Darren Aronofsky's Noah is the Old Testament on acid. It's the movie equivalent of Christian death metal. It's an antediluvian Lord of the Rings, fist-pumping, ferocious, apocalyptic, and wet - very wet.
With a brooding, burly Russell Crowe in the title role, Noah begins like some hallucinogenic, parallel-universe version of the History Channel's Bible series. It's the Book of Genesis' "In the beginning . . . " all montaged up with places to go: nothingness, somethingness, Adam, Eve, the apple, the snake, whoosh, whoosh, all to a thunderous clang of BIG MUSIC.
Then, on to the matters at hand. Noah, of the house of Seth, wanders the desert with his wife Naameh - Crowe's A Beautiful Mind costar, Jennifer Connelly, again worrying that her husband may be totally batty. Noah and Naameh have two sons, Shem (Douglas Booth) and Ham (Logan Lerman). They're like some freegan clan, long-haired, dust-caked, scrounging the land.
But all is not right with the world. The descendants of Cain are a most uncivil civilization - debauched, plundering, polluting, impervious to good grooming. In a series of trippy dreams, Noah gets the message that God has decided to rid Earth of humankind, "all life blotted out because of what man has done." It is up to Noah to build an ark and save the birds and beasts from the mighty deluge.
Oh, and to help Noah and his team erect their giant cargo container (that's what the ark looks like, football-field-long and coffin-shaped), there are the Watchers - the guardian angels from the Apocrypha, here like something out of the Marvel Comics Universe: towering, six-armed rock creatures, eyes burning with coal fire, voices rumbling like Nick Nolte after a case of whiskey and a carton of cigarettes. (Nolte supplies the line-readings, gravelly and bellowing, for Samyaza, the chief Watcher.)
After a wary get-to-know-you session in a deep ravine, the Watchers align themselves with Noah and his family, assisting in their ambitious project, and joining them in battle when the armies of Tubal-cain (a hairy Ray Winstone) lay siege. Tubal-cain isn't happy that he and his gang are to be washed away, forever.
How all of this will play with by-the-Book Christian moviegoers is a question of great interest, and one that distributor Paramount has tiptoed around, marketing its biblical action pic as "inspired by the epic story of hope, courage, and survival." You could also attach that tagline to Captain Phillips or Divergent - or Mr. Peabody & Sherman, even.
Aronofsky's films have centered on lone, somewhat lunatic figures: the nutty numbers theorist of Pi; the Coney Island addicts of Requiem for a Dream; the dimension-hopping M.D. of The Fountain; the comeback sad-sack of The Wrestler; and the psychologically damaged ballerina of Black Swan.
Noah is alone, and arguably lunatic, too. Is he heeding God's call, even when it means doing something terribly cruel? Or is this man only imagining that God is speaking to him? Are the signs misread, misunderstood?
And what are we to make of this God? Merciful, or merciless?
Crowe, who sports a buzzcut when it's time to get down to business, brings his usual brute intensity. Connelly is watchful, worried, and has a couple of defiant-spouse speeches. Emma Watson transitions from Harry Potter's Hermione to Shem's wife, Ila. And Anthony Hopkins appears now and again to offer a fertile thought or two as Noah's grandfather, Methuselah - an old sage who likes to go berry-picking. Fruit, but not forbidden.
With its computer-generated armies, its behemoths and beasts, and its epic meteorological event (and none-too-subtle cautionary climate-change analogy), Noah is not, for even one second, dull. Aronofsky's film is crazy, bold, and, yes, biblical.
Noah *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Darren Aronofsky. With Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins. Distributed by Paramount Pictures.
Running time: 2 hours, 18 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence, adult themes)
Playing at: area theaters