Noah is what we would call a “problem solving” movie. Within its simple Bible story (a man of faith has a vision of the Earth’s destruction by flood and builds an ark to save the creatures on it) are so many modern plot holes that all director/co-writer Darren Aronofsky and collaborator Ari Handel can add is a kind of narrative spackle to the numerous questions abounding. How did one man and his family build a vessel large enough to house two of every animal, bird, and insect? How did these creatures keep from killing/eating/irritating each other? If everyone on the Earth except from his family is destroyed, how did human life continue? And perhaps, more importantly, what outside of Irwin Allen-like disaster spectacle can be used to keep a contemporary audience engaged for over two hours of moral hand wringing?
The answers are odd and crazy as hell, and yet Aronofsky manages to deliver a spiritual slam dunk that’s both bathed in Christian mythos and highly wary of same. Our ecologically minded hero is played by Russell Crowe (in perhaps one of his greatest performances ever) and as a young boy, he saw the demonized city-dwellers, lead by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), kill his father. Now, he awakens at night with visions of fire and water, and when he confronts his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), he learns that God has chosen him to build a wooden container to save “the innocent” from His wrath. With the help of a magic seed, his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), sons Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman), and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll), and some rock-encrusted fallen angels known as The Watchers, he builds an ark and fills it. When Tubal-cain learns of the situation, he is determined to take the quasi-boat for his own… by any and all means necessary.
Essentially an examination of free will and how man chooses to use/ignore it in the face of God’s judgment, Noah is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Imagine the most thoughtful Old Testament-inspired epic, add in some surreal CG touches, and top it all off with a message that should resonate with even the most cynical post-modern mentality and you’ve got an almost masterpiece which just about falls apart under the weight of its own ambitions. There are massive flaws here, including the creation of those aforementioned “Watchers.” While they have an amazingly intriguing and well-thought-out origin, they are also just too much deus ex machina in a movie that’s overblown with same. After all, if Tubal-cain and his people have been relying on these entities to ravage the land for their vile, meat-eating ways, why would they have a problem believing they would turn coat and help Noah and his vegetarian clan? Better still, if these Guillermo Del Toro-inspired rock gods are so powerful, why does everyone treat them like they are weak and worthless?
Then there is Tubal-cain himself, a madman drunk with power who’s unable to justify his amplified sadism. This is a ruler who allows his people to trade (and eat) each other for survival, and yet he questions God’s displeasure with him. Or why his rule is so fragile. By the end, when the ark is full, the animals are drugged (Noah’s wife is a whiz with naturally organic knock-out gas) and the waters are raging, Tubal-cain still manages a third act surprise that’s both wholly unnecessary and thematically disingenuous. If the main subtext here is that even Noah is too blind to see what God intends, then why bring on an otherwise mediocre villain character to drive that point home? Time for more movie mortar.
There are so many other elements to discuss here — Emma Watson as the barren child bride of Shem, Ham’s hormonal rages against his dad, Methuselah’s “magic” powers, the last act battle between the Watchers and Tubal-cain’s army — that it’s safe to say that Noah is as dense as it is defiant. This is not some borderline blasphemous takedown of the Bible tradition. Instead, it uses the beloved parable to say some very insightful things about man, free will, and the relationship of both to their “creator.”