Directed by Darren Aronofsky      
Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ray Winstone, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth, Anthony Hopkins      
138 minutes

After Adam and Eve were banished from Paradise, Cain committed the first murder and killed his own brother. His descendants have built cities and exhausted creation’s resources, wounding the earth and risking the survival of all animal species. Only a few descendants of Seth, Noah and his family, continue to live according to the Creator’s laws.

One day Noah has a vision of the punishment the Creator plans to unleash upon men: the flood. His task is build an ark to save the innocent animals. So he sets to work with the help of the Guardians (angels who have fallen to earth because of their love for mankind). But Tubal-Cain, a violent descendant of Cain, stands in his way and even his own family questions Noah’s interpretation of God’s will.

Darren Aronofsky’s most recent film is visually attractive (even though the 3D is not an essential element), rich in ideas, and controversial — and not just among Christians.  

Noah is many things: it is a environmental catastrophe fantasy, a reflection on violence, and a parable about divine justice and mercy. And certainly it is a very personal interpretation of four short chapters of the book of Genesis. Anyone who expects a faithful retelling of the Bible story (too short for a two-hour blockbuster, anyway) will be disappointed.

On the framework of the Bible story Aronofsky and his usual co-writer Ari Hendel have embroidered a vast and complex tale, inspired by their own obsessions and recent cinema fantasies, and incorporating characters and situations from the Old Testament (Abraham and his sacrifice, Jonah, the fallen angels, the Psalms) and the Gospel.

Aronofsky’s Noah is a just man who respects the Creator’s laws. In the director’s mind these are basically not eating meat (which implies killing other beings and echoing Cain’s crime) and using natural resources without exploiting them. Noah’s lifestyle contrasts with Cain’s descendants, Tubal-Cain and his kin, who have turned the earth into a desert in a mere ten generations. This juxtaposition sometimes runs the risk of appearing ridiculous (the “vegan” Noah objects when his boy picks a flower — but two minutes later he kills three men in self-defence). But as the story unfolds it becomes more nuanced. 

Noah’s role as a faithful servant of the Creator is put to the test and the choice between obedience to the Creator and self-defined human freedom becomes unclear. Noah hardens his heart and turns the task God gave him into an obsession (a recurring theme in Aronofsky’s films). Disgusted by his own violence, he becomes a judge even harder than the Creator himself as he starts to imagine a world totally purged of human crime.

It is interesting that while the rest of the world is submerged beneath the waters of the flood, the patriarch re-tells the story of creation with an evocative montage which intelligently mixes together creationism and evolutionism, although it doesn’t soar to the heights of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life.

The surprising conclusion, after a few good plot twists and a few absurd ones about Noah’s family, is the revelation of God as a judge who is both just and merciful, who speaks to men not just through miracles and apocalyptic visions but also through what is written in their hearts. Ultimately, however, the movie is about how a flawed giant of a man makes free decisions in response to miracles and visions. In the Biblical view of history, supernatural events like these never take away man’s freedom; they only give him opportunities to choose between good and evil. 

Aronofsky doesn’t have Malick’s philosophical depth and sometimes he seems too eager to demythologize. But it would certainly be a pity if this imperfect but daring film were viewed only as an anti-human, pro-animal fable. For all its defects, it is thoughtful and intellectually challenging.

Problematic elements: many violent scenes, including cannibalism.

Laura Cotta Ramosino is a story editor for Rai Uno, the national Italian broadcaster, and contributes to several magazines and websites about cinema and television.

Laura Cotta Ramosino works for Cattleya, an Italian production company, as a creative producer and story editor for several television shows. She is also a regular contributor to the website Sentieri...