The Ark and the Darkness (2024)


The Ark and the Darkness Review

The Word was with Charlton Heston from the start. He didn’t play God, but as Moses in The Ten Commandments (1956), the first movie I ever saw, he was close enough. God took his calls. (Or Gaawd, as Heston liked to call Him they were that close.) And so it came to pass: At 7 years old, before I knew what a special effect was, I was blown away. The parting of the Red Sea in CinemaScope was an indivisible holy trinity comprising Moses and the movies and Gaawd himself. Hollywood had me at the first Commandment: thou shall not have any gods before me! And for a few innocent years, Hollywood and religion could be savored as one awesome revelation, even though “awesome” wasn’t a word kids used back then. By the time I got to Ben Hur (1959), and wholesale gore was thrown into the equation, biblical epics had hooked me on Hollywood spectacle…

The genre died long ago, no superheroes serve as our gods now. But in this first of a new breed of biblical epics, a prophet is remodeled as a superhero an antediluvian dark knight. In Noah, Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, Black Swan) directs his first blockbuster spectacle a $130 million gamble that shows off his cosmic predilection for melodrama and fulfills an ambition that began with an award-winning poem he wrote about Noah’s Ark when he was 13 years old and growing up in Brooklyn.

Aronofsky has pumped the Old Testament’s slim narrative of the old man and the sea with a heavy-metal load of sci-fi fantasy forging an apocalyptic saga that owes as much to Waterworld and The Lord of the Rings as it does to Genesis. Although Aronofsky preserves Genesis’ core story (Noah’s three sons are named Ham, Shem and Japheth, just as they are in the Good Book), right-wing Christians looking for a literal illustration of biblical truth will no doubt be appalled especially when you throw in the fact that this movie is an environmentalist’s wet dream.

Played with volcanic rage by Russell Crowe, the original prophet of climate change is recast as an angry eco-warrior. A survivalist who’s out to save the animals but becomes convinced that humanity does not deserve to survive. He’s on a hellbent mission from God, and his worship of the Almighty verges on impersonation. At the beginning of the story, Noah is a noble man and a good father a wilderness prophet who teaches his kids to respect life and not pick the defenseless flowers. But by the time his prophecy comes to pass (the part where it starts raining for 40 days and 40 nights), he has aged into a grumpy old man-god a cruel patriarch of the last family on Earth sailing upriver in an ark of darkness. Meanwhile, Noah’s trio of sweet-faced sons and grim wife (Jennifer Connelly) become increasingly alarmed as Dad morphs from Mr. Nice Guy to Captain Bligh to King Lear.

If you were under the impression that Noah’s ark and the Great Flood had something to do with water rather than fire, think again. Fire might as well be Noah’s middle name in this movie. Nowadays, any apoco-blockbuster worth its salt has to have a good blaze. Even Titanic needed a five-alarm fire on board to kick the narrative up a notch or two like sinking the world’s biggest ship wasn’t dramatic enough. So Hell gets as much play as Heaven in this film, where Noah battles a zombie-like horde of the unwanted led by a vicious carnivore named Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), a descendant of Cain borrowed from another story in Genesis. And fireballs fly as he lays siege to the ark with hordes of barbarians looking for a berth.

At the core of Floodship Enterprise, fires burn in a big woodstove on which home cooking is done, while whimsy trails smoke from a chimney poking out above one deck level. Matches are not even necessary; Noah has some sort of metallic nuggets in his possession magic fire-starters just give ‘em a crack and shazaam! instant blaze. Even rain doesn’t just fall from the sky, it erupts from the ground in Vegas-display geysers shooting higher than anything yet seen at Bellagio. In Aronofky’s Doomsday scenario, skies fall every which way but down.

This neo-Noah is also blessed with an army of rock monsters fallen angels re-imagined as geological Transformers glinting with magma, who lay waste to the barbarian invaders with six whirling limbs twice their size which could have been forged in Middle Earth. The Old Testament wrath may be written on Crowe’s brow but its OS is ripped from the Gospel According to Tolkien: rocks make faces and crush rabble. Who needs religion when you’ve got pyrotechnics?

Above the fray, holed up on a mountainside, is Noah’s ancient grandpa Methuselah, played by Anthony Hopkins as a wizened trickster, ornery and half-blind. He expects someone to bring him berries. He loves them berries even more than that Sling Blade guy loved them French fried potaters. Hopkins has fun with it, as Aronofsky makes one of a rare concession to humour in his unrelenting drama.

I am aware that I have made Noah sound ridiculous here which it is and I could go on to quibble about the model-like complexions and perfect teeth of Noah’s nuclear family and so forth. But quite frankly, once I had gotten over my initial disbelief at these rock monsters (as well as at the notion of Noah as some kind of deranged cult leader), I just gave up and went with it.

There was still plenty to enjoy in the action and spectacle departments of the film which is charged with passion and commitment; the performances are vibrant, Aranofsky has an eye, to say the least, and those Icelandic vistas (where would any apocalypse be without Iceland?) are breathtaking. As a blockbuster movie experience goes, this one delivers the goods. But as a biblical epic? Its suspension of disbelief is too far for me to cross over comfortably. I can’t see it reaffirming anyone’s faith or making a believer out of infidel either way you slice it Even if you have stopped believing in Him something’s amiss when God is missing in action!

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