been cast to Earth for the sin of taking the human side in the tragedy of Eden. It is unclear whether or not they engage in the literal Uplift of Homo sapiens, but they certainly provide the muscle for Cain and his descendants to create what seems (in the shadow history presented through the visuals) to be Western Civilization; at the end of this prologue, just as the voice-over tells us that God has finally lost patience, we are given a glimpse of a grotesque Near Future City. Both the visuals, and the portentously intoned narration, are strongly reminiscent of similar synopses of the deep drama of prehistory presented at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) directed by Peter Jackson, where J R R Tolkien's attempt to present his epic as the Matter of an imagined Britain [for Matter see TheEncyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] is most clearly articulated. Noah, in some similar spirit, attempts to promote the basic sectarian fable at its heart into a secularized prehistory of the world, for God has nothing to do with Cain's exploitation of the Earth. Meanwhile, Adam's third son Seth lives an honourable hunter-and-gatherer life. Noah (Crowe) is his descendant.
The rest is an epic on familiar lines, though markedly intensified by Crowe's commanding performance as Noah. The Watchers uncannily resemble Peter Jackson's vision of Tolkien's Ents, emanating the same chthonic glow, speaking in a similar rumble (Nolte and Margolis, voices only), and even fighting their foes with the same gestures, their arms flailing like giant brooms to sweep foes off the battlefield. The Villain of the film, kingling Tubal-Cain (Winstone), hopes to mine Noah's pastures and is clearly meant to represent some pupal stage of an industrialist at work. His behaviour on the Ark, after he has managed to gain entry, intensifies this portrait. Even more redolent of recent times is Noah's interpretation of God's wishes as a command that Homo sapiens as a whole must perish from the Earth (see End of the World), because if we are allowed to survive we will simply create the same Ecological hell all over again: for we will learn nothing from the Flood. But love for the infant daughters of his son Shem (Booth), and the commanding family-oriented probity of the patriarch's wife Naameh (Connelly), overwhelm Noah as he is about to kill the newly born twins, in order to keep Homo sapiens from breeding. The rainbow is underplayed. The film ends on a sombre note, giving no sign that Noah has wrongly understood the implications of his failure. [JC]
Previous versions of this entry