By Muhammad Muzammal Columnist
Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” is a fervently directed motion picture, more in line with Martin Scorsese’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” or Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to St. Matthew,” as it offers a mesmerizing artistic interpretation of an age-old religious story.
For starters, “Noah” isn’t a light-hearted, feel good movie. The film has an unsettling, surreal nightmarish quality to it.
Consider the scene where its titular protagonist (Russell Crowe) has dreams of a world flooded by dead bodies - with him swimming in the middle of the sea. The harrowing score of Clint Mansell surrounds the action with a fittingly epic presence. “Noah” is full of danger and paranoia, with brief moments of joy, matching the atmospheric soundtrack.
“Noah” also contains “The Watchers,” large, scary rock monsters who are fallen angels. They help Noah build the ark, but also defend him when Tubal-Cain (an angry Ray Winstone) and his band of restless, sinful humans come to destroy it.
Perhaps one of the biggest risks the film takes is in its invention of Ila (a emotional Emma Watson), who Noah takes in after finding her as a lost orphaned child. After several years with the family, Ila falls in love with Noah’s eldest son Shem (Douglas Booth), but she is barren.
By incorporating Ila in the story, Aronofsky presents a key ethical dilemma for his hero. After Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah (a superb Anthony Hopkins) gives his blessing to Ila and makes her fertile, she bears twin daughters of Shem. Noah, faced with the task of thinking he has to end humanity, conspires to kill his newly born granddaughters to complete the task. This is similar to when Abraham was ordered to sacrifice his son, except in “Noah,” the prophet in question is not directly asked to perform the sacrifice.
A two-minute self-contained sequence recalls the birth of the universe. Aronofsky, working with cinematographer Matthew Libatique and editor Andrew Weisblum, puts together a time-lapse photography montage that features naturalistic images of space, animals and the expansive geography of an earth devoid of human touch.
The film creates Noah not as a jolly or remotely happy man, but as a guilt-ridden father of three who has to fulfill his prophecy of saving the “innocent.”
That being said, Aronofsky understandably goes deeper into the psyche of Noah’s character. The most watchable scenes of the film are featured on the ark, when Noah transforms into a madman who becomes abusive and controlling towads his family, going as far as attempting to kill his own granddaughters. This isn’t the Noah from the Bible, Torah or Quran.
Aronofsky has reinvented the story of Noah to the point where it is almost naive to analyze it from a biblical or religious perspective. He has even said that this is the least biblical film anyone will ever see, and I agree.
“Noah,” with its environmentalist themes, could be a modern day allegory to man’s destruction of nature, or a study of the greediness of mankind or an insight into the power of mercy. It is a spiritual, oneiric and sublime experience. Just don’t expect it to be theologically accurate.