First and foremost, Noah is a movie, and the first question about a movie is whether it is good or bad as a movie. That turns out to be a difficult one to answer.
On the one hand, Noah is ridiculous in every sense of the word. It is entirely possible that you will get the giggles about 30 seconds in—specifically, at the moment when cowriter/director Darren Aronofsky dubs in the sound of a hearty crunch and slurp as he shows a silhouette of Eve biting into the forbidden fruit—and you may never stop giggling until the closing titles.
Pauline Kael once wrote about an inadvertently hilarious exchange in a terrible movie called Slow Dancing in the Big City (1978). A man tells his girlfriend he’s flying to Europe, and she responds by asking, “On a plane?” Kael observed that the director must have heard this exchange a thousand times as his movie was being edited: Did he never think to cut her line? Similarly, one has to wonder about Aronofsky and that crunch-and-slurp. Didn’t he have a friend to whom he showed an early cut who could have told him to take the sound out?
If you do get the giggles, you will roar with laughter a few minutes later when you meet the fallen angels who end up helping Noah build the ark, for God has sent them to earth and encrusted them with mud and turned them into computer-generated ROCK MONSTERS! The campy guffaws will just keep coming, as when one of Noah’s sons meets the girl of his dreams . . . in an open pit full of corpses.
But here’s the thing: If you don’t start giggling, you might well find yourself gripped by Noah. I have to admit I was. It is a deadly serious portrait of the burdens that moral responsibility places on a good man, particularly as enacted by a magnificent Russell Crowe, in the best performance he has given in more than a decade. He is once again teamed with Jennifer Connelly, with whom he made A Beautiful Mind (2001) and who has been brought back to life as an actress just as Noah brings Crowe back to life as an actor.
The movie has generated some controversy because it strays significantly from the biblical account; indeed, it seems to be based less on Genesis than on a work of ancient apocrypha called the Book of Enoch—from which Aronofsky and cowriter Ari Handel derived Noah’s relationship with the fallen angels, called Watchers.
The Book of Enoch describes how the corruption of man rendered the earth barren and lifeless, and Aronofsky uses this as the source material for an explicitly environmentalist message. But Noah is no simple tract; indeed, if you take it seriously, it is also a portrait of the spiritual danger of environmentalist extremism. (Spoilers from here on out.)
Halfway through the movie, Noah becomes convinced that God wants to wipe all of mankind from the earth because of humanity’s foulness, and that he only wants Noah and his family to survive to shepherd the innocent animals safely through the flood. Noah declares that his youngest son, Japheth, is to be “the last man,” and he is prepared to commit infanticide to achieve his aim. And not merely infanticide, but the murder of his own grandchildren.
It’s ludicrous to have a debate about how faithful Noah is to the original Genesis story; after all, according to the old song taught at countless Bible camps, the Lord told Noah to make the ark out of hickory “barky-barky,” while the King James version says “gopher wood.” There is no requirement for absolute fidelity to the text when trying to turn a biblical tale into a full-blown narrative.
Those upset about Noah supposedly playing fast-and-loose with the Bible should actually be more deeply offended by the movie’s truly anti-religious core: It depicts a God who is nothing less than demonic in his cruelty. He punishes the fallen angels in horrific ways for taking pity on Adam and Eve. He then deserts mankind entirely and leaves humans to their own devices, yet has the nerve to blame them for not behaving as he wishes they would. And, as Noah was right about the opaque messages he received from “the Creator” (as God is known here) about the coming end of the world and the need for an ark, so he is presumably also right that he is supposed to kill his grandchildren and end the human race.
Even more audaciously, it is not the Almighty who ultimately tells Noah’s descendants to be fruitful and multiply, but Noah. Thus, at the very beginning of civilization itself, man, not God, is placed at the center of the moral universe—for it is Noah writing the rules, not the Creator. Darren Aronofsky then blesses his own astonishing inversion of the moral frame of Western civilization with a 360-degree special-effects rainbow.