Obsessed with the story of Noah since he was 13 years-old, writer/director Darren Aronofsky finally sees his vision of a quasi-fantasy/religious take on the biblical tale of the Genesis flood crash into the big screen today like a tidal wave. Sadly, as the characters of Aronofsky’s films usually learn, obsession leads to trouble.
Noah is certainly a labor of love and quite a bit of talent went into the creation of Noah, the ark, and the flood which washed away the sin of man from the face of the Earth. Equally certain, despite the skill on display both in front and behind the camera, is the fact that Noah is a mess on the level of Waterworld. Its grand expectations and epic scale simply can’t find a way to balance its stark character study of a man fighting to do the will of his God against the film’s more fantastical and sci-fi elements which include fallen angels in the form of giant rock creatures, the existence and use of magic, and never-ending storyline that keeps going long after it’s jumped the rails and taken a nosedive into the watery abyss which consumes so many (nameless) characters.
After a biblical narration explaining the basis of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, and Seth for those who never attended Sunday School when they were younger, we get a brief glimpse of a young Noah witnessing the murder of his father who was a descendant of Seth (as is Noah) by a direct descendant (Ray Winstone) of Cain. From here the film jumps several years into a future (a somewhat lazy trick Aronofsky will rely on multiple times over the course of the film) giving us the fully grown Noah (Russell Crowe) who receives a vision of an unstoppable flood to cleanse the world of the evil spread from the descendants of Cain.
Although presented from a perspective that anything from Cain’s line is tainted and wicked, Aronofsky’s script varies wildly on how seriously both he and his protaganist accept that belief as fact. Rescuing an injured orpahn girl who will grow into Emma Watson (in a film with magic that doesn’t give her a wand), who is more virtuous than anyone else in the film – including Noah and his family, Noah and his wife (Jennifer Connelly) decide to adopt Ila and raise her along with their sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll). Ham will years later also meet a young girl (Madison Davenport) he feels worthy of saving from certain death, although here his father disagrees.
Along his journey to make sense of his vision, Noah and his family will seek out his grandfather (Anthony Hopkins) and encounter fallen angels transformed into Hollywood CGI effects of transforming rock creatures, who reminded me of the Rock Lords from GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords (although I don’t believe that’s exactly what Aronofsky had intended), who are initially skeptical but eventually agree to help Noah build his ark (although it takes them witnessing a miracle to do so – so much for faith).
Another time jump of indeterminate length later, and we find the near completed construction of the ark, the arrival of the animals, and the return of the descendants of Cain who take refuge in the nearby forest to presumably steal the ark from Noah when its finished (but really are on hand only to be at ground zero during the flood offering lasting visuals of their wickedness in their sinful last days and of their deaths at the hands of their creator). Most of the film takes place in this period of time (although we will get at least two more time jumps before we get anywhere close to the closing credits) and its here where the film finally begins to touch on Noah’s obsession and begin to put obstacles in the path of Noah completing his quest from both outside and inside his family.
Trying to present a minimalist style while relying on giant rock creatures and swarms of all kinds of creatures making their way to the ark, Aronofsky struggles to blend the smaller character study of Noah with the broader epic events which surround him in a consistent and coherent whole. The effect is visually interesting film centered around a rigid central character which looses its way from time to time, especially at its end where it fumbles over the moral of the tale coming off far more ambiguous than expected for a biblical tale.
Given its 138-minute running time (although it feels much, much longer as the script refuses to end Noah’s torture and our own) and its continuous struggles in presenting a story that never measures up to the performances of its stars (who are all quite good, including the child actors playing the younger versions of Noah’s family), I simply can’t recommend the train wreck of a film. That said, I won’t dismiss Noah out of hand as simply a bad film as there are pieces and performances scattered throughout worthy of notice and attention. Sadly, these fragments don’t fit together well-enough to offer anything more than the inevitable questions (along the lines of “What the fuck was THAT?” not broader philosophical questions about the nature of religion and Noah’s place in events) which will be raised by the audience for which neither Noah nor Aronofsky have any answers.