Directed by: Darren Aronofsky
Written by: Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson and Ray Winstone
Noah is a baffling movie on many levels, but rarely is it very interesting. Director Darren Aronofsky’s artistic sensibility either got lost in the material or the studio put too many restrictions for him to really run wild with it. The end result is an often absurdly straightforward installment of White People Reenact the Bible (with giant rock monster angels).
To the movie’s credit, Aronofsky makes no effort to subdue the torment a man like Noah (Russell Crowe) both faces and inflicts when tasked with keeping animals and his family alive while everyone else on Earth drowns. Crowe gives it his all as well, though he and the rest of the cast (except Anthony Hopkins) play the material with a self-seriousness that is often suffocating. When the movie was allowed to breathe visually, like in a couple of time-lapse tracking shots that follow animals as they fly and slither, it was briefly exhilarating.
Human depravity also comes through in grotesque spurts, as a clan led by Ray Winstone’s character grows more and more desperate to find a place on the ark. They lurk in the woods near where Noah and his family are building it, men dragging young women through the mud and trading them for live animals that they tear apart. It’s dimly lit, and the camera is placed at a safe distance from the atrocity and the blood spurts, so this movie is rated PG-13.
Noah’s script, co-written by Aronofsky and Ari Handel, is weirdly ambivalent about the religious aspects of the story, simultaneously portraying Noah’s actions as sacred and sadistic but never really exploring them past a surface level. As the the flood draws closer and closer, the story forces itself to a “climatic” battle scene that is almost as absurd as a boat that can fit every animal on it.
Aronofsky stages this squabble as a sort of Biblical Lord of the Rings, with gigantic rock monsters forming a line of defense between the big boat and the mad, charging hoard. I should probably explain these rock monsters a little bit. They are called Watchers, and are apparently angels who attempted to help mankind and were punished by becoming one with the land (aka rocks). They’re not really in the Bible, but they give Aronofsky a chance to orchestrate his big battle scene with a high enough body count to draw in the action movie crowd.
It’s unfortunate that he made departures in those areas but didn’t feel the need to alter or even address some of the creepier aspects of the source material. Much of the added or altered material somehow makes the story more sexist. There are scenes where he and his sons talk about going to visit the camp so they can “choose wives.” The principle female characters are eerily subservient to an exagerrated and ridiculous end.
A large portion of the final act involves Noah’s wife and children trying to convince him not to slaughter his daughter(in-law)’s babies. That daughter(in-law) is played by Emma Watson, who attempts to give a character that is rendered ridiculously powerless some kind of gravitas. Noah’s wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) has a melodramatic confrontation scene with him after he dictates that he must kill the children so that human sin can die with his family. All she does when he goes to kill them is stand at the bottom of a ladder and shriek.
Of course, there’s also the matter of there only being a single family left to repopulate the Earth, and though the movie doesn’t ignore it, it certainly doesn’t dwell on it either. Noah almost seems like an agnostic attempt at religious material, even trying to add a few environmentalist elements to the biblical tale. There isn’t much passion in the storytelling, though, and the departures mostly serve to make the story seem more absurd and barbaric.