…..and I’m still not sure what I saw, exactly. A deeply weird attempt to turn a Bible story into a fantasy/action epic? A brilliant director’s fascinating struggle with issues of faith and justice? A psychodrama about a family under unthinkable duress?
Yes. Probably. Sort of.
It’s just too interesting not to write about. Lots of spoilers ahead.
Darren Aronofsky is one of my favorite directors, and his filmography has a constant theme of obsessive characters who destroy themselves. Russell Crowe’s Noah is part of the same lineage as the mad math genius in Pi, the drug addicts in Requiem for a Dream and the doomed ballerina in Black Swan. They’re all reaching for something greater than themselves, only to discover that their goals are elusive, if they exist at all.
In Noah, the Creator does seem to exist, and is determined to destroy most of humanity. Noah strives for righteousness, and he becomes as hard and unforgiving as the God who would wipe out His own creation. This character study, humanizing a figure who gets very little airtime in the Bible, is easily the best thing about Aronofsky’s approach. Crowe nails the portrayal of a man tortured by what he has been tasked with – or thinks he has.
The rest of the film is not as successful. The visuals are great, and the depraved world of villain Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone) is impressively rendered, as is his attempt to overtake the ark when the deluge begins. It’s so cool-looking, you could almost forget about all the crazy.
I’m not just talking about the
Ents rock monsters Watchers, either. Their story is pulled from that short passage in Genesis about the Nephilim, along with extra-biblical writings like The Book of Enoch, which talks about fallen angels being covered with “rough and jagged rocks” and bound in “the valleys of the earth.” Aronofsky and his co-writer, Ari Handel, get very creative with this concept, even having the Watchers help build the ark. It’s not quite as silly as it sounds, but it’s close.
We also get to meet Methuselah, Noah’s extremely aged grandfather, played by Anthony Hopkins. He lives in a cave, craves berries for some reason, and has magic powers (or hallucinogenics,or both). It’s a bizarre cameo which adds little to the film, except another Oscar winner (Jennifer Connelly’s in it, too).
The real fun(?) comes when Noah determines that all of humanity is supposed to die – including him and his family. They’re just around to keep the animals alive. Noah’s daughter-in-law is pregnant, and God isn’t sending him useful visions of what to do, so he is on the verge of committing infanticide. Only an innate feeling of love for his offspring keeps him from going through with it.
Mind you, he makes this decision without any help from the deity whose (albeit vague) directives led to all this in the first place. Does Noah’s act of mercy fulfill God’s will, or go against it? There were plenty of children killed in the flood. What makes these kids so special?
That is, of course, one of the big questions raised by both the movie and the Bible story. Is it really possible that every single person on Earth is evil, except this one guy and his family? We don’t see much of Noah’s world in either case, and what Aronofsky shows is a sparsely inhabited wasteland that couldn’t begin to sustain even its tiny population.
If the flood only ravages one area, then that explains the absurd notion that the entire planet could be repopulated by 8 people, most of whom are genetically related. Either there were others spared from the flood somewhere, or there’s going to be some serious inbreeding. That can’t be what the Creator (or the director) had in mind.
In virtually every way, Noah is an interesting failure, an attempt to make narrative and moral sense out of a story that doesn’t lend itself to the task. If he had made a straight-up fantasy or sci-fi version, Aronofsky might have pulled this off. By tying the film to a religious text whose tales are ostensibly set in the real world, he backs himself into a corner only divine intervention could get him out of.