For occultists, UFO conspiracy theorists, Atlantis enthusiasts, and eccentric spiritual types of all kinds, the story of Noah provides some tantalizing material.
According to the book of Genesis, Noah’s great-grandfather Enoch lived to be 365 years old before he “walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.” “Nephilim” roamed the land while the “Sons of the Elohim” took human women as wives, siring “mighty men which were of old, men of renown.” Noah himself, a lone righteous man in a corrupt society, heard the voice of God and saved himself, his family, and two of each animal from the flood brought on by the evils of humanity.
In a few chapters, the Bible describes a strange primordial world in which people live to be hundreds of years old, extraterrestrial beings invade Earth, and a wrathful God speaks to the devout while obliterating the rest of humankind.
There’s enough here not just for a lifetime of self-published books explaining the true origins of humanity — were the Nephilim, in fact, “ancient aliens”? — but also for a great Hollywood movie. What better fits the blockbuster aesthetic than ancient landscapes mixed with sci-fi speculation, sword-and-sandals action with Lovecraftian horror? Despite the disappointments of similar projects — the “Stargate” flicks, say, or Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” — it’s a movie I’d like to see.
Unfortunately, Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe in the title role, is not that movie.
Aronofsky would seem well suited to plumb the depths of biblical weirdness. In his first feature, the black and white “Pi” (1998), he showed a young mathematician going crazy in his Chinatown walkup while trying to figure out the numerical pattern underlying all of creation. In “The Fountain” (2006), he blended a voyage to the mythical Mesoamerican underworld of Xibalba with the story of a cancer researcher trying to save his dying wife. Aronofsky’s previous movie, “Black Swan” (2010), portrayed the terrifying conflation of art and reality in the mind of a ballerina dancing the lead in “Swan Lake.”
In “Noah” too there are traces of this obsession with madness and mysticism. Here, after all, is a character who envisions the destruction of the world by water — and Crowe does a fine job as the tormented, increasingly fanatical messenger of “The Creator.” (The movie does not, notably, use the word “God.”) But “Noah” is not a psychological character-study in the manner of “Black Swan,” nor does it weave together otherworldly myth with this-worldly struggle, as in “The Fountain.”