Rain Man


Darren Aronofsky, Noah, 2014, 35 mm, color, sound, 138 minutes. Noah (Russell Crowe).

ON WEDNESDAY, a full-page ad in the New York Times for Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, which screened for the press that night, exhorted readers, in all caps: “See the film this Friday. Read the story in Genesis today. Read the story on the Bible app or at Bible.com.” With this promotion of platform agnosticism for the evangelical and irreligious alike, viewers are thus encouraged to fact-check Aronofsky, who has floridly embellished roughly a score of lines in the first book of the Old Testament to include Transformer-like boulder-behemoths, near-neonaticide, and psychoactive berry tea.

And yet Noah is the least bombastic and absurd of the director’s six features, which include 2006’s The Fountain (filled with time-tripping and astral-projecting) and 2010’s Black Swan (featuring a self-diddling, stigmata-oozing Natalie Portman). Perhaps the most outlandishly entertaining aspect of this otherwise sedate epic is how much Aronofsky and his coscreenwriter Ari Handel have unintentionally made the last of the antediluvian patriarchs (played with dutiful solemnity by Russell Crowe) sound like a tamer Fred Phelps. “The creator has judged us—mankind must end,” Noah tells his family on the ark, a declaration not so different from the placards that the repugnant (late) reverend’s followers used to brandish that read GOD HATES YOU.

And speaking of odious bigots, Aronofsky’s film also begs comparison with another high-profile Lenten-season release from a decade ago, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. During the two hours of nonstop flaying in Gibson’s appallingly audacious project, only Aramaic or Latin is spoken. (The lunacy paid off: Passion is the highest-grossing subtitled film in US box-office history.) In Noah, the entire cast, even those not originally from the Commonwealth of Nations, speaks in the gauzy British accent often deployed to signal a movie’s importance or prestige. This imprecise elocution is particularly glaring in New York State native Jennifer Connelly, here as Noah’s wife, Naameh. (The actress reprises the role of helpmeet to Crowe, to whom she was wedded in 2001’s A Beautiful Mind, and is the only cast member to have worked with Aronofsky before, in 2000’s Requiem for a Dream, in which her sex-show attraction character rides a rolling-pin-size dildo to support her scag habit.)

While it undoubtedly takes a particular strain of hubris to mount an adaptation of one of the best-known episodes in the Bible, Aronofsky’s signature grandiosity is too often at odds with—and diminished by—the familial melodrama he has created aboard the vessel. The two oldest of Noah’s three sons—all played by strenuously bland, epicene beauties—threaten to rise up against Dad’s autocracy and monomania (“We’ll work, complete the task, and then we’ll die”), conflicts in which Mom, sobbing, intervenes. Swaddled in garments that drape the body like—and recall the muted palette of—Eileen Fisher outfits, Noah and his clan, minus one defector, are restored to domestic bliss, rainbow visions filling the sky. That burst of color is the covenant between God and Noah “and every living creature of all flesh”—or, for the weary spectator desperate to create her own ending to this staid spectacle, a promising starting point for another work of biblical exegesis: proof that the Almighty really did create Adam and Steve.

Melissa Anderson

Noah is now playing.