Noah (2014) is the latest feature film from director Darren Aronofsky, the man who recently received a lot of attention for his film Black Swan (2010). The basics of the story herenvolve the biblical Noah and his quest to build an ark to survive a giant flood. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the movie is that it's far from a simple literal adaptation, including magical elements like flaming swords and giant rock monsters. The movie runs into some trouble with the execution of its story however, and it feels almost like Aronofsky had a good screenplay that didn't please the producers and was subjected to rewrites which made it fall apart. To be completely honest the movie's so hit or miss that I'm really not quite sure what to make it, so if you're curious then go see it for yourself and make up your own mind. Here's what I think after my initial viewing. (Minor spoilers throughout.)
From the very beginning it's clear that Aronofsky is again operating in The Fountain territory, which for me is very exciting. We're introduced to Russell Crowe with two visual cues which distinctly call to mind the tree bark peeling and flowery finale of his previous film. The mood is also quite the same, but from there the similarities start to dwindle. After leaving the theater I came up with a theory that Noah is a thematic reverse of The Fountain—where one was about finding a cure for death the other is about finding a cure for life, a way to purge life of its impurities—but this is something I had to dig up myself not something that arose naturally from the narrative, and I'm not totally convinced that it works.
For me a lot of the film's problems stem from the fact that it is not very emotionally accessible. Noah's motivations for any of his actions beyond the building of the boat are never made clear (Why does he want to kill Emma Watson's baby if it's a girl?). While this is in part due to the fact that they're unclear for him as a character since he's suffering under the burden of his task, we also get very little insight into his emotional struggles. It's clear that his mind is unsettled, but since he rarely confides in anyone we're never made privy to the reasons why he does what he does. This becomes a problem especially when the antagonist starts making more sense than he does and there's a strange fight scene where you're supposed to be on Noah's side.
The majority of the conflict also feels contrived and unnatural. There's often too much going on, not in the sense that it's hard to follow but rather that nothing is given enough time to solidify or take hold. By the time a conflict begins to arise we're already halfway towards solving it or moving on to something else. We learn Emma Watson is barren so she can't have kids, but then we're told she shouldn't want to have kids, but then they find another woman who wants to have their kids, but then she dies, but then Emma Watson isn't barren anymore, and all of this is just one of far too many minor subplots.
There were several scenes that I liked rather well. There was a fun flashback of Earth's recent mythology (which, by the way, would probably have made a better movie), a beautiful time-lapse sequence depicting the birth of Man, and a visually and emotionally stunning nighttime infiltration into enemy territory (definitely the best scene in the movie). Unfortunately, only one of these scenes has any direct relevance to the story, and even then only just barely. Noah is a strange beast, and like last year's The Lone Ranger I'm enjoying thinking about it much more than I enjoyed watching it. There's probably something buried here, but it might take a bit too much digging to find.