Darren Aronofsky has an excellent track record, which is why Noah is so frustrating: a mixture of bold imagination and horrendous cliché. Countless elements have been added to the Genesis account, but the essential story is there. In Aronofsky’s version Noah and his family protect themselves from savage hordes who ransack the land. Dark dreams portend that the Creator will destroy everything so, aided by rock monsters who used to be angels, they build an ark.
Russell Crowe does a fine job as an antihero driven by obsession. In fact, most of the cast is excellent (including the surprisingly affecting Emma Watson) but are wasted on awful dialogue: “It begins” or “What do you want?” “Justice”.
It does not commit to a religious creed, but treats the subject matter like a mythological epic. God is “the Creator”, angels are “watchers”. It uses every cliché from epic films too – it even has Anthony Hopkins as a kooky old wizard. But Noah comes across as a deranged zealot willing to do anything to fulfil his interpretation of unclear dreams. The ambiguity of Noah’s dreams jars with very clear epiphanic moments elsewhere: angels, magical pregnancies. Pagan elements bleed into this vision too, including Pythagorean vegetarianism and Iphigeneian human sacrifice. There is no clear theology to the film. Instead it comes across as an attempt not to upset the religious or the secular.
The film’s strong points rest in its challenging brutality, its excellent cast and several beautifully chilling scenes – a dream sequence in which Noah finds himself standing on ash soaked in blood, the Eden serpent shedding its slough.
Noah has the nightmarish, symbol-laden prophetism of the Book of Apocalypse. For a brief moment in the two-and-a-half-hour morass Russell Crowe gathers his family and tells them the first story he ever heard: the story of Genesis. Over beautiful, trippy time-lapses he narrates some of the most influential words ever written and it begins to feel profound. He says nothing about their truth, but instead relies on the power of the story. It is a reminder that many thousands of years ago these stories were told from generation to generation and, along with the Instructions of Suruppak, the epics of Gilgamesh and Homer, through many accidents and many miracles, they survived to this day. The profundity fades as it becomes clear that we are sitting in a cinema with a slightly sticky floor watching a messy desecration of this ancient tradition of storytelling, an expensive and utterly transitory waste of time.
Noah is released nationwide on 4th April 2014.
Watch the trailer for Noah here: