Randy “The Ram” in “The Wrestler” abused himself in the ring just so that he could feel anything. In the end he brought himself to the brink of his strength. Nina Sayers in “Black Swan” tortured her body to achieve perfection and beauty and ultimately found herself battling her psyche.
Darren Aronofsky’s protagonists are conflicted souls, testing their minds, morals and beliefs in pursuit of something nobler. The biblical story of Noah finds his faith in God pit against mankind, forced to choose between innocence, justice and love.
Or at least that’s Aronofsky’s version. “Noah” is Aronofsky’s ambitious interpretation of the Bible tale, and unlike the surreal grittiness found in his previous films, his mix of fantasy and portent is a paradoxical mess. It’s a movie about beauty in which the colors have been sapped from all traces of the Earth. It’s one of human decency in which mankind is depicted as ravenous, ugly, violent, carnivorous or worse, flavorless. It’s a morality tale in which the hero is less given a moral choice as he is driven to madness. It’s a movie about faith, miracles and spirituality, but ostensibly avoids religion or even the mention of the word “God”.
In the beginning, as the story goes, there was nothing. God created the world and created man in his own image. But when man ate from the tree of knowledge, they introduced sin and murder into the world. Adam and Eve’s son Cain killed his brother Abel, and Cain’s sin spread throughout civilization. The last remaining descendant of Seth is Noah (Russell Crowe), and it’s him God has chosen to save the innocent while God floods and destroys the world.
Aronofsky is at his best in depicting Noah’s other worldly visions from “The Creator.” Time-lapse photography and quick editing carry us through the beauty of creation and the scourge of mankind’s murder and death. In fleeting images he suggests that mankind as we know it is of course not without its own sin deserving of being washed away from the world.
But “Noah’s” set pieces are not human ones but fantasy. Walking the devastated regions of the Earth are The Watchers, fallen angels now formed into hideous rock titans who bellow and move not unlike that of Michael Bay’s Transformers. They’re called upon to help build the Ark and defend it from Tubal-cain’s (Ray Winstone) army of humans set on surviving the coming storm.
To describe it bluntly, they’re eye-rollingly dumb, and for the first time in his career Aronofsky has been called on to deliver grandiose action. His blend of “Lord of the Rings” destruction, handheld camera realism and sci-fi dream sequences don’t mix. The movie aims for bombast and grim visions of death at The Creator’s hand but has the look of a mindless CGI spectacle.
Sadly these sins cannot be forgiven. When the flood does hit, “Noah” transforms into a cabin in the woods scenario. Noah slowly goes mad at the prospect of murdering his son’s coming children as a way of stopping the spread of humanity. His wife (Jennifer Connelly) begs him to give their family a future, but Aronofsky devotes so much time to showing humanity as violent scavengers, and so little into their personality, that it’s hard to see what’s worth saving.
While much has been made about “Noah” taking great liberties with the Bible story on which its based, the movie is such an over-ambitious mess that faithfulness to the text one way or another is not its problem. Noah’s madness and his exploits as a conflicted Aronofsky protagonist exist only on the surface level. The movie scrambles to find something meaningful underneath the sprawling effects and fantasy elements and leaves this lumbering, sinking ship of a movie high and dry.