Darren Aronofsky’s enjoyable film Noah, starring Russell Crowe as the biblical patriarch, challenges the Children’s Bible imagery of the Great Flood myth by portraying Noah as a borderline cult leader. He loves animals, admonishes his children to take from the earth only what they need, and listens to voices in his head, which he takes to be the Lord telling him to build an enormous ship in the outback. If he lived in the 21st century, his neighbors would complain to city planners about his McMansion-sized boat, and his children would be snatched by Child Protective Services. But in the world of Aronofsky’s fantasy film, and the Bible, he’s a prophet.
What is he prophesying? In the biblical story, he foresees the destruction of mankind by a flood because humanity has turned its back on the Lord, who, above all things, hates to be ignored. But check your Bible at the door; this is not your pastor’s Noah. Aronofsky adds a modern moral message to the story: If humanity fouls its own nest, it’s bound to destroy itself with its ignorance and foolishness. Aronofsky has encouraged this interpretation, citing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 report in a CNN interview. A few commentators have lumped Noah into the new genre of “climate fiction,” or “clifi,” although it’s the weather that’s unhinged in Noah’s world, not the climate.
The environmental tailspin portrayed in Noah is a reflection of Noah’s descent into madness. He may have been favored by the Lord, and given a chance to escape humanity’s fate while serving the Lord’s purposes, but he realizes that he shares the same human-ness as the terrified masses outside the Ark’s hull. If they are punished, he deserves the same punishment. He’s an isolated man, driven by a vision he barely understands. It’s not even clear why his family follows him, though trust within this tight-knit group is strong. Once Noah sees what he has in common with the damned, he becomes suicidal, and threatens to take his family with him. In Hollywood fashion, the tragedy is averted, but not without a cost. He considers himself a failure, but it’s his fall that saves him.