Noah (2014) drowns under its own ambition

Photo Credit: Noah / Paramount Pictures
Based on the religious story known as Noah's Ark, Noah (Russell Crowe) is called upon God to build an ark. A great flood will wipe the world clean of mankind's wicked greed and violence. Noah and his family prepare for their pardon as well as saving two animals of every kind. When Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), a king of pure mercilessness, receives word of the flood encourages his fellow men to take part in a war against Noah trying to cement his own survival.

The main conflict is not building the ark but whose responsible for its creation. Surrounding Noah is his family Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), Ham (Logan Lerman), Shem (Douglas Booth), Japeth (Leo McHugh Carroll) and his adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson). His son Ham wishes to take a wife since Shem is blessed in union with Ila (who is barren and cannot have children). Noah becomes convinced that God's reason for his family to build the Ark so the animals rule the Earth and all of the human creation stops. As Tubal-Cain manages to sneak aboard as the flood approaches and preys on Ham's anger towards his father, Noah grows a self-righteous image of himself as the one to halt further evolution.

Director Darren Aronofsky's modern environmentalist interpretation of Noah's Ark is more fit for a fantasy film than religious adaptation. Taking creative liberties with the original story, Aronofsky parallels today's modern global warming, deforestation, etc. to divinity, but slowly loses steam and becomes too indulgent in casting Noah as an anti-hero and Tubal-Cain as villainous selfish consumption.

Noah can be perceived as warping the titular figure into a maniac. Though Crowe's performance tries to be a grounded portrayal instead of a caricature, Noah's journey becomes contrived when he is embroiled with shouldering the responsibility of his heavenly visions. When one of his three sons Shem and his wife Ila become pregnant, Noah pretty much threatens for hell to break loose once their child/children are born. At first, the drama is interesting, but gradually Aronofsky's themes is too consumed by the holy smackdown consumes Noah and his family.

The first half of the movie enveloped into the second half purely for the performances stemming from Connelly and Watson. But as the threat of the flood looms, and Aronofsky avoids making direct religious correlations (i.e. mentioning Creator instead of God) dissolves the creative interpretation.

Noah is not so much a religious adaptation as it is the director's environmental cautionary tale. Depending on your stance, the thematics may cause controversy if you follow a monotheistic religion or believe the theme of environmental friendliness is too fluffy.

Personally being open-minded to both ends of the spectrum, I didn't leave the movie up in arms about its tone or messages. At most I expected it after falling in love with Aronofsky's views in his 2008 film The Fountain, which arguably tackles religion/spirituality/creation even more. As a growing religious/spiritual person, and becoming more conscientious about the natural world through ethnobotanical studies, the mixture of themes didn't bother me so much as the film's message grows too heavy-handed

What perhaps makes up the redemption for the prolonged conflict between Noah and his family is that eventually, we all see the light and love of nature, God, and creation. Coming through the heavy second half, there is a perceived awareness of humankind and our interconnectedness to God as well as nature. There are hope and love for us and the film's tall tale after all.

This is not to say that this was not an enjoyable movie (for me, at least compared to other audiences), but at times, the story seemed to grow bigger than what it knew to do with its components. At times the story worked to add layers to the notable figures and fictionalized characters. With other scenes, it felt like themes were thrown against a dartboard and many of them clung for dear life. Overall, if you let it be, the movie is an exceptional follow-up to Black Swan; one that will surely incite controversy no matter what.

Rating: ★☆☆
Have you seen Noah? What did you think?

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