‘Noah’ is an inconsistent, ambitious biblical epic

When Darren Aronofsky was just 13 years old, he wrote a narrative poem based on the biblical story of Noah. In the 30 years since, the Academy Award-nominated filmmaker has made several critically acclaimed movies, including “Requiem for a Dream,” “The Wrestler” and “Black Swan.”

With the release of what is easily his most technically ambitious film yet, Aronofsky’s career as a storyteller has now come full circle. Taking a sparse three-page story from the Bible and extending every thread as far as the material will allow, Aronofsky’s “Noah” is an often flawed cinematic experience, but certainly not for a lack of trying.

The story of “Noah,” as told in the Old Testament of the Bible, is a very familiar one. Noah, played by Russell Crowe in the film, is instructed by the Judeo-Christian God to build an ark that will house two of every animal while a great flood cleanses Earth of sin.

 

 

As it is written in the Bible, Noah and his family are given very little if any characterization. Since it is one of the more fantastical stories that makes up the world’s most influential book, it is often taught at a very young age, focusing on the great feats accomplished by its protagonist rather than the savagery that must have been occurring to justify a grand purge of the human race.

This is why Aronofsky’s film has proven to be controversial, both in test screenings of Christian audiences as well as in early reviews by conservative commentators such as Glenn Beck. “Noah” is an astoundingly bleak film. Everything from the costumes to Matthew Libatique’s cinematography to the looks of exasperation that bestow every member of the cast is a grim reminder of the world of which a god wanted to be rid.

It is not to say that “Noah” is completely raw. Sequences of the film prove to be exceptionally beautiful; after all, Aronofsky has shown with films like “The Fountain” that he is an exceptional craftsman of stunning imagery. This is helped in part by the creative decision to not hold back with the more outlandish elements of the Old Testament. The Nephilim, biblical creatures, play a large role in the film, helping to make it just as palatable to non-theistic viewers as it will be to religious viewers who know their sacred text.

While it is very satisfying to see a film in the tradition of classic biblical epics such as “The Ten Commandments” in a marketplace full of half-baked efforts like “Son of God,” Noah is not perfect. Once the great flood hits, the film becomes a family drama that relies too heavily on the efforts of its younger cast members, including Emma Watson and Logan Lerman.

Aronofsky seems aware that filmmakers only get to make their “Noah” one time. While this results in a movie that tries to do too much, it is still a satisfyingly risky, ambitious film that does not get made very often.

“Noah” hits theaters on Friday.

Reach the reporter at zheltzel@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @zachheltzel.