I, Frankenstein. That Awkward Moment. Endless Love. Winter’s Tale. What do those movies have in common? They are all recent, terrible releases that nevertheless polled higher with audiences than Noah, which received a scathing Cinemascore grade of C. (How bad is that? Well, for reference, all those other shit piles I named scored B or higher. Not even a B-minus, folks. B or higher.) To be fair, Noah did get wildly mixed reviews, but I doubt that even its detractors would name it the worst film of 2014, the unholy designation so far bestowed by its bottom ranking at Cinemascore’s website. What’s to account for all the antipathy? Are people just not digging the rock monsters? Or could it be that Noah, the venerated biblical hero and sole avatar of goodness in a corrupt antediluvian world, is made to seem in the movie like kind of a jerk?
Well, not kind of a jerk. A huge jerk. A massive jerk. Noah comes off pretty well at first, but by the time he’s conscripted those poor rock monsters to build the ark for him — the only real work Noah’s family does to build it is when Jennifer Connelly, like, prunes a plant’s leaves once — you might get the sense that this Noah’s character arc from pleasant vegan to unyielding religious zealot is rather different from the straight-ahead version you read in the Bible. Still, Aronofsky’s bracing take on the character really becomes apparent halfway through, when all the Day After Tomorrow shit starts going down. To wit, a spoiler-filled recap of Movie-Noah’s jerkiest moments:
• Noah’s horny son Ham (Logan Lerman) has finally found a love interest, a fetching, mud-soaked girl whom he first spied at the bottom of a pit full of corpses. (Meet-cutes were a lot rougher back in biblical times.) As the rain begins to pour, Ham and the girl make a run for the ark, and her leg gets caught in a trap. Luckily, sturdy Noah arrives on the scene to save both of them … or not! Instead, Noah grabs his kid, gets the hell out of Dodge, and leaves Ham’s unlucky love interest to languish in the trap, where she is promptly trampled by Tubal-Cain’s rampaging hordes. COLD.
• While his family stews for weeks in their giant shipping-container of an ark, Noah attempts to motivate them with this real bummer of a goal: He instructs them to supervise each other’s deaths once they finally reach land, so that humanity can be extinguished forever when the last one of them perishes. Might have saved that dangling carrot for later, Noah.
• While on the ark, Emma Watson discovers she is pregnant. It’s a joyful moment, and therefore one that ol’ humanity-hating Noah must extinguish immediately. Noah fixes Hermione Granger with a glare, thinks to himself for not even a millisecond, and says, “If you should bear a girl, in the moment of her birth, I shall cut her down.” Yiiiiiikes.
• Emma Watson and Douglas Booth decide to build a raft to escape the ark, and just when you’re thinking, Hmmm, I guess Noah is going to let them go, Jerkface Q. Ark goes and lights that damn raft on fire. (Which seems like a bad idea when the flaming raft is still bobbing around next to a wooden ark, but hey.)
• And then we arrive at the movie’s most gonzo moment, the scene where Noah runs around the ark looking for Emma Watson so he can stab her babies to death. (Yes, poor Ems has just given birth to twin girls, and now is doubly doomed.) When he finally corners her on top of the ark, he hovers his dagger over one of the babies’ faces for a freakin’ eternity before instead bending down to kiss it, his murderous will broken by the newborn’s cute lil’ punim. Now, that is a fake-out. That is a Simon Cowell, “We’ve had to make a difficult decision … to send you on to Hollywood Week!”–level fake-out (only with more potential baby murdering).
Did audiences resist Aronofsky’s reimagining of Noah as a stern hothead who will stop at nothing (once a Javert, always a Javert) in his quest to kill off Emma Watson’s adorable babies? Were they made uneasy by Aronofsky’s blunt depiction of the moral quandaries elided in the biblical text, not the least of which is the implication of incest required to repopulate this drowned world? (At the end of the film, Noah’s sons are uneasily eyeing their new baby nieces like Twilight’s Jacob does Renesmee.) It was gutsy for Aronofsky to turn his hero into a villain halfway through the movie, but for mainstream audiences, it seems like Noah’s moral ambiguity might be the real enemy.