Movie Information

The Story: Mystical, fantasized retelling of the Bible story of Noah's Ark. The Lowdown: It most certainly doesn't all work, but Darren Aronofsky's visionary take on the Bible story is still an amazing work — as much for its flaws as for its virtues. It may miss greatness, but it sure makes a valiant try for it.
Genre: Biblical Fantasy Epic
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins
Rated: PG-13

As absurdly ambitious as you might imagine, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is both a mad folly and a brilliant one. It is that most bizarre of things: The Biblical epic as personal filmmaking from a director who is nothing if not an idiosyncratic stylist. It is at once stunning and silly, thought-provoking and dull-witted, exciting and boring. It’s at least 15 minutes too long. There’s probably just as much wrong with it as right with it. I don’t know that I’ll ever feel inclined to watch it again, and the chances of it showing up on my 2014 Ten Best list are slim indeed. But I am very glad I saw it. I’m glad Aronofsky made it. And I am over the moon that a film this determinedly odd has been given a wide release. That in itself seems cause for rejoicing.

Unless you’ve simply not been paying attention, you’re probably aware that Noah has angered quite a few people because it isn’t a faithful account of what is written in the Bible. Let’s be honest, what’s actually written in the Bible isn’t enough material for a two-hour movie, so some embellishment was inevitable. This, however, goes somewhat beyond embellishment, but since much of what is added was taken from “The Book of Enoch,” it’s not as groundless as it might seem. Yes, even the giant rock creatures — the fallen angels known as The Watchers — are found in “Enoch,” along with a more detailed story of the flood. Whether or not this was a primary concern of Aronofsky is debatable. The changes don’t end there, and it’s clear that what he’s making is a wildly personal fever dream of a movie — not a religion lesson. In fact, at times, its mysticism makes it feel like a better title might have been Noah: A Biblical Odyssey.

Actually, Noah doesn’t stop at evoking Kubrick. There are traces of The Tree of Life (2011) in there, along with intimations of Aronofsky’s own The Fountain (2006), hallucinatory scenes that might have dropped in from Altered States (1980) and some effects that are straight out of Lifeforce (1985). If that makes it sound like Noah is a pretty trippy movie, that’s because it is — at least a lot of the time. It is devoutly mystical without being particularly religious. God is never exactly mentioned. He’s called, more vaguely, “the Creator.” Though Bible stories that lead up to this one are invoked, they’re also reinterpreted to the film’s purpose. God makes no cameo appearances and doesn’t speak to Noah. Instead, Noah divines what’s going on through dreams of what we might call the acid flashback variety. Noah’s grandfather, Methusela (Anthony Hopkins at his most Anthony Hopkins) is presented as some kind of shaman. At one point, the old boy even slips Noah a cup of hallucinogenic tea so our hero can obtain his next vision.

At the same time, Noah bears more than a passing resemblance to an action movie, with its showdown between Noah and The Watchers against Tubal Cain’s (Ray Winstone) grotty team of barbarians. In a sense — and it may well be accidental — what Aronofsky has done is fuse the two stories (the Biblical one and a WWI story) of Michael Curtiz’s 1928 Noah’s Ark into one story. Some of this works. Some of it is just plain clunky and obvious. (It was the second time this week I encountered a “Chekhov’s gun” variant, only this one was “Chekhov’s bear trap.”)

Clumsier, though, is the film’s final section, which is also where Aranofsky makes his biggest — and most thematically suspect — changes to the story. Rather than having all three sons have wives, the movie has only Shem (Douglas Booth) paired off with Ila (Emma Watson), and she is theoretically barren. This sets the stage for Noah’s peculiar delusion that mankind is meant to perish with them. When the theoretically barren wife turns out to be pregnant, it throws a monkey wrench into Noah’s latest notion, setting the stage for psychotic Noah. I understand (I think) why Aronofsky took this route. It has a point and is going somewhere. But it’s awkward, somewhat silly and, frankly, tedious. Fortunately, the film does right itself before the end.

Overall — and bearing in mind its very real missteps — Noah is too grandiose a vision to ignore. It’s epic (in the real sense of the word) and truly visionary. It’s crude yet sublime. But more than anything else, it’s unique, and it’s true to itself. We will not see its like again any time soon. Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content.

Playing at Carmike 10, Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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13 thoughts on “Noah

  1. T.rex

    Can’t wait to see this, and that is only for two reasons, Darren Aronofsky and Russel Crowe.

  2. DrSerizawa

    I’m chuckling at the readers who pre-decided that you would hate this movie.

    Do you think it might resurrect (pun intended) Jennifer Connelly’s career from the Oscar Curse?

    Let’s be honest, what’s actually written in the Bible isn’t enough material for a two-hour movie, so some embellishment was inevitable.

    Au contraire. They could have shown entire the process of handbuilding the Ark. That sort of thing is pretty popular these days apparently given the popularity of innumerable reality fix-it shows. That could have chewed several hours. And then they could have shown the loading of all the animals. That would make a movie weeks long and be “true” to the source material. There are many ways that it could have been true to the source. Unfortunatley in all such cases it would have been a disastrous bore like most Bible based movies.

    Good thing Aronofsky didn’t.

  3. Ken Hanke

    Has Jennifer Connelly’s career ever been all that hot? Has she ever carred a movie?

  4. Edwin Arnaudin

    Other than Virginia, has she even truly been the lead in a film? Even though she has more screen time in Labyrinth, Bowie is clearly the lead, right?

  5. Ken Hanke

    I couldn’t say. I’ve never made it through Labyrinth. That’s one of those movies that has to be a part of your childhood, I think. She’s certainly the star of Phenomena, but I don’t think anything went to see it for her. That’s all about Dario Argento, gore, shock, Donald Pleasence, and razor-wielding chimp. Connelly’s only the jail bait window dressing.

  6. Chip Kaufmann

    Jennifer’s the lead in the American version of DARK WATER (2005).

  7. Ken Hanke

    That didn’t exactly prove she could carry a picture, though.

  8. Edwin Arnaudin

    I’ve never made it through Labyrinth. That’s one of those movies that has to be a part of your childhood, I think.

    I think I’m the one ’80s kid who isn’t a Labyrinth fan. It’s like learning a foreign language: if you don’t start early, it’s extremely difficult to “get it” as an adult. I didn’t see it until I was 22 and I most certainly did not “get it.”

  9. Big Al

    I loved Connelly in “The Dilema” and she made “The Rocketeer” at least watchable (although the new comic version has Betty Page in her role, and I would LUUUUVE to see that). I am sorry to have missed “Winter’s Tale”, even though she only has a supporting role. I think she gets better with age but agree that she has never (and probably never will) be more than a decent supporting actress.

  10. Ken Hanke

    I cannot imagine anything or anyone making me want to see The Dilemma.

  11. bsummers

    On the latest SNL parody of “Fox & Friends”, one of the corrections that fly past the screen at the end was:

    “Noah is not found footage.”

  12. Ken Hanke

    Possibly a wise move. I’ve actually stood near people arguing that the footage at the beginning of the remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was actual TV news footage. And I’ve already seen people post that the upcoming Heaven Is for Real is true and happened just like in the movie (that they haven’t seen).

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