Does the human race deserve to survive? According to Noah, not really, or not strictly.
“Strictly” may be the word that gets to the heart of the question (along with “deserve”), since it is Noah’s strict logic that leads him to the negative conclusion. Human beings are not good. That’s clear enough. As Tubal Cain rightly says, man is a killer, or at least a negator. In this we bear the image of a creator who has just determined to put the bulk of creation to death. Along with this image we also bear the guilt and pain of our own and others’ sins against life (like Ham; like Noah himself). So it is all too easy to conclude that the game is not worth the candle.
We are not good; we are mixed—cracked. This also means that a slogan like “affirm life” cannot be the magic key to Noah’s dilemma. Tubal Cain affirms life in his own way by defying the creator in the creator’s name. Noah believes this is what he is doing when he decides to wipe out humanity for the sake of the animals. If man is a killer, then the will to live is inextricable from the will to death. To say yes to life is thus to affirm the whole bundle, the pain along with the occasional berry found in the woods. It is to open yourself to the possibility (or inevitability) of an eternal return, an eternal sameness. We can start over, but the whole mess is likely to happen again.
If we substitute the individual for the race, the film becomes a parable of the problem of suicide. Why go on? The world would be better off without us (strictly speaking). The “will to live” is a voice loud within us, but hardly an unquestionable good given what we do to each other by living. So it is not surprising that Noah comes to doubt that voice as precisely the temptation that a good person will resist.
Noah is hardly a brief for suicide. But neither does it present an unambiguous case for human life, as if that were what the creator ultimately affirms. (As far as we know, He changes His mind as often as Noah does.) As I see it, the bottom this film comes to is the one Beckett found in The Unnameable: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” There’s no reason to continue, or none worth insisting on. But there we are, and there we’re likely to go again. At least, in Noah, the women—holding out for a glass-half-full view of human goodness—approve.
And God himself, we are given to believe, comes around to Noah’s wife’s way of thinking. Let’s say that Noah made the right choice and hope for the best, though in Arnofsky’s version of the story there are no promises. Everyone loves a second chance, but we know far better than Noah how this one turned out.