Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is a great many things. But before I get to those, I’d like to discuss what Noah is not. Noah is not a slavish, Ten Commandments-style re-telling of the biblical tale of Noah’s ark. It has many of the pieces of that tale, and certainly is true to it thematically. However, rather than being a note for note recreation of the bible tale, Aronofsky’s film uses the original as a springboard for the film he has chosen to make. Some folks take issue with this off the bat, which brings us to the second thing Noah is not. Noah is not a Godless work that takes aim at religion in any way. In the film, God is referred to as the Creator. Repeatedly. And often. The Creator is ever-present in this tale, as are his miraculous works, meditations on faith, and other methods of indicating his presence.
So what IS Noah? Well, for starters it is a fantasy epic. It is anachronistic, existing out of time and place, and it is filled with wondrous sights. It is full of adventure and drama, and at the surface can be enjoyed simply as spectacle. It is visually beautiful and dramatically full, and works well as a film on that basic level. Russell Crowe stands tall as a Noah full of grit and determination and Jennifer Connelly is haunting as Naameh, a wife who is willing to follow her husband, up to a crucial point. Anthony Hopkins’ wise grandfather figure Methuselah is touching and resonant. The fallen angels are a digital effects marvel.
However, Noah is also a lot more. Noah is a parable addressing man’s role as steward of the Earth and it’s inhabitants. A line is clearly drawn between stewardship and dominion. Animals are innocent beings, and those who kill them, for food or otherwise, are clearly denoted as being of the line of Cain, who committed the original murder. Going against the Creator’s intended role of man, that of protector and shepherd to the earth and its animals, is one of the clear signs that man has strayed and the world needs to start again.
Abel’s murder at the hand of Cain hangs heavy over the film. Clearly this is the demarcation point, as Noah is a descendant of the line of Seth, the third brother. The descendants of Cain stand in opposition to Noah, and in addition to mistreating the animals, they are clearly linked to industrialization, and subsequently the war machine. Noah stands as a condemnation of man’s warring nature, and of the harm done to the earth in the name of industrial progress. In an anachronistic example of this theme, Tubal-Cain, leader of the descendants of Cain, has crafted a rudimentary Gun, which he uses in the charge against the Watchers, fallen angels who are encased in the rock they were cast down into, who now side with Noah in hopes of returning to the creator’s good graces.
In the films latter portion, Noah faces a crisis of conscience. He has decided that while the world must start again, mankind must end. The line of man will end with Noah’s youngest, Japheth. Noah therefore determines that he will not bring wives aboard the ark for his two youngest sons. His eldest, Shem, loves Ila, who joined Noah’s family when they saved her at a young age. Noah is not concerned as he believes Ila barren. However, with Methuselah’s intervention on behalf of Naameh, Ila has conceived. Will Noah now need to kill his own grandchild?
Here Noah becomes an exploration of extremism. Driven by his own faith, Noah has become so convinced that he is intended to bring upon the end of mankind he fails to see the Creator’s miracle at work in providing the path for mankind to rise anew. Religious extremism has the potential for disastrous consequences. Noah’s refusal to aid his middle son Ham in rescuing a young woman to be his wife aboard the ark turns Ham against him, with also potentially devastating fallout. Had Noah seen past his own righteous arrogance to see the spark of love in Ham he would not irreparably damage his relationship with his son. The film leaves subtle hints at the later biblical repercussions of this rift between Noah and Ham.
Noah the film stands a triumph of ambition, and a wonder of a film to come through the studio system. Deep and full of meaning, while at the same time full of visual splendor, Noah is a feast for both the eye and the mind. Not to be missed.