Despite a familiar story, Darren Aronofsky’s Noah is dramatically compelling and visually staggering, featuring solid performances that are outdone by the special effects, particularly the excess of water. Even with a big budget, Aronofsky doesn’t ignore the importance of plot development and deftly avoids painting his characters as either Good or Bad.
The story begins with Noah (Russell Crowe) seeing his father Lamech (Martin Csokas) murdered by Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone). Tubal-cain is a descendent of Cain, who killed his brother Abel and fled east; Noah is a direct descendent of Seth, also brother to Cain. Noah, unseen by Tubal-cain, escapes; he later marries Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), and they have three boys: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Noah begins to have visions of the end of the world, and when he sees a flower grow where no seed could previously find purchase, he becomes convinced that his Creator (God is never mentioned in the movie) has decided to destroy Man but has chosen to spare Noah and his family – and the innocent creatures of nature. Thus the family, with orphan Ila (Emma Watson) in tow, joins forces with The Watchers – fallen angels turned to anthropomorphic rock – to build an ark to survive a deluge that will wipe out the rest of mankind.
But this is not merely a conflict of man versus the elements. Noah believes he’s been chosen to facilitate the extermination of all mankind, so he tells his family that after the storm, his sons are to bury him and Naameh and then kill themselves. Complicating this further is Ila, who forces Noah into a terrifying dilemma. Noah, in Aronofsky’s view, is by no means a hero. He is, however, quite human and prey to self-doubt and misinterpretation of his Creator’s wishes. Should all mankind be eradicated, allowing the plants and animals full domain over the planet?
The conflict is handled quite nimbly thanks to the usual strong portrayal by Crowe. Watson and Connelly offer strong support, Connelly particularly indomitable. Maybe having Tubal-cain as an additional antagonist was overkill, but what Aronofsky really focuses on is the family quarrels between Noah and Naameh, Noah and Ham, Noah and Shem, Noah and Ila, and Noah and himself. The family may survive the great flood, but their actions lead to some agonizing decisions and situations.
So Aronofsky chooses to use these internal conflicts as the impetus for the movie rather than go by the traditional Biblical story. That is, the story is more or less intact, but it’s often secondary to how Noah deals with his kin. This makes Noah not just a huge spectacle to wow even the least devout but also a deep psychological journey, similar to Aronofsky’s earlier works.