Long-time portrayer of gruff, pseudo-historical leading men Russell Crowe takes centre stage again as the unfortunate soul selected to save humanity from God’s genocidal wrath.
Joining Noah are his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly) and three sons, Shem (Douglas Booth), Ham (Logan Lerman) and Japeth (Leo McHugh Carroll). They also have adopted daughter Ila (Emma Watson), and are guided by Noah’s hermit grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins). But that’s not all, there’s a race of angels trapped in the bodies of stone giants on hand to build the ark, ward off attackers and generally plug plot holes. Noah embellishes its source material so much it would make Peter Jackson gasp. For three hours.
When interpreting the story of Noah’s Ark for the big screen, a writer faces a number of problems. One of the biggest is that it’s hard to show God wiping out humanity without making him look like the bad guy. This is addressed in the film’s opening minutes, through a bit of Biblical embellishment that makes Noah the only remaining descendent of Seth, Adam and Eve’s good son, and everyone else on the planet an evil descendent of Cain. That is, except Ila, who is presumably a child of one of the evil people, not being related to Noah. In this respect it’s true to its source material, as the women are not real characters, existing outside the paradigm of it being relevant who they are descended from, like some alternative species, there to lend their ovaries to men so their bloodlines can be continued.
Ila’s purpose is really so that the ray of hope for humanity’s survival doesn’t have to be Noah’s sons impregnating their mum, but like so many of the decisions in this film made to solve plot holes, it creates many more. If there;s one good descendent of Cain, how do they know there aren’t more? They save the animals for being innocent, but what about all the children? Ila and Shem’s kids aren’t the product of incest, but who’s going to have kids with them? The film conveniently ends before the inbreeding begins, unless there’s a post-credits scene I missed.
Maybe I’m over thinking it, but I struggle to see how anyone could detach themselves from the fact it doesn’t make any sense enough to enjoy it. The only think that’s watertight in this film is the ark. And this would be the same if this was a piece of original mythology created for the screen. In fact, the recent Thor films provide a more convincing portrayal of how ancient mythology could tie into the real world. Thor.
For its flaws, Darren Aronofsky approaches this almost-unfilmable story in the right way: by treating it as a piece of fantastical mythology. God is never called by name, instead referred to as “The Creator”, in perhaps the best creative decision in the movie. “God” has connotations with an infinitely powerful and infinitely good being, at odds with a character who commits genocide. Treating it as a piece of mythology, with characters at the mercy of an entity very different from the modern understanding of God, is the only way it could really be handled.
But there are still miracles when it suits the plot. The animals know how to get to the ark, and can be put to sleep for the entire journey; rich, fertile land springs up for Noah and co to build from, and water swells from the ground, so we’re still left wondering why The Creator doesn’t just wipe out the bad guys in a heartbeat and be done with it. He sends stone monsters and fertile land to aid Noah. Why not just send him an ark?
Plot holes aside this is in many ways impressive. But for all the action, spectacle, and narrative embellishment, there’s something sorely missing. It’s incredible that a film about a global flood can be so dry, as it takes itself far too seriously. There’s a fair amount of drama inserted into the film – meaning Noah has an arc, not just an ark (sorry) – but much of it comes from his fanatical interpretation of The Creator’s vague messages, leading him to cause harm to himself, his family and most of the human race. This makes him a hard character to connect to, particularly as Crowe never lets us warm to him. It’s not surprising that a film about the earth being wiped out is so devoid of life.
Despite an admirable effort, they can’t make this ludicrous story into a coherent narrative, and for all the spectacle, the zealots of the Bible are impossible for a modern audience to relate to. They do a fine job adapting the source material, but what results is still a film that’s better to avoid.