Noah is quite literally one of the oldest stories in The Book, but this new vision often drowns in a sea of ideas and black and white morals.
In the beginning, there was the word, and the word was obsession. Like his titular character, co-writer (with Ari Handel) and director Darren Aronofsky has been reportedly driven by the biblical tale since his adolescence, working on the script since his first attempts to get the divisive The Fountain off the ground. As with that film, audiences first got a glimpse of his vision through a graphic novel adaptation with Handel and artist Niko Henrichon, a stunning (possibly) post-apocalyptic vision of driven protagonist fighting against a world in chaos. The final film is often visually stunning, but also an inconsistent heavy-handed morality tale that never quite decides on which choir it is preaching to.
The original tale from Genesis (and other parallel religious stories) only clocks in at a few pages in its biblical text, and Aronfsky manages to keep his epic to a little over the two hour mark. Even so, it immediately begins to creak at the seams in a two-toned world where humans are either Creator-fearing zealots like Noah (Russell Crowe), or hedonistic savages like the Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) led descendants of Cain. Sound familiar? Crowe’s Noah is wholly unlikeable, bullying his family, leaving his son’s lovers to die and playing with the notion of infanticide to please a somewhat vague Creator. It’s so unapologetic, it sometimes seems to be making an argument for the actions of real-world conservatives and fundamentalists who picket, abuse and target groups who don’t fit into their pre-determined categories. Yet Crowe is used to these driven roles, having not long ago also warned Krypton about its imminent destruction in Man of Steel, sending little baby Moses Superman in a high-tech basket to a new world. The rest of the cast, like all the non-ark building elements of the story, are purely perfunctory.
At times the film is visually stunning, at others the sight of the multitudes of animals is obviously rendered in a CGI that ran out of money for a few scenes. Yet this may be the only saving grace of a film that doesn’t quite have the courage of its own convictions. Using the repeated and obvious symbolism of a tempting apple beating like a heart, and the more transparent snake slithering its way into the hearts of evil men, it could be seen as a polemic on climate change, with humans solidly to blame for Earth’s decay. Yet it offers no solution, humankind’s fate is determined by an unseen Creator, who has already exiled his angels on Earth, trapping them in giant rock creatures that are reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films. Even when the notion of Evolution is supported, it stops short of following it through to its scientific conclusion, depicting humans as being created as a separate glowing entities. Politically, spiritually and cinematically, Noah wants to be all things to all people. However, it is hard to imagine what audience will come away with anything but the nagging thought that Noah’s family will ultimately have to commit incest to repopulate the planet. So maybe there is something there for the whole family.