When future generations look up the word ‘dour’, they will peruse their dictionaries only to find the directions see Russell Crowe in Noah (2014) : like the great flood itself, all previous notions about the word will have been obliterated by this great champion of dourness, an utterly bonkers hero of anti-hope and eager devotee to pious suffering for all. If Noah had a house in Game of Thrones his motto would be ‘Work. Punishment. Death’ and Eddard Stark would beg him to lighten up. Does this all seem a little over the top? Not even close – any discussion of this film requires a whole new vernacular of hyperbolic nuttiness: in its sheer bombast alone, Noah makes the first half hour of Man of Steel look like a BBC 4 documentary.
The story goes that Noah has been sent messages from what he calls ‘The Creator’ to build an ark to protect the innocents (the animals) from a deluge which will wipe out all humanity. Whether and why Noah and his family should survive is a question at the heart of the film. What sets them apart is that Noah is an environmentalist and vegetarian animal-lover of PETA proportions, whereas the rest of humanity likes meat, industrialisation and freewill; apparently, this entitles them all to death by drowning. These doomed people seem disenfranchised with the lot given to them by The Creator and, led by their Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), they try to claim the ark. Noah, however, has a trick up his sleeve: he is protected by – you guessed it – fallen angels who take the form of six-armed giants made of rocks (think The Lord of the Rings’ Ents meets Transformers). As well as fighting off the meat-lovers in a very Lord or the Rings-esque fashion, the rock giants (who apparently actually live in Mordor) also help build the enormous boat, (from the wood of a spontaneously grown forest) in which all of the animals are placed under mandatory hibernation, supposedly so we can focus on the family drama, instead of how the polar bears ate all the dodos.
Somehow it is only at this point that things start getting really silly. Following a particularly potent ‘blessing’ from her step-grandfather, the previously barren step-daughter of Noah conceives a child with one of Noah’s sons. It is only at this point – when they are all aboard a boat consisting of magic wood, built by rock-angels, harbouring two of every animal from an Earth flooded by its creator – that Noah draws the line of credibility: “that’s impossible!” he exclaims.
The problem with Noah is that while it updates its themes to environmentalism in an attempt to make the story relevant, it still exhibits the asinine values of the ancient mythologies it is based on. The depiction of Ila (Emily Watson) as a ‘broken’ person because she is infertile, then the sudden value she has gained when she is ‘cured’ would have made sense hundreds of years ago, but depicted in a modern film, it is laughably demeaning. The relentless self-seriousness of Noah is ironically what makes the film so difficult to take seriously. Time and again we are faced with Noah’s increasingly barmy interpretations of The Creator’s will, and with this, Crowe’s portentous dictations become more and more unintentionally hilarious. At one point, as the family is sat, having (a presumably vegetarian) dinner, Noah regales them with his plans for who will bury whom when they die, while in the background we can hear the agonised screaming of thousands of men, women and children, all drowning for their misguided omnivory. How are we meant to respond to this in any other way but laughter?
A lack of insight into Noah and his thinking just serves to accentuate the ludicrousness of the character: we only understand him through the impact his unhinged actions have on his family, who themselves are difficult to relate to, given the illogicality inherent in the story. With Noah and The Creator scheming to end the Human race, and Tubal-Cain talking of empowering mankind and the importance of freewill, you cannot help wondering on whose side the audience is meant to be; and when you start to consider siding with Ray Winstone you know something is not right.
Noah is well shot, impressively ambitious and has compelling moments, but it remains difficult to understand why acclaimed director Aronofsky would make a ‘serious’ film based upon a mythology which amounts to a preposterous tale of mass genocide. Nevertheless, even with a 138 minute running time, the film rarely drags: the dystopian/science fiction elements are good fun in all their nonsense and Russell Crowe’s hair transformations (from bald and bearded like Zack Galifianakis in The Hangover 2 to a ridiculous Kenny Rogers-style hairdo) are oddly compelling. While almost as disturbing as it is absurd, Noah is seldom dramatically engaging, but is nevertheless genuinely (if unintentionally) entertaining, providing the audience has a suitably dark sense of humour.