Sunday 18 May 2014

More Thoughts on Noah

I saw Noah again the other day, thinking that any new thoughts I had about the film could be added to my earlier post. However, there was so much to say that it justified a whole new entry. 

One thing I only briefly touched on last time was the issue of meat eating (stay with me on this)... 

Noah and his family are gentle vegetarians and horrified at the notion of eating the flesh of living animals. Other creatures are regarded as sacred, and this is powerfully embodied in the movie.

There's a great scene early on when the bad guys (the Sons of Cain) are hunting an animal (a strange kind of scaly hound) and fatally wound it with an arrow. Noah goes to the rescue and the baddies try to kill him. Russell Crowe proceeds to dispatch them in an enjoyable action-hero scene which is reminiscent of Gladiator. (Gentleness has its limits.) But he's too late to save the scaly hound, so Noah and his sons wrap it in a shroud and respectfully burn it on a funeral pyre. The bad guys are presumably left to rot.

But there's no hypocrisy here, because Noah is very clear that animals are innocent whereas the Sons of Cain — in fact, humans generally — are knowingly wicked. This kind of Old-Testament-Apocrypha animal rights stance strikes a powerful chord with viewers, or at least it did with me. Noah isn't going to be ordering a Big Mac any time soon. 

Indeed, it is the sequence in which he sees the Sons of Cain tearing living animals apart and devouring them that prompts Noah to wash his hands of humans once and for all, abandon any notion of finding wives for his sons, and try for a world wiped clean of mankind. It's worth hammering this point home because the geniuses who wrote the Wikipedia entry think this scene depicts Noah "witnessing cannibalism by a starving mob." It's not cannibalism, boys. They are not eating people. They're eating animals, and that's enough for Noah.
As I said, this is powerful stuff and it is reinforced in a shocking scene where the chief bad guy, Tubal-cain (played by an awesome Ray Winstone) stows away on the ark and sustains himself by snacking on the lovingly stowed living beasts. Even Ham — Noah's son but Tubal-cain's confederate — is shocked. "There's only two of each," he protests. "Well, there's only one of me," says Tubal-cain, ever the pragmatist. We're really glad when Noah kills him.

Other things that struck me about the film on a second viewing was the magnificent, and unusual, use of CGI. Normally computer effects in Hollywood blockbusters are devoted to space ships, giant robots, exploding cities. Here the special effects are breathtakingly deployed to show us the animals coming into the ark — storm-clouds of birds, a slithering river of snakes, a stampede of beasts.

And one of the clever new wrinkles dreamt up by Darren Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel is the way these animals are put into hibernation by having them breathe the smoke of burning herbs. So all the critters settle down peacefully in a space-saving state of suspended animation, perhaps inspired by the cryogenic sleep of starship passengers in science fiction movies. It's a smart new idea, and definitely the way to go if you ever want to build an ark of your own.

This second viewing also emphasised just how great Anthony Hopkins is as Methuselah. He kept reminding me of Merlin for some reason, and I realised that the whole movie has a kind of Arthurian feel, in particular evoking John Boorman's film Excalibur.

Any other fresh observations? Yup, Clint Mansell's score is terrific. Brooding, scary, rousing, folky, glorious. I first noticed how good Mansell was with his music for Stoker and I'm going to be paying him a lot more attention.

This is, as you will have gathered, a striking piece of film making. It's full of subtle, potent moments. Like when the apocalyptic deluge starts to fall, and the first rain drops sizzle on the forge where Tubal-cain is hammering out the red hot metal of his weapons of war.

(Image credits, as with the previous post, all the posters and stills are from Ace Show Biz.)

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