Darren Aronofsky recently bragged that he had made “the least-biblical biblical film ever made” in Noah. Paramount responded to the derision that followed by issuing a release stating that the film was inspired by the Biblical story from Genesis, but that “artistic license had been taken.” After having seen the film, it’s clear that Paramount engaged in hyperbole, because there is very little about Noah that is either inspired or artistic — aside from a couple of good performances that almost make the film watchable. Almost.
In short, Noah is a mess from any perspective — in regard to its source material, to its interior logic, and even to any sense of narrative. The film isn’t a glorious mess like Moulin Rouge or an enjoyable mess like Basic, but a grim and joyless mess that no one needs to pay $10 to watch. Noah goes from his Biblical characterization, as the man God chooses to safeguard the best of humanity for a fresh start to creation, to a man obsessed with the idea of killing every human being possible — including his freshly-born twin granddaughters.
Even that might have made for an interesting evening at the movies if Aronofsky offered a fresh perspective and something close to coherence. Instead, we get an anti-technology, anti-carnivore lecture that recycles predictable clichés and overlays it on the Flood story. If Wizards entered into a polyamorous relationship with Road Warrior, The Day After Tomorrow, and Waterworld, and their child was midwifed by Michael Bay, it just might be Noah. The rock monsters — actually trapped angels who made the mistake of sympathizing with Adam and Eve — best recall Galaxy Quest’s, or perhaps The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.
Just how incoherent does Noah get? The entire second half of Noah revolves around the tension between serving God — excuse me, The Creator — while wiping out the human race. Noah alienates Ham by refusing to save a girl he rescues, only allows Shem to pair up with foundling Ila because Noah thinks she’s barren, and Japheth is far too young to be married at all. Noah’s vision of God’s plan is to save all the animals but make sure no human reproduces. It gets so ridiculous that Noah actually gets to the point of murdering his two unexpected twin granddaughters (after Ila gets the world’s first home-pregnancy test from Noah’s wife Naameh) in his Malthusian obsession, until “love” stops him.
All of this would be news to God, who in Genesis 6:18 specifically tells Noah to include his sons’ wives in the ark — as they are all of age and married in the actual Biblical text — which Noah obediently does in Genesis 7:13. The motivation for the latter half of the movie is totally contrived and nonsensical. And let’s not forget the redemption of the rock monsters/angels, who get beamed back to Paradise for their heroic efforts to stomp out human beings … or perhaps were just too stupid all along to try to peel back their rock covers until they were in the middle of a battle.
Those familiar with the Biblical text of Genesis could spend hours pointing out all of the obvious errors in Aronofsky’s script, but in large part that would be beside the point. He didn’t want to make a Biblical epic — he wanted to lecture everyone about environmentalism and the vegan lifestyle. That’s why Noah goes from a man who makes a massive sacrifice of burnt animal offerings in Genesis to one who violently attacks people who hunt for meat. The evil that produces the catastrophe in Noah is clear-cut lumber harvesting and “zohar” mining, rather than the standard kind of immorality that usually results in God’s non-vegan wrath in the Bible. Even flower-picking is verboten in Aronofsky’s creation. It’s Avatar, only with “the Creator” in place of Eywa, and with “zohar” in place of unobtanium.
With all of this nonsense going on, it’s easy to miss a few good performances, starting with Russell Crowe and especially Emma Watson as Ila, the wife of Shem — but that’s about it. Jennifer Connelly doesn’t get much to do as Naameh, but the same can’t be said for Anthony Hopkins as Methusaleh. Hopkins keeps muttering about berries while dosing Noah with drugged tea to facilitate another vision from The Creator, magically cures Ila’s barrenness, and apparently spikes her libido for good measure. Hopkins channels Avatar from Wizards with fewer wisecracks. Ray Winstone plays the main antagonist Tubal-Cain as the embodiment of Al Pacino’s rant at the end of The Devil’s Advocate but with a lot more subtlety than Aronofsky demonstrates or deserves, and provides a revenge subplot that could have come out of The Patriot or Braveheart. (Another biblical note: Noah’s father Lamech lived long enough to see Noah’s sons be born, and there is no indication at all that Lamech was murdered.)
Those performances are nowhere near enough to rescue this mess. Audiences will have mentally checked out of the Gaia-fest long before the first raindrop falls, even though the cinematography is stunning enough to keep their eyes on the screen. On the Hot Air scale, Noah gets a two:
- 5 – Full price ticket
- 4 – Matinee only
- 3 – Wait for Blu-Ray/DVD/PPV rental or purchase
- 2 – Watch it when it hits Netflix/cable
- 1 – Avoid at all costs
Noah is rated PG-13, but it’s pretty violent and intense at times. I’d consider 13 a hard floor.
Note: I’m on vacation for the next couple of days, but we have some excellent guest bloggers joining us again!
Update: If you want a different take on Noah‘s relationship to the Bible, read Steven Greydanus’ essay at Catholic World Report. I will agree that the retelling of the story of creation was one of the high points in a film that didn’t have many.
Update: Matt Lewis thinks it’s flawed but still worth seeing by Christians.