Warning: This review will discuss how Noah ends. If the tale of Noah and his ark is new to you, stop reading now, and check out Genesis 6-9.
A brief recap: Earth has been ruined by man's industrial exploitation, but one keeper of the old ways, Noah, last of Seth, lives in peaceful harmony with the land. (He refuses to kill a scaled dog, a creature that must have missed the Call to the Ark.)
Then Noah (Russell Crowe) receives a vision: that the Creator will destroy the world with a great flood, and that he, his small family and two of every innocent beast and bug will be saved in an ark. Then, Noah and Co. will repopulate the planet and hopefully propagate a better batch of humanity, more respectful of Edenic values.
Darren Aronofsky's big-budget film is decidedly ambitious: It combines a popular Bible tale, the trappings of an epic dystopic actioner and about a year's worth of discussion regarding man, God, good vs. evil, how we got here, where we're going, environmental stewardship, religious mania, paternalism, vegetarianism, selective infanticide, how lions sail with lambs without eating them and more.
While Noah contains the proverbial boat-load of interesting ideas, the film's allegorical myth-making is often in tension with its literalizing of the same. It wants the majesty of the divine combined with the banality of existence. So a fantastical scene in which all the serpents of the world slither up to the ark in pairs finds Noah's family wrinkling their noses with disgust because snakes. (Snakes: friendless from Day One!) Watching a CGI forest grow from a single seed Noah plants is mesmerizing and awesome, like a sped-up nature film. But watching CGI-created giant rock men (it's a long story; see Book of Enoch) log that same forest inspires laughter.
And with such sprawling ambitions and its jumble of story-telling techniques, Noah is bound to annoy everybody somehow. I found parts of it silly and clichéd, but was also intrigued by some of the big messy ideas Aronofsky dragged on board. This is old-school Old Testament — dark, vengeful, blood-soaked — shot through with contemporary controversies about creationism, climate change and exceptionalism. It's flawed, but it gets points for trying.
And despite the sunshine-y (literally) last shot, I'm not sure it's a hopeful or inspiring tale, though it is explicitly cautionary. Noah is left broken by the mission. And despite the global cleansing — spoiler alert — Noah's progeny will struggle to live harmoniously with each other and the natural world. Time to get a really big boat? Discuss.