Noah is a miscalculation, but not quite of biblical proportions.
The story of Noah, the central tale of the Genesis flood narrative in the Bible (also found in Sura 17 of the Quran), has been allowed an immense amount of creative embellishment in Darren Aronofsky’s new film. To say that Noah is an ambitious work from Aronofsky would not nearly do justice to the mammoth task of taking a relatively slight chapter of the Bible, in which the central figure remains largely silent, and turning it into a two-and-a-half hour action epic, complete with an army of computer-generated rock monsters.
Aronofsky has never been a subtle filmmaker and now, armed with one of the most recognisable Bible tales, his previously minimal interest in the understated has evolved into complete disregard. Many large-scale epics of a similar vein often benefit from sweeping sentiment, but Aronofsky approaches Noah with such unbridled earnestness that the film ends up shallow rather than purposeful. If Bible stories are allegories from which we can draw meaning then there is absolutely no thought behind this telling of Noah’s story.
Noah (Russell Crowe) is visited in his dreams by ‘The Creator’, who instils in him the knowledge of an impending apocalypse and the drive to do what he must to serve God faithfully before the destruction arrives. As the final descendant of the virtuous Seth, Noah has a dismissive attitude toward mankind, who by and large have embraced the immoral attitudes of Seth’s murderous brother Cain. Thanks to industry and colonisation, the world has fallen into an irreversible disrepair. Noah receives visions, which he interprets as a bidding from God to save all creatures from the end of the world, except lustful and selfish Man.
The task of building a vessel to shelter every species might seem a daunting one, but Noah is blessed with an army of rock monsters, or fallen angels known as ‘The Watchers’, who end up helping him out so much it seems a bit inexcusable that Noah gets all the credit for building the Ark. During the construction of the Ark, Noah is challenged by antagonistic warlord Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) and his army, who demand admission to the Ark. They are refused by Noah, who shows remarkable courage for a single man supported by a horde of rock monsters.
The fundamentals of Noah’s story is present but Aronofsky has elaborated upon them considerably. Taking his cues from modest mentions of family conflict in the Bible, Noah constructs an entire dynamic behind Noah and his household. The characterisations are remarkably poor and the motivations behind everyone involved, including Noah, are extremely shaky. Noah’s middle son Ham (Logan Lerman) flirts with the narcissistic ideals of villain Tubal-cain, but it’s never apparent why they seem to appealing to him. Indeed, considering the impossible miracles that they witness throughout the film, Noah’s entire family remain surprisingly skeptical of his commission.
Tonally, the film is erratic. The opening half veers between single-mindedly faithful to gratuitous blockbuster action without warning, suggesting that despite certain pretensions even Aronofsky isn’t immune to the moronic greatness of seeing an army of rock monsters in battle. Unfortunately, the haphazard shifts in tone deny Noah its attempts to settle on any form of purpose or meaning.
Perhaps the most offbeat decision amidst the elaboration is the seemingly psychotic energy that eventually manifests itself in Noah’s drive to do The Creator’s will. The idea of blind faith is a compelling one, but Aronofsky has neither the patience nor the nuance to explore it rewardingly. Noah inexplicably spirals into a madness that smacks of science-fiction horror such as Event Horizon, which is unexpected to say the least.
For all its faults, Noah is rarely dull. The finest moments come when Aronofsky embraces the fantastical with a sense of charm, rather than the heavy-handed seriousness that pervades much of the film. A sequence in which the story of Creation is explained through a series of evolving animals and landscapes was particularly mesmerising, as was the retelling of the origins of the fallen angels.
Noah is nothing if not unique, but for all it’s quirk the film has little substance. The story of Noah is a naturally compelling one, but Aronofsky robs the tale almost entirely of interest by imbuing little to no reflection into his direction. The film is a presentation of events, sometimes beautiful or intriguing, but little more and certainly with little correlation from one event to another. Aronofsky’s filmmaking lacks the clarity of purpose that is vital to a film so monumentally ambitious as Noah.