Noah is director Darren Aronofsky’s attempt to flesh out a short Biblical story into a two-hour epic. News reports have focused on the religious groups that have criticised its “inaccuracies”.
The plot is certainly silly. But it’s more about modern environmental concerns than Biblical legends.
As if to underline the point, filming in New York was cut short when superstorm Sandy reportedly threatened the stability of the mock-up ark.
The film casts Noah (Russell Crowe) as the first environmentalist, up against short-sighted tribal king Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone).
It goes back to the first humans, Adam and Eve, and their three sons, Cain, Abel and Seth. After Cain kills Abel his descendants go forth and multiply, covering the earth.
They cut down trees, drain rivers and build cities that turn the world into a desolate nightmare. They leave very few animals left to hunt and soon descend into war.
Tubal-cain argues that men should make their own history, but it becomes clear that he has little solution to offer his followers.
Noah’s family are the last surviving descendants of Seth. Inexplicably, they thrive in the bleak wasteland on a minimal vegetarian diet.
Noah dreams of the waters rising and drowning mankind while the innocent animals are able to swim to safety on the ark.
He is intent on making sure that the human race dies out, and wrestles with the responsibility. Apart from his wife and sons the only person allowed on the ark is his daughter-in-law Ila (Emma Watson), who he believes can’t have children.
Noah is an extreme caricature of real confusion about how to stop environmental destruction.
Some environmentalists do moralistically call for limits on human population or blame ordinary people for wrecking the planet. They pit humans and wildlife against each other—and let the real culprits off the hook.
Noah uses his religion to justify the belief that plants and animals without humans would live in harmony. For him, everything is in its place and God saw that it was good.
But the idea of a natural balance has been challenged by ecologists. Our environment has emerged through constant change, some of it gradual, some of it very turbulent.
The animals Noah saves appear to include species driven to extinction largely by humans, such as dodos and aurochs. You don’t have to be religious to feel a sense of loss at the realisation that these dead species will never return.
But most people don’t go charging around killing everything they see for no reason as Tubal-cain’s followers do. The choice between his destructiveness and Noah’s misanthropy is an utterly false one.
Real environmentalism has to include a solution for ordinary people—not just condemn them to the floodwaters.