Noah ★★★½

The Bible is a collection of stories. And like any story, these too must be open for interpretation. I’m not familiar enough with the story of Noah and the foundational morals it is meant to convey, but recognize that it is very clearly from an era of storytelling and storytellers that did not shy away from the exaggerated, nor the poetic.

At it’s core, Noah’s journey is one of basic purpose.

Darren Aronofsky has built his career telling stories about such purpose; of compulsion (Pi), addiction (Requiem for a Dream), devotion (The Fountain), pride (The Wrestler), and obsession (Black Swan). So Aronofsky is perhaps the perfect storyteller to interpret and parse Noah’s driving purpose: faith.

Noah is a saga, spanning generations while providing expositional backstory from the creation of the universe through the first humans, and then onward. All of this exposition is, simply, breathtaking and demonstrates the amazing visionary talents of one of our generation's most original storytellers.

Is it heavy-handed? Perhaps, with messages of environmentalism and evolutionism clearly presented. But then, these are premises that provide the very foundation of Noah’s story - the evils of man and a hope for their place in the future of our planet. What’s surprising is that this doesn’t feel heavy-handed in a religious sense - a strange thing to say about a Biblical narrative. God, the Nephilim, and all his creations on Earth are characters in Aronofsky’s interpretation of the story. They make choices, and respond to the choices of other characters. None are presented as perfect, and nothing is black and white. That’s a good thing, in my opinion, but I can see how this film has rankled the feathers of religious and non-religious watchers (and non-watchers, I suppose) alike.

But let’s look beyond what this film is and isn’t and discuss the calibre of this level of storytelling. Libatique’s cinematography is beautiful and detailed, as usual, and Clint Mansell’s score throbs and soars with all of the usual finesse we can expect. With Aronofsky’s vision pulling it all together, it’s impossible to deny the strength of these individuals working together. The cast is actually the weakest part of the film, but only in Noah’s tertiary characters - Ham, Japheth and Na'el - largely because they don’t offer any depth or shading to the bigger picture. But that’s minor - the core cast of Russell Crowe and (the always wonderful) Jennifer Connelly carry the film forward, spurned by Ray Winstone’s villainy.

The film’s visuals are stylistically bizarre. It’s Harryhausen-esque approach to animation is in itself an oddity, and unique enough to call attention to itself. In the “creation” sequence, its jittery movement is actually incredibly well-suited, and lends a stylistic approach to temporal progression. But composited into live action, elements like the Watchers feel more out of place. With other epic, grandiose visual effects sequences like the flood itself, Noah is actually straddling two very different approaches to injecting rendered visuals into the frame. It works, as a whole, but its obviousness comes at a slight cost.

All in all, Noah is ambitious. It’s brave. And it’s probably not what you’d expect, even if you’re a fan of Aronofsky’s films.