Deal W. Hudson
The very talented writer director Darren Aronofsky would have been well advised not to entitle his movie, Noah. This name raises reasonable expectations in a viewer, such as the movie be placed within a Judeo-Christian cosmology and to portray the chief spiritual struggle of the main character.
“Aronofsky’s Noah” — a more suitable title — has its virtues but they are not enough to justify the huge effort that went into its production and marketing. “Aronofsky’s Noah” will definitely not live to be regarded as a Biblical epic that parents pass onto their children.
“Noah” suffers in comparison with epics such as DeMille’s “The Ten Commandments” (1956), Zefferelli’s “Jesus of Nazareth” (1968), and especially Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) from its lame script, insipid music, surprisingly pedestrian camera work — Aronsofsky’s last film was the lustrous “Black Swan” — to the wooden performances from most of its principle characters. The only character coming fully alive on screen is the villain, Ray Winstone’s Tubal-cain, the king of the descendants of Cain. Poor Jennifer Connolly, usually a welcome presence in any film, looks distressingly anorexic as Noah’s wife Naameh and employs only one modulating facial expression for her dramatic moments. Of Noah’s four children only The teenage Ham of Logan Lerman displays a genuine rage against his overly-demanding father. His scenes with Winstone are among the most convincing in the film.
Russell Crowe gives the best performance he can given his drab dialogue and a contrived narrative that turns his Noah into another Biblical character altogether, a kind of pseudo-Abraham. Evidently the spiritual challenge facing Noah in building an ark because of God’s command was not compelling enough to Aronofsky and his co-screenwriter Ari Handel. Noah’s seeming madness in contracting his ark was given minimal attention because the really big issue for Aronosfsky’s “Noah” is his interpretation of God’s command including the end of the human race. When his eldest son Shem, played by Douglas Booth and his adopted child Ila announce they are expecting a baby, Noah declares that a female child would be “cut down” at the moment of birth. A son, he concedes, would be allowed to live on as “the last man.”
The last half of the film depicts Noah as a kind of John Brown religious fanatic who has vowed to enact God’s judgement on the human race. Of course, at the moment of decision, when Noah faces the newborn sisters, it’s not God that holds back his dagger but the love he feels for his grandchildren. Thus, even as a cinematic take on the Abraham-Issac story, Aronofsky misses the point.
The biggest problem with Aronofsky’s “Noah” is the director’s decision to use a theology and cosmology that can’t be found in the book of Genesis. The fallen angels become rockbound Transformer figures whose condition is a result of their attempt to help Adam and Eve after the Fall — God punished them for their good deed making them earth creatures and vulnerable to human violence. God is revered by Aronofsky as the “Creator” but portrayed as an unyielding, unforgiving tyrant as “God.” Did Aronofsky notice he has transposed Christology to these “Watchers,” the fallen angels? The subject of love only arises when Noah is challenged by Ila to reconsider his judgement on her newborns. To put it bluntly, by choosing the way of love Noah believes he has not carried out God’s commands, which leads to his drunken dissolution and years of alienation from his family.
Nonetheless, I wish Aronofsky’s “Noah” well, though I don’t believe it will have much of an afterlife after its initial release. The task of bringing a movie of this scope to the screen is immense, as is the financial risk: Paramount put $300,000,000 into production and marketing costs. If nothing else, the film’s initial success proves once again the potentially large audience awaiting well-made films on Biblical and religious subjects.
But one nagging question remains: how could such a mediocre film have been made by such an established talent as Darren Aronofsky — Requiem for a Dream” (2000), “The Fountain” (2006), “The Wrestler” (2008), and Black Swan” (2010) established his credentials as a major filmmaker. Was Aronofsky dealing with material that he didn’t understand, or didn’t want to embrace on it own terms? Was Aronofsky simply trying to become a major commercial success? His previous films were well-reviewed and well-received but not intended to be mass market products and potentially huge money makers.
Another excellent director who could not meet his own standard of filmmaking when he took on a Biblical subject was Martin Scorsese. His “Last Temptation of Christ” (1988), a film that still sticks out like a sore thumb in a very distinguished career. I know “Last Temptation” has its defenders, including Scorsese, just as “Noah” will, but what these films have in common is a rather risible subtext that reflect, I assume, the respective director’s own personal struggles with the faith into which they were born, Judaism and Catholicism.