DROWN IN THE DEPTHS
Main Cast: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Normy and I are finishing up our quick little jaunt to New York where we have been busy advising the folks at Lincoln Center as to how to update their offerings for a new generation. Unfortunately, Bartlett Sher did not take most of my suggestions regarding The King and I other than a rather stunning effect of the boat docking in Bangkok harbor which I leant him from my Sink For Your Supper tour of some years ago. Normy has had better luck with Peter Gelb and has got a definite commitment from the Metropolitan Opera to premiere Wiggy, his new opera about Mad King Ludwig. Contracts can’t be signed until Normy completes it so he’ll have to lock himself in his studio back at Chateau Maine, which I have fondly dubbed Wigland for the duration. I’m hoping we’ll be taking a research trip to Bavaria later this year so he can properly explore Neuschwanstein and environs for tonal atmosphere but we are so overbooked that he may have to make do with old Gabriel Knight games instead.
For our last night in Manhattan, we headed over to Times Square where I had heard there was a lavish MNM store. I thought what could possibly be a bigger thrill for the patrons of such an establishment than to have the real Mrs. Norman Maine turn up in their midst. I had the business center of the Ramada Inn run off several dozen signed 8 x 10s and Normy and I headed off to the place in question. I could hardly wait to see the lavish displays of Lesterene beauty products, MNM collector dolls, racks of GlamourPuss gowns and, of course, lower priced ready to go VickiWear. We arrived at the MNM store on the corner of 48th and Broadway and I was somewhat puzzled to find little besides round chocolate candies in a variety of unappetizing colors. I sashayed to the top of the escalator, struck my best diva pose and belted ‘I’m here’ in my clearest mezzo soprano but rather than the round of applause I was expecting, I was nearly run over by a large round stuffed green thing with an embroidered white m on its chest. Fortunately, I was not trampled, but I was knocked off my four inch Jimmy Choo heels and down the escalator but was fortunate enough to land on a rather ample tourist from Chillicothe. As I had a strained sacroiliac ligament, not to mention a bruised dignity and a large rip in my lovely lilac chiffon evening gown, Normy and I decided to cut our visit short and caught a cab back to the hotel.
There we decided to order room service steaks, a large bottle of merlot and settle in with Netflix. After flipping through several unsuitable choices involving actors of whom we had never heard and bad CGI monsters, we settled on Darren Aronofsky’s film from last year, Noah, with Russell Crowe in the title role. I’ve always been a fan of biblical epics, ever since I starred as Jezebel in the musical spectacular Hollywood Babylon opposite Van Johnson as Nebuchadnezzar. Aronofsky’s films are always interesting on multiple levels so we settled in for a watch.
Noah is based on the biblical flood story as told in the book of Genesis, chapters 6-9. It’s one of the stories known to pretty much anyone, Christian or not, what with divine wrath, the animals marching two by two, the dove with the olive branch and a bit of drunkenness. The problem with filming it, as with most such adaptations, is while there are the bones of a good story in the source material, it requires a lot of fleshing out in order to make a full length feature. Sticking strictly to the biblical account would make a twenty minute film with a lot of nameless characters who make, at best, cameo appearances. Aronofsky, who co-wrote the film with Ari Handel, creates characters and motivations to suit his themes of creation and destruction, the duality of humankind and the triumph of love.
In this version, Noah is first seen as a child when he and his father are bonding in the wilderness in a ritual involving snakeskins that hearkens back to Eden. (I’m rather surprised they didn’t throw in an apple or two). They are interrupted by the evil Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) who kills daddy but misses the young Noah. Fast forward a generation and Noah, now a middle aged Russell Crowe, is married to the virtuous Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) with sons of his own. While marching across yet another land laid waste by Tubal-Cain and his minions, they discover a lone survivor of a massacre, a young girl Ila whom they adopt into their little family. More time passes and the kids have grown; Ila is now a strikingly beautiful Emma Watson who is in love with his oldest son, Shem (Douglas Booth). Middle son Ham (Logan Lerman) is desperate for a girlfriend of his own and youngest son Japheth (Leo Hugh McCarroll) barely registers screen time. Noah is despairing of the wickedness of the earth and seeks out his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) who gives him a mystical Edenic seed. He takes it home, plants a Miracle-Gro forest and decides to follow divine instruction in building an ark. For this monumental task, he enlists a lot of fallen angels who look a bit like Transformers crossed with the Thing from The Fantastic Four. The ark takes shape. The animals show up and conveniently become comatose under the influence of magic incense. Evil Tubal-Cain and his minions try to rush the ark as the rains come and are held off by the weird stone things who turn into pillars of light as they die. This leads into a bunch of very un-biblical subplots involving Tubal-Cain stowing away on the ark, Noah threatening to kill his grandchildren, the burning of an escape raft but all eventually ends happily with a big rainbow party.
I quite liked the film. Aronofsky’s superb visual sense keeps the viewers’ attention and there are surprisingly lovely shots scattered throughout. He knows how to use his special effects in service of the story and shies away from sequences that could become cliché. (There is no parade of the animals to a pompous orchestral score). He is more interested in exploring the thematic material behind the Noah legend than the literal legend itself and his screenplay reflects this. I’m sure that this led to a certain amount of shunning by the biblical literalist community who expect no deviation from sacred text. For a biblical film, there is also little reference to god, only to a creator who has become disenchanted with his creation which was probably also difficult for more fundamentalist individuals to handle.
The film is aided by Clint Mansell’s spare scoring, Matthew Libatique’s cinematography and a gorgeous production design by Mark Friedberg. The performances are goodish. Crowe retains a magnetic screen presence as he ages and carries the film. He is aided by the supporting cast (especially Anthony Hopkins who plays aged Methuselah with a definite twinkle in his eye). I was particularly taken with Emma Watson who is maturing into a lovely young actress now that she has left Hogwarts behind. It’s definitely worth a look, assuming that you are willing to see the story in more metaphorical and less literal terms.
Snake skin arm wrapping. Instant flowers. Spreading streams. Gratuitous cannibalism. Exploding golems. Bird flocks. Water dreams. Girlfriend trampling. Mass drownings. Infant endangerment.
photo by Jorge Láscar
Originally from Seattle Washington, land of mist, coffee and flying salmon, Mrs. Norman Maine sprang to life, full grown like Athena, from Andy’s head during a difficult period of life shortly after his relocation to Alabama.