Absolutely bonkers. That is the only way to describe Darren Aronofsky’s interpretation of the myth of the man called by God to be the first conservationist. From the opening scene through to the very end, the film is like wandering through someone’s unpleasant but mesmerizing acid trip.
The opening of the film is reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s ape with a bone. A club is raised to strike, and we later learn that it is the weapon with which Cain struck Abel dead. The shed skin of the serpent that coerced Eve into picking the fruit of knowledge is a mystical relic in the care of Noah’s family.
At the heart of the film (and the Bible story) is the concept of original sin. There are even fallen angels who were cast out of heaven for disobeying. These “Watchers” take the form of vaguely anthropomorphic rock giants and help Noah build the ark. By deviating from the Bible story, the film manages to surprise, and Aronofsky’s willingness to alienate the Evangelical market by not serving up the usual pablum they demand was courageous.
Noah is abstract, unexpected, and surreal. Russell Crowe’s Noah is craggy-faced, very certain of himself and churlish. His zealotry eventually alienates his family who are imprisoned by the force of his will. In a way the film is a family drama about a patriarch who is a malignant narcissist, whose delusions of grandeur happen to be true. There is an interesting psychological thriller lurking under the surface of Noah, and Aronofsky somewhat disappointingly only nibbles around the edges of it. The question “Is this person howling mad?” is never really confronted.
Noah is an unexpected, flawed and bizarre film whose approach of treating the Bible like an influential fantasy novel is a creative choice that I hope will be embraced in future adaptations.