As the man responsible for masterful films such as Requiem for A Dream, The Wrestler and Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky has rightly earned a reputation as a highly talented auteur whose vision is often at odds with the expectations of a studio system entrenched in an atmosphere of conservatism in which profit is a much higher priority than artistic expression. As such, it is somewhat surprising to see Aronofsky enter the realm of the big budget blockbuster with his latest release Noah. This telling of the biblical tale is a considerable leap in scale from his previous efforts and is actually far less engaging or interesting than everything he has done before. In fact, playing like a cross between Swiss Family Robinson and Transformers, Aronofsky’s Noah is a decidedly dull cinematic experience. In part because of the story, in part because of the performances and in part because of Aronofsky’s approach, the film fails to deliver as a parable on the destruction of the planet, as a family drama or as an adventure story.
Russell Crowe plays the titular character with all the earnest pomposity he can muster, presenting Noah as arrogant and self-righteous. With the assistance of rock-like creatures known as Watchers, Noah sets out to construct an ark on which he is to shelter his family and two of every animal species, supposedly under instruction from ‘the creator’. Noah’s communications with this creator – God is never mentioned – are constructed as nothing more than elaborate dreams or hallucinations. But, what do you know, Noah plants a seed and a forest appears within seconds, conveniently providing the timber necessary to construct the ark. Although Noah has been predicting the flood and working on the construction of the ark for many years, it only takes two teenagers having sex in the forest to trigger the deluge. When the great flood arrives – a result of water spewing from under the earth more so than from above – Noah is forced to defend the ark from Tubal–Cain (Ray Winstone) and his hordes before the family are cast adrift as the only human survivors. It’s all quite silly really. I mean, gathering all the animals without an inkling of tension between them, and then being able to render them all asleep indefinitely with merely a wisp of smoke is ludicrous in the extreme.
Putting the narrative to one side, the nature of the events still lend themselves to plenty of spectacle, but these opportunities are never fully realised. The CGI effects are unconvincing in many sequences, with one sunrise scene looking particularly artificial. With most of the time adrift set inside the dark recesses of the ark, we never really get any sense of how tumultuous this voyage would be, particularly in the early stages amid the tempest and rampaging floods. Furthermore, a talented cast is wasted, with Jennifer Connolly having little to do as Noah’s wife Naameh. Winstone, meanwhile, having stowed away on the ark, is all bluster and rhetoric as Tubal-Cain, a character that ultimately adds nothing of consequence to this version of the story. Anthony Hopkins’ Methuselah is equally ineffectual as a character, presenting more as a dotty nut job than a man of import and influence. Emma Watson plays adoptive daughter Ila, with Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth and Leo McHugh Carroll as Noah’s three sons.
Any time a revered text – fictional or otherwise – is adapted into a film, much debate ensues about faithfulness with respect to the original material. Some adaptations are a triumph (Schindler’s List or LA Confidential for example), while others are far less successful if not downright disastrous, such as Bonfire of the Vanities. With Noah, Aronofsky has most certainly taken some liberties with the story, but there still remains a clear sense that he has made some effort to appease the faithful and ultimately protect the studio’s investment. As a result, the film is a hodgepodge of ideas and narrative elements that fail to deliver as an interesting take on a famous tale. Whilst Aronofsky is a gifted filmmaker with nary a false note on his resume to this point, Noah is a major disappointment that will no doubt ride on the coattails of the inevitable controversies and deliver a sizeable return for financiers.