What would happen if one were to take the scant hundred or so verses of Genesis devoted to Noah and the Flood, and expand them into a two-plus-hour Hollywood blockbuster by adding liberal doses of Tolkien, Avatar, Mad Max, and a Roland Emmerich disaster movie?
This is not a question I had contemplated until I was presented with its answer in the form of Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. Though considerably vaster in scope (and budget) than any of the director’s previous undertakings, it is no less idiosyncratic than his other work, from Pi to Black Swan. The result is an odd and original film, part CGI spectacle and part somber moral meditation. Although occasionally preposterous, it is rarely short of fascinating.
Though not a biblical believer himself, Aronofsky is clearly at pains to adhere to the spirit—and, where possible, the limited details—of his adopted text. Following the fall and the first murder, humankind descended in two lines: the wicked progeny of Cain and the virtuous progeny of Seth. Over the course of eight generations, however, the Cainites have spread across the globe like a cancer, while the Sethians have dwindled until Noah is the last of his line. When the latter comes fully of age (technically when he’s around 600 years old, though as played by Russell Crowe in the film he seems considerably younger), the Creator decides to purge the corrupted world of life, with the exception of Noah, his immediate family, and as many mated animal pairs as they can squeeze into an ark. Here come the birds, spiraling majestically into Noah’s giant box of a boat; then the amphibians and reptiles, hopping and slithering; and finally a rumbling herd of the hooved, toed, and clawed. (The fish, presumably, can fend for themselves.)