Editor’s Notes: Noah is now open in wide theatrical release. For an additional perspective, please read Parker’s review (20/100).
Darren Aronofsky has made some pretty astounding films in the past. He’s made Requiem for a Dream (2000), a film about the effects of drugs and drug addiction has on a person and a family, The Fountain (2006), a total mindbender of a film that is either loved or hated and cannot be described succinctly, The Wrestler (2008) about a past-his-prime professional wrestler and his relationship with his estranged daughter and Black Swan (2010), a psychological drama that may well be his finest film.
Then there’s Noah. For a man who has made curious entries into his directorial cannon, this is perhaps the oddest choice. There’s little point in describing the story, since it’s been told to most people in their youth and it’s difficult to forget (though Noah is often confused with Moses, for some reason) that he built the ark to carry the animals of the world to safety when God (referred to only as The Creator throughout the film) flooded the world to rid it of evil men.
Aronofsky made a conscious decision to not just make the three page story many people are so familiar with.
Aronofsky made a conscious decision to not just make the three page story many people are so familiar with. He imbues it with information that is both apocryphal and likely made up and gives Noah (played by Russell Crowe) real strife to overcome. The term ‘overwrought’ doesn’t begin to describe Crowe’s Noah, who seems to take no joy in anything.
And really, he has no joy to take from anything. The land is barren and rocky, he and his family have to live a nomadic existence due to their not being descendants of Cain but of a third son of Adam and Eve that I had not previously been aware of. It’s been Noah’s family that has kept the worship of The Creator alive and had not succumbed to the evils of Cain’s line. As a result, the do not live in the cities of man and if they are discovered, will likely be killed. So life is bleak for Noah and Naameah (Jennifer Connelly, who reunites with Aronofsky after starring in his Requiem for a Dream and with Russell Crowe after starring with him in A Beautiful Mind) and their children when Noah receives a vision of the destruction of the world and is told to go see his grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) for guidance.
On the way, they save Ila (Emily Watson) and take her into their family and meet The Watchers, who are fallen angels who disobeyed The Creator and wanted to help mankind. They were rewarded by being cast from Heaven and turned into stone creatures. Yes, this is where it gets weird. These Watchers not only aid Noah in building the ark (from a forest grown from the last remaining seed of Eden) but defend it when Noah and his family are attacked by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone) and his clan of evil men.
Aside from the Watchers, the other stark difference from the story I knew growing up and this one is that Noah firmly believes that his family is to be the last people on earth and that no more humans should be born. He is under the impression that only the animals are meant to survive the flood and that Man’s time is over. He is willing to go to great lengths to ensure this as well.
Apparently, Aronofsky really did his homework for this film. The history of Noah and many of the details are as true as they can be supposed to be (this was a really long time ago, remember). I question whether or not the Watchers are included in any texts, but they did add an interestingly supernatural quality to the film. The trouble is that so much of what occurs onscreen is told to us in long conversations and speeches that leave the whole spectacle of the visuals empty. Being invested in the film does not depend on whether or not you believe any of this actually happened (there is geological evidence that a great flood encompassed the areas where people were long ago, but not over the entire globe), investment comes from an ability to sit through lengthy conversations and repeated scenes that seem to be there to emphasize the emotional turmoil but only really serve to lengthen the film.
Aronofsky deserves high marks for bringing this story to the screen in the first place. To my knowledge, there has never been a live-action version of Noah, probably because it wasn’t feasible without computer graphics to depict something like this.
And the length is a problem. Roger Ebert once said that a good movie is never long enough and a bad movie is never short enough. I wouldn’t necessarily put this film into either category, but it is far too long. Scenes in the final third of the film seem to repeat endlessly and throughout the first two thirds, everything just takes longer than it needs to. There is nothing snappy or quick about Noah. Everything takes a long time to complete from a scene to the actual ark (this wasn’t a weekend DIY project, it took them 10 years to complete the ark). The only exception to this is the arrival of the animals, which are almost throwaway scenes.
Aronofsky deserves high marks for bringing this story to the screen in the first place. To my knowledge, there has never been a live-action version of Noah, probably because it wasn’t feasible without computer graphics to depict something like this. The actors deserve high marks too, especially Crowe and Winstone for inhabiting these characters so completely and making them believable.
Unfortunately, Aronofsky doesn’t get high marks for execution. While the production design and location work is fantastic in depicting a barren wasteland of a world while most bible epics look clean and shot in a golden hue, this doesn’t make up for how most of the scenes are leaden and more concerned with being textually accurate than entertaining. Aronofsky is a challenging filmmaker, one who likes to make his audience uneasy while he confronts them with things they may not want to see but are magnetically attracted to. This is the first of his films that I did not feel that pull to. His other films make you want to look away from the difficult situation onscreen but he knows you can’t. Noah makes you just kind of sit there until it’s over and makes you wonder what you just saw and why you saw it. It has merit and is too well constructed and visualized to dismiss, but it ultimately misses whatever mark it was aiming for and ends up being a handsomely mounted disappointment.
[notification type=”star”]60/100 ~ OKAY. Noah makes you just kind of sit there until it’s over and makes you wonder what you just saw and why you saw it. It has merit and is too well constructed and visualized to dismiss, but it ultimately misses whatever mark it was aiming for and ends up being a handsomely mounted disappointment.[/notification]