Darren Aronofsky’s Noah represents a climax of sorts for the director. His indie movie debut Pi had Sean Gullette as a math genius struggling to wrap his head around the otherworldly presence of the divine; his abstract fantasy The Fountain saw Hugh Jackman fly straight into a dying star to understand life’s meaning. Both dwelt on existence through Jewish scripture, wrangling ancient belief systems into a postmodern (perhaps even post-morality) world, an attempt to reconcile our flicker of an existence with a cosmos too weird and remote to have a place for us. With Noah, he’s finally able to take this issue into a full-blown epic. Aronofsky recasts the biblical flood as a dynastic struggle between haggardly Noah (Russell Crowe) and barbaric Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). Receiving visions of the impending flood, Noah enlists his family–wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), grandfather Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), his sons, and infertile daughter-in-law Ila (Emma Watson)–to construct the ark for the salvation of the animal kingdom, unblemished by sin. This leaves no room for Tubal-cain or his legions, an often raggedy band disfavored by their own God. With no other prospects on the dying Earth and faced with annihilation, their pillage ‘n survive instinct dictates they seize the ark for themselves.
A less curious filmmaker would’ve settled for an easy to swallow “good vs. evil” tale. Aronofsky instead confronts this idea of building an ark–and the decision of who gets to survive the apocalypse and who doesn’t–with considerable weight. Huddled away while stragglers beg to be saved, before the waves finally claim them, Noah and his family verge on tears. It isn’t just a single person’s mortality confronted here, but an entire species’. This tension only mounts in the third act when Ila miraculously becomes pregnant. Crowe slouches and lurks, his Noah warped by religious conviction and survivor’s guilt into thinking he must claim (at least) one more life in order for the new Eden to survive. Earlier in the movie, when Crowe has made the decision mankind cannot continue, middle son Ham (Logan Lerman) attempts to argue the point, and Noah tells him he must “be a man,” a similar sentiment to Tubal-cain’s belief that killing defines manhood. In that instant, when Noah holds firm to his interpretation, the competing patriarchs are the same. They kill for ideology.
The violence of men runs through the movie: there’s a recurring montage of the snake, the forbidden fruit, and the rock Cain uses to kill Abel. The latter of those images begins to take precedence as variations are seen (a sword, a dagger, etc.), a progression of murder which serves as a foil to a time-elapsed sequence entwining the “Seven Days” narrative from Genesis with the theory of evolution. Other touches, such as the ruins of what appear to be technologically advanced civilizations and a depiction of Adam and Eve as golden versions of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s Star Child, almost suggest Noah is a dystopian sci-fi counterpart. Perhaps Aronofsky is suggesting God/Yahweh/Allah/”the Creator” (as he’s referred here) is an extraterrestrial assigned to maintain ecological balance? Humanity seems to go through a cyclical rise and fall, with the Creator only acting through symbolic means–even the Watchers, stone fallen angels who assist in building and defending the ark, have an unreality as they lumber around like Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion monsters. He simply provides the tools needed to achieve desired results.
Notably, when Noah asks what’s to be done about his unborn grandchild(ren), he’s greeted with silence. His sons are equally confused, too torn between loyalty to their father and the survival of their lineage to do anything other than obey or uselessly lash out. It’s up to Ila and Naameh, then, to plead humanity’s case. To remind Noah of mercy and to see the beauty and love in humanity. The Creator simply observes, leaving the fate of a troublesome species to a single representative with a simple choice: fall prey to the old temptations and face oblivion, or become better through love and support.