Darren Aronofsky wants you on his boat. Well, technically not just his boat. The demanding and magic desk-loving director of body-horror pictures like Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler, and Black Swan, shares credit for his latest movie with a little book called the Bible.
With a budget somewhere north of $125 million, Noah is Aronofsky's dark'n'bonkers take on the biblical story of the flood, the dude with the beard (played by Russell Crowe), and the ark with all the animals (played by computers). Aronofsky has added other details, like a race of rock monster angels called the Watchers. There's also a strong environmentalist angle to the tale's telling. Much time is given to hand-wringing about how industrialization—the result of King Tabul-Cain (Ray Winstone), a descendant of Cain, and his horde—is ruining the planet. Noah and his gentle vegetarian family (Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, and Leo McHugh Carroll) are the only humans left who don't want to systematically strip the world of its precious minerals, trees, animals, etc.
And so the Creator (as the movie refers to the nebulous deity in the sky) implants a vision in Noah's mind. The rock monster angels (somehow not an album by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club) lend a hand in the building of the boat. Magic smoke made by Naameh (Connelly), Noah's wife, puts the animals into deep comas so that they won't disturb the boat during the wait for land to return. Then Tabul-Cain and his desperate, blood-thirsty global force descend on the ark. Tabul-Cain doesn't agree with the Creator's plan to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth. (He has some good points, tbh.)
That's enough backstory. Let's get into the conversation between Ross Scarano, deputy editor and ram-jam practitioner, and Tara Aquino, pop culture editor and Old Testament enthusiast. They have some thoughts.
Ross: WE'RE ON BOARD. JK, we didn't like it.
Tara: I went in telling myself (and other people) that I was going to like it no matter what. Fuck the haters. I'm gonna like Noah and it's gonna be awesome no matter how not awesome it is.
Ross: Today, I'm wrestling with one of the scariest moments of my adult life: I may be in agreement with Glenn Beck. Here's human monster Beck on Noah: "I believe it is not a Godless climate-change movie. It's more like Sinbad the Sailor meets [The] Shining and Friday the 13th with a sprinkle of Mad Max."
Tara: Shit. That's kind of on point. This feels even worse now.
Ross: And his part about The Shining alludes to the most interesting parts of the movie. (Gotta say I disagree with him about it being a Godless climate-change movie. I think it's a climate-change movie. Or, at the very least, a "look at how humans have destroyed the earth" movie.)
Tara: Totally! How could it not be? EVERYTHING points to that. I mean, if the willingness to fuck over the human race in favor of a flower on the ground wasn't proof enough...
Ross: I don't think I've seen a movie that was more horrified by the idea of eating animals, and killing animals for the purposes of eating them. We're used to Aronofsky making us cringe at what happens to human bodies, but one of the most emotionally charged moments in this movie is the look on a young cow's face (actually) before it's torn to pieces to feed an angry mob.
Tara: It's hard not to be horrified by the scene. And then, right after, the fact that one dude runs off with some kind of pheasant, bites into his head, and all of sudden his eyes glow like some kind of demon.
Ross: A dude that looks a lot like Noah, no less, and makes Noah think that all human beings are evil and corrosive to the planet's soft and fluffy parts. Did the movie make you want to be a vegetarian, like Noah and his fam?
Tara: Is it awful to say that I couldn't help but think of the iron deficiencies Noah and his family might've been facing?
Ross: We really never saw them eat. We only saw Noah's son Ham (Logan Lerman) with the ill organic granola that he used to try and find a wife. Great meet-cute there, btw, Ham meeting his potential wife in an open grave.
Tara: Ham was my favorite, only because he felt the most human, the most developed.
Ross: Definitely! Ham was the closest thing to a person in the entire movie, so props to Logan and Darren Aronofsky for that.
Tara: It's a shame that the rest of the cast were relegated to one-note characters. I mean, come on, Sir Anthony Hopkins, who plays Noah's grandfather, and his berry fixation?! That was his one shtick.
Ross: One of the biggest LOL moments was Sir Hopkins riding the wave of the flood. But that's a sidebar. To me, the movie was about fanaticism, and so Ham got to be human by being the human being caught between the conflicting world views of his dad Noah, and the bad guy, Tabul-Cain. In Aronofsky's Noah, Noah is like a TV anti-hero. He's got to make the HARD decisions.
Tara: Yeah, without the redeemable qualities. So to speak.
Ross: Noah's interesting in that, at first we see his visions very clearly, and it does seem that the Creator is asking him to build this ark to save humanity. But then Creator reveals to Noah that there's evil inside of him, too. And Noah, thinking himself to be the center of the world, uses that vision as justification for wanting to genocide.
BUT! We don't get any vision when he thinks he needs to kill his family after they're on the ark. (This is The Shining portion of the evening.) Aronofsky denies us that. And so he's like Tabul-Cain in that earlier scene, shouting at the sky for an answer from god. But there is no answer. There is no vision. Noah is such a fanatic, though, that he's pretty sure he's right, and so he goes full Jack Torrence on his family, stalking around the ark with a knife and what not.
That is the most interesting stuff in the movie, the idea that this movie might actually be about the horrible fanatical men—because they're almost always men in these positions of power—that fuel violence in the name of religion.
Of course, this is also happening in a movie with talking rocks like in the NeverEnding Story. So, IDK.
Tara: Right, and was that intentional? It's gotta be intentional.
Ross: The Neverending Story ref?
Tara: Haha, no, the fact that we don't see a vision about killing his family.
Ross: Oh, definitely. I think Aronofsky had some real ideas here. They're just weighed down by all his other (crazy) ideas. There's enough here for a half-dozen films. I think we don't get the vision there because we're supposed to realize that Noah is becoming a kind of homicidal villain. It's a lot of pressure to carry out the lord's work.
Tara: Right, after reading all about the struggles Aronofsky had with the studio, it just seemed like he ended up getting too close to the project. Just way too close in a way that wouldn't allow for anyone to pull him back and tell him, "Yo this is not working."
Ross: Like, if you're Emma Watson, do you want to go up to him and be like, "Darren, you need halp?" What messed up the movie the most for you?
Tara: Well, the dialogue...
Ross: All of it?
Tara: It felt like dialogue you'd hear in a reenactment on the History Channel.
Ross: Writing period dialogue must be an enormous challenge. I think he should've pumped the brakes on the environmental stuff, and zeroed in on the "Is Noah crazy? Is religion crazy?" angle.
Tara: Yeah, I wouldn't be the first person to tell you how to do it, but it just didn't work for me as a viewer. It made it kind of campy. And that's what I was hoping for, the latter.
Ross: The movie is campy in a lot of ways, which caught me off guard. But maybe I shouldn't have been surprised. There's a certain kind of melodramatic camp to Black Swan. The movie is also super fucking earnest. Which allows it to be true camp. (Susan Sontag says that best camp is the unwitting kind.)
Tara: Yeah, which weirdly made it feel hollow to me. It wasn't as moving as I expected.
Ross: It's a ridiculous movie, so why wasn't it more fun? Or, do you think in 15 years people will watch this movie and laugh and throw popcorn at the screen?
Tara: It wasn't more fun because it was trying too hard to convey it's message. It was trying too hard to hammer it into you and it's exhausting after awhile. I don't know if they'd laugh and throw popcorn. Maybe? I can see that happening. We definitely laughed at scenes we shouldn't have. Maybe people look back on it a little dejectedly and see it as a missed opportunity.
Ross: My final beef—if this movie is trying to be more probing and progressive in its telling and vision of the days of the Bible, why did it have to end on such a call for a normal family unit? Like, why the big tearful show of needing Noah back in their lives, coupled with shots of bear cubs and parent bears? I mean, we're remaking civilization here! Why can't we do it by leaving the drunk, abusive father behind?!
Tara: Right. That felt too contrived. It's like, OK, let's redeem Noah somehow and make this all go away. It's cool guys. Humanity's cool. Life is cool. We're all good.
Ross: Yeah, really rang a false note after the gloom and doom of what came before. Ultimately, this is a weird curiosity of a movie. And, you know, I'm all for someone like Aronofsky getting lots of money to play and fail. I just don't really want to watch that movie again.