Noah Is A Bloated, Beautiful Mess (Like Russell Crowe)
Noah isn’t for everyone, but it’s a perfect movie for those of us who believe obsession is a certain kind of genius. Darren Aronofsky’s obsession? His impossible task? Making sense of the Bible. Noah’s story is simple enough if you leave out the details, which I imagine many true believers would suggest that you do. Plot holes? Story doesn’t track? That’s where faith comes in! (I do remember some bits of church from childhood). God tells Noah to build a boat, Noah builds it, everyone else sucks so they die, and Noah lives happily ever after, the end. Epilogue: 6,000 years of incest, then you.
Aronofsky seems to want to believe the story, but as a storyteller himself, he can’t let go of the details. Exactly how did God speak to Noah, and how often? Did Noah resent God for leaving him to separate righteous from wicked, or did he get a bit of a God complex himself? When he saw the sinners raping each other, did he want to save the rapees or did he just say screw it all and take off in his boat?
To watch Noah is to see Darren Aronofsky earnestly trying to resolve these thorny questions, to flesh out a Bible story that doesn’t necessarily make a ton of sense in the original version. To make it work in a way that’s true for him. To understand an Old Testament God who, as written, might’ve been kind of an asshole (note: I learned this mostly from an old Lewis Black bit). It’s a movie that posits the profound hypothesis that maybe mankind is forever cursed to destroy God’s creations because of our irrational love of our own progeny. That’s a pretty heavy thought, and to see it come from a movie full of prehistoric hoodies, pregnancy tests performed using a magic leaf, and CGI rock people voiced by Nick Nolte, is completely, righteously, gloriously f*cking insane. It’s spectacle at its best. Silly, but silly in the way that the universe is profoundly silly. And let’s be honest, Nick Nolte was born to voice a rock person.
Noah is such a magnificent whatsit that Paramount has no idea what to do with it. They screened it at a last-minute showing (usually these things are decided weeks in advance) held at 11 am, two days before the release. A sure sign that they were either terrified of what people might write about it or just couldn’t make a decision about how to sell it. I think the studio heads, possibly in a fit of cocaine-induced optimism, thought they were getting a big budget action movie where Noah would growl “GET OFF MY BOAT!” like Harrison Ford in Air Force One applied to some Biblical terrorist (Ark Force One?). And that, because it was a Bible story, flyover state pastors would funnel their shit-kicking congregants in by the bus load to see it. Instead, they got moral complexity and a “hero” who looks like he might end up murdering his own family. Most action movies paint the protagonist’s single-minded quest to protect his family as the ultimate virtue. What Noah presupposes is, what it if isn’t? In fact, what if it putting your children above all else was actually the root of all sin? Instead of a movie about the word of God, they got one man’s big budget manic episode that only just manages to find a messy sort of closure at the end of three hours. I love that.
Noah begins like that Biblical action movie. Noah and his family are the last of the righteous, hemmed in on all sides by the murderous descendants of Cain, led by Ray Winstone, who kills Noah’s father over a snake skin and runs a network of mining towns dedicated to raping the Earth of its minerals and women of their virtue. Meanwhile, Noah’s family are vegetarians, living off the fat of the land, away from the sinful cities. One day, a sort of baby deer/armadillo-looking animal with an arrowhead stuck in its side runs into Noah’s camp, and Noah tries to save it from the evil hunters. They attack him, but he channels his righteousness into skull crunching punches and deadly kicks. One hunter lies broken on the ground, helpless, demanding of Noah (reasonably so, really), “What do you want?”
“Justice,” growls Noah Crowe. The scene cuts to black, leaving it up to our imaginations whether Noah ended up murdering that last guy in cold blood, to say nothing of how he might’ve managed to grow so meat pie stout and lager bloated on a vegan diet of berries and asskicking.
From there, Noah has a vision of the flood, and takes his sons with him up to the mountain to seek guidance from his grandfather, Methuselah, played by Anthony Hopkins (who, according to movies, is the father of all deities and important people). Methuselah asks his great grandson what he likes best in life, and rather than answer “to crush my enemies, to see them driven before me, to hear the lamentations of their women,” the innocent tyke says “berries.” Methuselah strokes his beard and agrees that, yes, berries are totally bitchin, and proceeds to spend the rest of the movie doing nothing but foraging for berries. The first shot after the flood? Noah, picking some goddamned berries. I swear, this entire movie is just propaganda for Big Berry.