When director Darren Aronofsky, a documented atheist, was hired to direct and co-write a big-budget adaptation of the tale of Noah’s Ark, there was a huge backlash. In an open quote, Aronofsky stated that “Noah” would be “the least biblical film ever made,” which is ironic considering it is one of the best to come out in a long time.
The film begins with a brief visual review of the story of Adam and Eve, which results in the split of people. After a silence from God, who is continually called “the Creator,” the people’s faith begins to fade, resulting in the rebirth of sin, except for Noah (Russell Crowe). He begins to have visions sent to him by the Creator warning him of the downfall of humanity sparking him into building the ark. This sparks internal and external controversy about the nature of humanity and who truly is sinful.
Noah also uses giant rock golems as unionized construction workers to help him defend and construct the larger-than-life ark. While I do not remember this part of the biblical story, I did miss a lot of Sunday school classes, so I assume this is accurate.
The strength of the film really comes from how strange Aronofsky lets the film get. This is not a faithful adaptation of the biblical text, but rather a harrowing character study of a man who believes in religious messaging from a Creator. The result is a disaster film that teases audiences with a psychological view of Noah. In an interesting turn, the film spends a large chuck of time building up the character as the typical hero, all while making us aware of how insane and morally wrong his actions are.
It is an interesting idea that the film fails to fully explore. Seeing Noah’s family unravel leads to some powerful scenes, but the movie teeters on the line, instead of fully delving into the surreal aspects, like Aronofsky’s previous work. For all the strides Aronofsky takes to pull away from the original story, he seems to pull away at the last moment. For every reference to the biblical text, Aronofsky treats us with a huge fantastical set piece or technical achievement. It feels like two separate movies and it ends up focusing on the one you do not want.
Speaking from a purely cinema graphic standpoint, the film is a technical marvel. The camera work is used to great effect, showcasing the sheer destruction the flood caused, and Aronofsky knows the perfect angle to highlight the emotional pain conveyed by the strong performances. This is especially true for Crowe and Jennifer Connelly, who plays Noah’s wife, Naameh.
The other actors are decent in their roles, but they really add nothing to the story. Emma Watson is fine as Noah’s adopted daughter, but her character is thrown into a really unnatural twist at the end. Anthony Hopkins plays Noah’s grandfather Methuselah, who brings some comic relief to the grim tale, but again, is quickly introduced and thrown away.
Whether or not you follow the Bible, the story of Noah is a dark one, that essentially is about the extinction of the entire human race, something the film does not shy away from. There are a few scenes in the film that are truly shocking, walking a delicate line between emotional and harrowing narrative. Still, every time the film seems to be moving into darker territory it backs out with a long-winded anecdote. By the time the film ends, which is about 30 minutes later than it needs to be, the film backs out of really embracing the dark side of the tale of Noah.
“Noah” has the essence of a brilliant film, but end up being a bit of a mess with its inconsistent tone. While enjoyable on its own merits, what it teases makes us hope that Aronofsky would have delved completely into the surreal, rather then sticking to the original story.