The Value of Humanity in Darren Aronofsky’s Noah

Noah, a 2014 film by Darren Aronofsky, is a modern representation of an ancient story – the story of the biblical Noah. The plot of this film revolves around the time spent before, during, and after God’s famous flood. As stated by Noah, the film’s main protagonist, this flood “cannot be stopped. But it can be survived.” In order to survive, Noah and his family construct an enormous ark, designed to hold Noah, Noah’s family, and two of each animal (one male, one female). If the ark survives the flood, life will continue on earth; if not, all life will be decimated beneath God’s waters.

Behind this large-scale plot, the film poses an even larger question: What is the value of life? Specifically, what is the value of human life in comparison to the life of other creatures, such as plants and animals? What value does humanity assign themselves in relation to other creatures, and is this value justified?

Noah explores the value of humanity in the following three ways: humanity is a superior form of life, humanity is an inferior form of life, and humanity is an equal form of life.

Humanity is Superior

Tubal-Cain, a self-proclaimed King and the film’s primary antagonist, wholeheartedly believes in the superiority of human life. After stowing himself away on Noah’s ark, he expresses this superiority by devouring the ark’s animals. Since there are only two members of each species, every animal that Tubal-Cain consumes renders a whole species extinct. In one particularly disturbing scene, Tubal-Cain bites the head off a small lizard, doing so in the presence of Ham (one of Noah’s three sons and the only one who knows about this stowaway). Noah’s whole family consists of vegetarians, and so Ham is shocked at Tubal-Cain’s actions. Ham demands, “What are you doing?” Between bites, Tubal-Cain replies, “They serve us. That is the greatness of men.”

Noah - Tubal Cain's offering
Tubal-Cain offers Ham a chunk of lizard meat.

By believing that they (animals) serve us (men), Tubal-Cain perceives humanity as superior. He even claims that God sees men as superior, since God “needed something greater” than animals and therefore made humanity “in his image.” According to Tubal-Cain, humanity’s role is to “take dominion over” other forms of life. Keeping this ideology in mind, it makes sense that Tubal-Cain took dominion over the lizard by devouring the poor thing raw.

Humanity is Inferior

While Tubal-Cain preaches that humanity is superior, Noah gradually starts to preach that humanity is inferior. This belief can be seen through the creation story that Noah tells his family. He describes the creation of plants and animals as a “paradise – a jewel in the Creator’s path.” However, when humanity chose to eat from the forbidden fruit, that paradise was extinguished. Noah continues as follows.

Everything that was beautiful, everything that was good, we shattered. Now, it begins again. Air, water, earth, plant, fish, bird, and beast. Paradise returns. But this time…this time, there will be no men. If we were to enter the garden again, it would only be to destroy it once more. No. The creator has judged us. Mankind must end. Shem and Ila, you will bury your mother and I. Ham, you’ll bury them. Japheth will lay you to rest. You, Japheth, you will be the last man. And in time, you too will return to the dust. Creation will be left alone. Safe and beautiful.

Rather than counting humanity among the creatures that will find new life once the ark finds land, Noah decides that humanity is not worth saving. If humanity enters the new world, “it would only be to destroy it once more.” And so he proposes a disturbing plan; the whole family must bury each other alive.

Who is this family? Initially, the family consists of the following: Noah; Naameh (Noah’s wife); Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Noah’s three sons); and Ila (Noah’s daughter-in-law). However, once Ila discovers that she is pregnant, Noah is faced with a new choice: ensure that the baby survives (enabling humanity to survive), or ensure that humanity doesn’t survive by murdering the child.

Noah aims the dagger at his grandchildren
Noah aims the dagger at his grandchildren

To the dismay of many viewers, Noah initially leans toward the latter. He tells Ila, “If you should bear a girl, at the moment of her birth, I will cut her down.” Noah still believes that humanity is inferior, meaning that even his infant granddaughter is not worth saving. Or to be more accurate, his infant granddaughters; Ila ends up giving birth to twin girls. Noah soon discovers these twin girls in the arms of their mother. Ila looks away as Noah holds a dagger above his granddaughters’ heads. The cold blade inches closer to their soft skin. Ila weeps and screams, “Do it quickly!” And then…

Humanity is Equal

Noah leans down to kiss each child on the forehead. He tosses the knife to the side of the arc. He looks up to the skies and says, “I cannot do this.”

Why couldn’t Noah kill the infants? In a later scene, Ila asks Noah that exact question: “Why did you spare them?” Noah replies, “I looked down at those two little girls, and all I had in my heart was love.” Rather than designating humanity as inferior or superior, Noah decides that humanity and all other creatures are equally worth saving. All creations are worthy of a new beginning.

This perspective is not unique to Noah. Another character in the film values both human life and the life of other creations (rather than valuing one over the other). This character is Naameh.

Naameh strives to reassure her husband that human life is valuable.
Naameh strives to reassure her husband that human life is valuable.

While Noah struggles over whether or not humanity is worth saving, Naameh never doubts the value of human life, providing a crucial contrast to Noah’s constant doubts. As Noah tells Naameh that their family must die, she replies, “They’re children. They’re our children, Noah. Have you no mercy?” This mercy is not only shown to animals through the family’s commitment to vegetarianism; it is also shown through the love that Naameh consistently exhibits for her family. When Noah accuses Naameh of wanting to undermine the Creator, Naameh defends that she only wants “to give our children a future. To give humanity a future.” Long before Noah decides to spare his grandchildren, Naameh decides that humanity – and all other creations – are equally worthy of mercy, love, and a future.

Works Cited

Aronofsky, Darren, dir. Noah. 2014. Paramount Pictures, 2014. DVD.

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Hello! My name's Aileen Mae Ryan. I'm a film fanatic, poetry aficionado, and equal rights advocate.

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  1. Aaron Hatch

    I love the article and I love the film behind it. Noah is a deep and powerful work of film,having a really great spin on the Biblical tale.

  2. Ryan Errington

    Brilliant article indeed. You cover Noah’s context with great depth.

  3. LaurenCarr

    Great article. The effects were incredible, ILM’s best work IMO.

  4. The story is a new spin on the classic Bible tale and I really enjoyed it.

  5. It’s funny to see how many people wanted a true, faithful adaptation. I just wanted entertainment and this film does its job very masterfully.

  6. Enda cick

    For everything this movie got wrong, the emotional aspect; the internal conflicts of Noah and his family, the torment and anguish they must have felt and the emotional journey the director takes us on is 100% spot on.

  7. anonymous

    I saw this movie for the first time yesterday and although I understand the common perspective that there are inaccuracies, I think anyone who is looking for historical accuracy from a Hollywood movie needs to take stock of their position.

  8. ClydeLuther

    It had some nice moments, but as a whole movie, it was confusing, and seems that the director tried to bring too many object from successful movies into this.

  9. Soooo… we’re just going to ignore the fact that this movie whitewashed everyone?

    • aileenmaeryan

      You have an excellent point. The movie certainly utilizes an all white cast, which is prominent in other films revolving around stories of the Bible. Whiteness, female/male gender roles, and heteronormativity are all normalized in Noah (as they are in many Hollywood blockbusters). While my goal with this article was to explore the broader value of humanity, one could definitely write an article about how humanity is valued in terms of gender, sexuality, and race in Noah.

    • Jacque Venus Tobias

      Hey there L, I identify with your comment. I have not viewed the film and now I wonder do they have English accents as well?

  10. Arellano

    All in all I’m very disappointed at the way this movie turned out. My views: Darren went to church for the first time in his life to find out about Noah, Ended up with the story, Sat in a daze for months trying to SHOCK and AWE people with his own little script in the story while failing miserably and pissing a lot of religious people off on the process. .

    • Actually it’s a fact that Darren had wanted to create his own version of the story of Noah. I don’t remember for how long, but he did.

      All in all, it sounds like you didn’t read anything above. I suppose it’s obvious to some more than others that Darren wasn’t going solely for said “shock and awe,” rather posing ideas and situations, not all of which was touched on in the article.

  11. Good analysis but don’t subject yourself to this interpretation of Noah.

  12. spetember

    I loved it. Aronosky has shown a Noah-like belief that making a movie is like building an ark!

  13. The direction is strange and unsettling because it does depart from that typical story we all already know.

    • I found it new and interesting. It is and was always meant to be a reinterpretation/imagining of the story, not a carbon copy.

      All in all, I’m satisfied that someone so renown had the guts to do his own version of such a famous biblical story. It shows creativity and imagination to take on the idea of a retelling of something so grandiose.

  14. I was waiting with great anticipation for this movie, a great story line and one of my favorite actors “Russell Crowe”. What a disappointment it turned out to be.

  15. Angelo Linares

    My main problem was with the script in the second half. Poor Ham. Got a worse deal than he did in the actual bible…

  16. aileenmaeryan,

    Noah was, perhaps, one of the most undervalued films of 2014, and what’s worse is that it always seemed destined to be that way. Based on the message boards on IMDb, it seemed as though the film had already created a large divide among the general public. Either (and these are just my observations) you were a staunch atheist who didn’t like the idea of a large scale, religiously based film being made/liked the film simply because it could be easily mocked, or you were an evangelical who expected every aspect of the Biblical story to be exactly as it is depicted in the Bible. Again, IMDb is by no means a reliable source of data, but it clearly showed that the movie was polarizing even before its release. Sadly, not many people, on both sides, cared for it even though it had a lot to offer in terms of its character development, psychological/spiritual conflicts, and an overarching moral narrative.

    The point of that very long preamble is that I am glad that you wrote such a well-done piece on the film and took the time to tell folks that there is a lot of value in the movie, and your explanation of the three main ideas (humanity’s inferiority, superiority, and equality among the other creatures in the world) is a succinct and knowledgeable exploration of those themes. Personally, I’d say that humanity is all three at different times and towards different entities, which is to say that we are superior to animals, inferior to God, and generally equal among ourselves. But that’s only one interpretation after all, and you do a good job of exploring these three ideas without endorsing one over the others.

    Again, not only was this a well-written article, but one that calls attention to a movie that got a lot more derision than it deserved.


    • aileenmaeryan

      Thank you very much for the insightful response. I’m glad that you found meaning in the film and that you were open to sharing your interpretation of the values of humanity, animals, and God. Here’s to Noah!

  17. Very slow and tedious movuive.

  18. Ching Deal

    So much potential for a good story… so totally wasted.

  19. This was a fantastic action/adventure film.

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