Cosmologist and atheist goon-squad member Lawrence Krauss has recently taken offense at Hollywood for pandering to theists as evidenced by such movies as The Son of God and Noah. According to Mr. Krauss these stories are facile and worse and shame on Hollywood for funding them. This brand of simpering is all fine and highly entertaining and you should read Krauss’s book, The Universe From Nothing, because it’s fascinating, but this reviewer must ask, concerning the movie Noah, is it, as a story, facile?
Noah, directed by Darren Aronofsky, is basically a morality tale about the perils of veganism. The biblical account of Noah and the flood is pretty slim, so Mr. Aronofsky has had to fabricate much added detail and plot and the results are generally weird, often tiresome and once and while heart wrenching. The movie had a budget of $125 million and it shows—the special effects are Michael Bay caliber and often times just as lame (why does big-budget often look so crummy and tired? As if banality was expensive. I’m looking at you Peter Jackson). The results of combining Mr. Aronofsky with a budget this large is disorienting and sneaky. One expects, from the look of the thing, that certain easy perimeters will be maintained: when those perimeters are breached the effect is a punch in the heart.
The setting is an industrially ravaged Pangaea. The descendants of Cain have ruined much of the land through strip mining and carnivorousness. Conversely the descendants of Seth are righteous before the Lord by their strict vegan conservationism; they eat no meat, nor pick any flowers. Noah (Russell Crowe) is one of these and he wonders around the barren landscape with his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and their three sons. Aside from being handy in mortal combat, Noah also is clairvoyant. He has a prescient dream of drowning masses that leads him to seek out his granddad (Anthony Hopkins) who lives on a mountain. Once there Noah receives another dream concerning the salvation of the animals by the building of an ark.
In the meantime the Watchers are introduced. These are Mr. Daronofsky’s interpretations of the Nephilim, recounted in Genesis as angels that have fallen to earth. These ones are composed of clunky boulders and are more like the Rock Eater from Never Ending Story. They are some of the blatant signs that this is a “big budget movie” harkening to Pacific Rim, Transformers and so on. They are not interesting—Nick Nolte as one of their voices notwithstanding.
The Watchers help Noah build the ark and also help protect him from the descendants of Cain. These ones are the wicked for whom the creator has assigned destruction. They are polluters, meat-eaters and rapists and are lead by a very yelly Ray Winstone. Here Wintsone does a commendable job of ringing every bit of sympathy he can from the audience. Why doesn’t God talk with him? Why can’t he get a ride on the ark? It’s the pathos of supporting actors everywhere.
The ark of course is the macguffin and an ugly macguffin it is. From aesthetics or from an engineer’s perspective the ark is enormously stupid looking. Fortunately its ugliness and plausibility don’t figure much in lieu of the scene of its action. The ark makes a nice pot for boiling family dynamics of which there is much and much of it searing. Mr. Aronofsky is known as a director who cranks everything he can get out of his actors and that’s the case here. Russell Crowe plays Noah and he demands our attention throughout—his Noah is brooding, terrifying, affectionate and crazy, often in the same shot. Jennifer Connelly too, who at first seems to play only the nice tent-wife with really great hair, turns livid and electric in the confines of the ark. Emma Watson gets the Aronofsky treatment as well and has here clearly turned on Actress Mode—many histrionic tears are dripped.
Well. And what’s the point of all this? That’s the enigma here. Mr. Aronofsky has described this movie as “the least biblical, biblical movie ever made,” and I would tend to agree with this, if we were to define “biblical” in some Middle-American evangelical manner. Indeed, Glenn Beck, Christian neocon scourge of environmentalism, has denounced the movie as unfit for Christians. Strict environmentalists too have been puzzled by the movie’s content—for all its harping on plants and animals it is not a movie of naturalism. The movie is not about veganism as veganism, but rather about veganism practiced to the point of genocide.
Noah’s convictions are such that no human should survive the flood; he is obsessed with annihilation. These convictions, in the confines of the ark, grow violent to the detriment of family. This is the movie’s emotional conflict and as a story, regardless of the big budget effects, works. It is also where Aronofsky’s strangeness, his art, begins to appear. Never mind should you not believe in God, or veganism, this story about the limits of belief (and not just theistic belief) is worth the telling.