Film Review: Aronofsky's 'Noah' goes beyond belief

The last time Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly got together was for “A Beautiful Mind,” in which she played the devoted wife of a man who heard voices in his head and communicated with an imaginary buddy. This time it's completely different: She plays the devoted wife of a man and his invisible boss, who tells him to prepare for a giant flood by building a huge ark.

Welcome to Darren Aronofsky's “Noah.”

Following a very sketchy outline of the Creation — did we really need this bit of exposition? — we find ourselves at what appears to be Noah's bar mitzvah. Cue the entrance of a gang of thugs from the line of Cain, led by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone), who kills Noah's dad.

In no time flat — well, actually the Bible says it was more than 500 years — Noah (now grown into Crowe) is living peaceably with his wife, Naameh (Connelly), three sons, and an adopted daughter played by Emma Watson. Whatever. For a guy who lives peaceably, Noah displays some mean martial arts skills as he fights off heathens, who have killed an animal for food. Better in Noah's mind to burn the animal as a sacrifice to God. (Old Testament ethics don't always translate so well into modern terms.)

Noah has dreams and premonitions that become more explicit when his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins, convincing as a 1,000-year-old), doses him with something. (Methuselah also seems to know the Vulcan nerve pinch.) Noah begins to prepare for the deluge, with a lot of help from the Watchers — giant stone monsters, who look like a cross between Transformers and the Fantastic Four's The Thing.

It was at about this point that I wanted to call “Foul!” but the joke's on me. The Watchers are indeed mentioned in ancient texts (as the Nephilim), though their physical appearance on screen seems more Aronofsky than Book of Enoch.

In the grand tradition of Cecil B. DeMille, Aronofsky approaches the material with commercialism but not a shred of irony. He never shows us God, but he implies him with some special-effects razzle dazzle. I hope it's not a spoiler to say that the Nephilim eventually ascend to Heaven, and the image is more than a little reminiscent of 1985‘s “Lifeforce.”

Changes are inevitable in this sort of film, as well as inventions out of whole cloth. The Old Testament makes no mention of an evil stowaway on the Ark or a miraculous pregnancy. And somewhere around two-thirds through, our hero's piety and subservience to God turns into a religious mania that commands him to murder his grandchildren. I'm no Biblical scholar, but this entire subplot seems imported from the story of Abraham and Isaac.

“Noah” is sheer hokum, ridiculous on a number of fronts, but it's also hugely enjoyable hokum. By the end, its attempts to reconcile the Bible with a modern worldview taxi right off the runway: Would Noah really have passed on his birthright to — gasp! — female offspring? It's hard to imagine in an Old Testament framework.

Just turn off your critical mode and let the spectacle wash over you. You'll have a much better time.


ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).

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