Noah ★★½

I've been on a fantastic three week holiday to the south of France. No WiFi and camping in the country side is always a good way to reset the old hard drive. We traveled with another family from our street and one night my neighbour uttered those magical words: 'Let's watch a movie.' As it happens, he had brought his pocket beamer and tablet. So we fashioned a screen from a white sheet, attached it to a washing line and weighed it down with two buckets filled with stones. With a moonlit, starry sky as a backdrop (and somewhat muted sound) we watched Noah.

Aronofsky's film is a game of two halves that both showed promise but in the end create an uneven film that's frustrating due to it continually squandering its potential. It never feels like it's truly his film, making him fall into the pitfalls he so often skirts around in his films, shouting too often and too loudly where a whisper would suffice.

I'm not religious, but have read the Bible. Especially the Old Testament is full of, to me, wonderful parables. As I do not believe in God I've always taken the story of Noah as is, without the burden of faith so to speak and Aronofsky seems to have taken a similar approach, trying to extrapolate his allegorical connotations pertaining to the story of Noah.

And he makes a right old mess of it.

The first half of the film paints an impressive picture of post-Eden earth. We meet troubled Noah, trying to survive and trying to make sense of the visions his creator keeps giving him. What Aronofsky does right here is establish the backdrop and I really liked his vision of what life on earth would be like in this setting. His slow build up to the great flood is very muddled though. I'm fine with the eco friendly message, but the way he hammers it home got on my nerves pretty fast. There is also the recurring motif of free will running through the film that gets a far better treatment in the second half than in the first. Yes, humans are evil and should be punished, we get it Darren. No need to stretch that out for an hour and put it on repeat, especially as the message is delivered with the subtlety of, say, the great flood.

And then the water comes.

And with the water come two absolutely astonishing scenes that both somewhat redeem and affirm the messiness of this film. The flood is impressive, not so much in its visuals but more so in the way Aronofsky presents its ramifications. The muddled screams outside the arc with the survivors on the inside make for a surprisingly haunting scene. The other scene is Aronofsky at his best. Unconventional and visually striking. His visualization of the creation of the earth is unique and a true pearl in the primordial ooze.

Now to anyone who has ever read A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes, the tonal shift around Noah once we are on the arc will not come as a surprise, we all know he ate the unicorns, right? The second half of the film is the superior by far. The weight of the creator's (not once is there a reference to God) actions weigh heavy on Noah's shoulders. What I found a daring choice in the way the film explores the free will theme is that in this story it is Noah who is burdened with the decision what will happen to mankind. Sometimes straying a bit too much towards melodrama, Aronofsky still manages to make the burden of such a responsibility and the claustrophobic tension of life on the arc with a man slowly losing himself very palpable. I am not a fan of Crowe but he is amazing here, especially in the second half. But again, for every right, Aronofsky creates a wrong. Ray Winstone's character, representing the vile humans and the dangers of free will without moral framing is not only superfluous but also lays bare a certain uncertainty about people 'not getting it'. Playing down to your audience is never a good thing, but something Noah does a bit too often.

Ambition is something I always respect, making it difficult to completely write this film off. I admire Aronofsky's bold visual choices. I loved the pre and post flood world he created, admired how he found a way to weave biblical elements into the mix. Yes, I even liked the Watchers (who actually appear in the book of Enoch) and thought his interpretation of the fallen angels to be very creative.

But what remains in the end is a hollow film with its potentially bold vision reined in. It is a shallow, safe film, devoid of spirit, spirituality or anything to truly carry any weight.

The brilliant instances Aronofsky manages to conjure up are not enough to hide the fact that we're watching a strong central character surrounded by weak, flat cardboard cutouts making it impossible for this film to rise above its simplistic morality tale nature.

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