You probably remember Noah’s Ark from school. It’s the one where the nice man with the beard builds the giant boat to save the furry animals from the massive flood. It’s a simple, morally unambiguous story, and as such it’s is one of the best-loved tales in the Bible. So Darren Aronofsky’s dark, gritty film adaptation – full of doubt, brutality and a (figurative) raft of weird creatures – is likely to sadden and confuse fans of the popular children’s classic.
With a hideously functional ark, Noah drowns in drab shades of brown and pitch; there is an unforgivable lack of spectacle. A cast of usually reliable actors turn in mostly weak performances; Russell Crowe’s Noah veers from heroic to psychotic with the consistency and believability of his accent, Emma Watson simpers, and Anthony Hopkins squeezes out yet another perfunctory wise-old-man cameo.
God barely features, which is a pity because instead the chief antagonist is a blustering warlord, played as a cockney gangster by Ray Winstone. But given that he is fighting for the survival of humanity against a religious zealot who would see everyone drown, it’s difficult not to find him sympathetic, especially as the titular hero unravels. Towards the end Noah becomes convinced God wants to be rid of humans entirely, and his sudden descent to would-be family annihilator has echoes of The Shining.
Unlike previous Biblical epics, Noah doesn’t treat the source material with particular reverence. Rather it borrows and embellishes stories from the Bible, the apocrypha and other sources in much the same way Marvel’s Thor plays about with Norse mythology. By this reading the antediluvian world is a hell-scape of a once great industrial civilization that suffered an ecological collapse; where fallen angels in giant, spidery, misshapen stone bodies help dangerous sociopaths build arks. It’s worth watching, but only for the sense of bafflement that such a film was ever made.