As absurdly ambitious as you might imagine, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is both a mad folly and a brilliant one. It is that most bizarre of things — the biblical epic as personal filmmaking from a director who is nothing if not an idiosyncratic stylist. It is at once stunning and silly, thought-provoking and dull-witted, exciting and boring. It’s at least 15 minutes too long. There’s probably just as much wrong with it as right with it. But I am very glad I saw it. Noah has angered quite a few people because it isn’t a faithful account of what is written in the Bible. Let’s be honest, what’s actually written in the Bible isn’t enough material for a two-hour movie, so some embellishment was inevitable. Much of what is added was taken from The Book of Enoch, so the embellishments aren’t as groundless as they might seem. Yes, even the giant rock creatures — the fallen angels known as the Watchers — are found in Enoch, along with a more detailed story of the flood. Whether or not this was a primary concern of Aronofsky is debatable. The changes don’t end there, and it’s clear that what he’s making is a wildly personal fever dream of a movie — not a religion lesson. In fact, at times its mysticism makes it feel like a better title might have been Noah: A Biblical Odyssey. Actually, Noah doesn’t stop at evoking Kubrick. There are traces of The Tree of Life in there, along with intimations of Aronosky’s own The Fountain, hallucinatory scenes that might have dropped in from Altered States and some effects that are straight out of Lifeforce. If that makes it sound like Noah is a pretty trippy movie, that’s because it is — at least a lot of the time. It is devoutly mystical without being particularly religious. God is never exactly mentioned — he’s called, more vaguely, the Creator — though Bible stories that lead up to this one are invoked — and reinterpreted to the film’s purpose. God makes no cameo appearances and doesn’t speak to Noah. Instead, Noah divines what’s going on through dreams of what we might call the acid flashback variety. Noah’s grandfather, Methusela (Anthony Hopkins at his most Anthony Hopkins), is part of the plot and is presented as some kind of shaman. At one point, the old boy even slips Noah a cup of hallucinogenic tea so our hero can get his next vision. Clumsier, though, are the film’s action scenes and its protracted final stretch, but it’s fascinating and unique.
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