For starters, take the movie’s atmosphere. Noah's world—a vast wasteland occasionally dotted with trees—feels simultaneously expensive and empty, which is a puzzle unto itself. How can a computerized Earth have this level of detail, yet still feel entirely fake? Why bother designing miles and miles of dystopian terrain if you’re not going to take advantage of it? You could make the case that Aronofosky is stressing the fallen nature of humans in these rocky, desolate plains. You might say that the director keeps the focus on the characters, rather than the set. Perhaps the eerie emptiness is all part of the Aronofksy plan.
The more likely explanation? The man doesn’t know how to work with all that money. Historically, Aronofsky has turned limited funds into films that look and feel better than their budget, starting with Pi (an all-time classic) and more recently with Black Swan (a Best Picture nominee). Compare Noah’s $125 million price tag to his previous films:
With Noah, Aronofsky has too many toys, and it shows in the film’s wasteful, uninteresting world, flush with cash and void of intrigue.
To the director’s credit, not all the animation falls flat. The film’s Ent-like rock creatures (which feel copied—no, stolen—straight from Lord of the Rings) are intermittently compelling, a lost tribe of fallen angels (called Watchers) in search of redemption. Always bizarre but oddly endearing, the Watchers are a worthy expression of creative license, at once unique to Aronofsky and at home in Noah’s world.
Regrettably, the fantasy doesn’t last. The rain eventually falls and the flood waters cascade through the mountains, washing away the human race and—along with them—the film’s last traces of narrative cohesion. (Warning: while I won’t spoil anything specific, I will now make general references to late-film occurrences.)
We get a traitorous son, a snake-eating stowaway, and a murderous Noah all at once, a trio of wacky developments each more bewildering than the last. Any of the three alone would have unbalanced the movie dangerously. Taken together, the three new subplots are so baffling that you will rapidly reach a numb, disoriented state of mind, filled with kaleidoscopical visions of headless serpents and axe-wielding killers.
Aronofsky probably wants to say something profound about the human race—perhaps about our deep, inescapable flaws; the inscrutability of the divine; or the plight of the nuclear family. And indeed, I seem to remember a passing prickle of revelation amidst all the snakes, daggers, and maniacal raging. Is there no one worthy of God’s favor? Might it be that the same demons live in all of us—that ultimately, we all share in some larger story of missed opportunity, failure, and despair?
And just like that, the prickle was gone. In its place was Noah, axe raised, breathing labored, a homicidal glimmer dancing back and forth from eye to eye. Oh well. At least we’ll always have those rock guys.