Flood, Fury and the Ark

Director: Darren Aronofsky  Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone

It was a toss-up between O Teri and Youngistaan. I chose the third and watched Noah instead. For once, the easy way out was the right one.

Not because Noah is a novel cinematic exercise. Far from it. It is not even an exact portrayal of the events from The Bible. What it is, instead, is a study of madness, of an inverted pyramid, of innocence versus evil, and of the environment.

The film’s story is of Noah and how he built an ark. There is, of course, the apocalyptic storm to remind us of this, in visually riveting and frightening manner, the kind that very good CGI can create. And there are enough reasons to believe in the Creator (he is never ‘God’ in the film, not once). Trees sprouting out of “barren” land and a child being conceived by a “barren” woman are aplenty to make believers of us all.

Tellingly, however, Darren Aronofsky’s film never forgets the Creator. A story that Noah relates to his wife and children that was the first story his father had told him elucidates this: In the beginning there was nothing but darkness and then there was light and then there was water and then there were trees and then there were beasts — “everything that creeps, crawls, leaps, flies and slithers” — and then there was Adam. This is straight out of Genesis; it is also strangely the story of the blackhole. Was Aronofsky seeking a middle-ground for the two theories of evolution, one that could be grounded both in science and in religion?

Not that it matters, for in the ultimate film analysis, Noah does make for compelling viewing. Both Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly as Noah and his wife, Naameh, wear their robes quite commendably. Emma Watson as Ila, Noah’s stepdaughter, is deliberate, but never forced. Antony Hopkins as Noah’s grandfather, Methuselah, is regal and sagely, both at once. In all, a syllogistic reading of a Biblical text is what Aronofsky’s film is about.

But, Aronofsky’s films are also about their portrayal of madness, of overzealous men and women, and albeit Noah has more than a smattering of it, not the chemical-induced kind of Requiem For a Dream nor is it schizophrenic like in Black Swan, both films directed by him.

In the characters of Noah and his nemesis, acted so well by Ray Winstone as Tubal-Cain, Aronofsky juxtaposes the opposite ends of the spectrum of creation. While Noah stands for everything the Creator has bequeathed, refusing even to pluck a flower from the earth “where it has a purpose”, Tubal-Cain is Cain’s descendant, a forger of brass and metal, who believes everything has been made to serve him. The conflict arises out of these twin beliefs.

Noah’s Ark is for all the “innocents”, all who “creep, crawl or slither”, all but “Man”, who has betrayed the Creator, destroyed the world, and for this, “he must be punished”. For this, he’s willing to sacrifice his own, his flesh and blood. Tubal-Cain, on the other hand, believes that “the Creator made man in his own image” because he wanted him to be served by everyone else. Therefore, he is inviolate.

Is Aronofsky trying to tell us something? Is Tubal- Cain Aronofosky’s military-industrial complex that is consuming resources unflinchingly and uncaringly? Is Noah Aronofsky’s messenger of the environmental warrior we seek? The nobility of the message notwithstanding, it would pose a problem though. For Noah too is an extreme kind.

Driven by a self-belief that the Creator wants him to protect the “innocents”, he becomes obsessed, so much so, that he almost becomes a homicidal maniac. That, even at best, is a disturbing notion, a pendulum swing that would be equally bad. Noah needed an apocalyptic flood to understand that. Wonder what will wash away Aronofsky’s obsession with an incendiary madness.