Noah: A Film Worth Discussing

I’m sure by now many of you have heard of the new film, Noah. Already there’s been a lot written about it, both positive and negative. Yesterday the husband and I decided to go see the movie for ourselves, and we didn’t regret it.

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The movie was a thought-provoking one. Much like the Biblical account, the film is set in a world of devastation and violence. The mood is dark and brooding, which isn’t surprising coming from Darren Aronofsky (creator of The Black Swan). The film largely centers on the internal struggles of Noah – who is directed by God to build an ark for “the innocent”- as he comes to terms with the inevitable destruction of the world with his family acting as the lone representatives of humanity.

Firstly, the acting was superb. Jennifer Connelly as Noah’s wife was especially outstanding. The chemistry between her and Russell Crowe (who also performed together in A Beautiful Mind) is clearly present. Emma Watson was also fantastic – she is clearly a talented actress. The cinematography was beautiful. As a movie, it had all the imagination and story of a good film.

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But perhaps that’s the problem for many people.

In this film there are mystical fallen angels encased in rock, punished for helping humanity. Methuselah holds magical powers, the creation story seems to illustrate theological evolution (though I would point out that humankind is portrayed as being created separately from the animals) and Tubal-Cain – “who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron” (Gen. 4:22, NIV) – is a great warrior and king, cruel and arrogant.

The controversy swirling around this film is not unexpected, though I must admit I’m surprised at the intensity of that negativity. Many have argued that the movie is grossly inaccurate and therefore tarnishes the word of God. Many also argue that the spirit of God is darkened because 1) they never name Him and 2) the flood is depicted as being excessively cruel and harsh.

There are those that argue it promotes Luciferism or that it acts only as environmentalist propaganda. Still there are those who call it the “most insipid, absurd, unimaginative, clumsily contrived piece of anti-Christian filmmaking.”

I completely understand where many of these people are coming from. There is, indeed, magical and mystical elements, Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel clearly added a lot which is not mentioned in the Bible and there are some troubling elements. However, with that said, I have to argue against these criticisms.

God is not named but is frequently recognized as The Creator by all characters. Tubal-Cain, the movie’s villain, frequently pleads with The Creator to speak to him as He does with Noah. After all, he argues “am I not also made in Your image?”

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Also, as for the flood being as harsh as it was depicted – let’s not kid ourselves, it was probably just as horrific! Much of the Old Testament is uncomfortable to read for this very reason – Saul, for example, was cast from God’s favour because his show of mercy (1 Samuel: 15) was a direct disobedience to God.

Two points which did make me uncomfortable:

1) Through the re-telling of the creation story, the snake sheds its skin. This skin is passed down from generation to generation in Noah’s family and is used to pass on the birthright. But why use this particular item? This evil object from the fall is valued by all, Noah and Tubal-Cain. Why? It seems troubling to me that this snake skin would be venerated. After discussing it with David and we can only conclude that it was a means to show how sin has been carried forward from generation to generation. Nonetheless, this isn’t made very clear.

2) One of the moments that scripture is directly quoted in the movie, it is put in the mouth of – you guessed it – the villain, Tubal-Cain. It is Tubal-Cain who reminds us that man was given dominion over the earth. The way in which it is quoted is suggestive that this particular scriptural passage (Genesis 1:26 and 1:28) is wrong. Tubal-Cain interprets this passage as justification to cruelly exploit the earth and everything in it, a view that’s still held today. After all, many argue that animals were created to benefit us. On the other hand, Noah views himself as a steward and protector – caring for that which is not his, but is in his keeping. I believe Noah’s actions more closely align with the scriptural passage and its meaning. Humankind is much like a king who has dominion over his realm – they are not there to exploit their people but to protect them and better their lands.

The film does change a couple elements of the Biblical story. Noah and his family enter the ark, but two of his sons – Ham and Japheth – are without wives. Not to mention an added character manages his way into the ark. Furthermore, Noah wasn’t alone in building the ark, and the scenes in which it is being built is oddly reminiscent of several scenes in Lord of the Rings (think Isengard).

Critics have also pointed out the many added details that were not in the Bible story. However, I find it hard to be critical of this considering so many Biblical accounts are vague and lacking in detail. According to Genesis approximately 100 years passed from the time Noah began the ark to the time that the flood waters began (Genesis 5: 32 & Genesis 7: 6, NIV), and there is no account of what happened during this long stretch of time. Also, the magical elements in the movie are not illogical and unbelievable. Remember that this is a time and place vastly different from our own. One commentator puts it best when discussing Methuselah:

I liked what they did with Methuselah. I know a lot of people are claiming he uses witchcraft, but that’s not it. He has some of what C. S. Lewis would call “the deep magic” from the Garden of Eden. We’re fallen creatures, less than we were once, and we have grown less with each generation. Methuselah lived for hundreds of years! Now, we’re fortunate to make it to ninety! Isn’t it reasonable to think we lost more than longevity with time? That Adam and Eve, being the first humans made in God’s image, would better reflect Him than we do? They knew how to communicate with the animals in ways we don’t – otherwise Eve would have been startled at the serpent speaking to her. What other gifts might they have had? Is our collective yearning to be more than we are indicative of our unconscious awareness that we’re less than we ought to be? Methuselah is not a sorcerer. He is divinely gifted in ways we haven’t been since the flood.

Perhaps the most universal criticism among positive and negative reviews is the depiction of Noah as missing the mark.

While they could have spent more time developing his character and less time focused on the “action” on the ark, I viewed his character much differently. His internal struggles were entirely reasonable and depicted his fervent faith in God. It also showed that, though he may be considered a righteous man, he still misreads God (as I’m sure we all do) in a considerable way. This movie does not depict perfect characters – all make mistakes and, on occasion, display humanity’s inherent evilness. That’s why we need a saviour, isn’t it? In one scene, there is a sort of re-enactment of the fall – a jarring illustration that even Noah’s family is not without sin.

Interestingly, in the New King James Version (and previous versions) of the Bible, Noah is described differently than in new versions in Genesis 6:9:

“Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.” – NKJV

“Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” – NIV

Aronofsky’s depiction of Noah seems to focus on the former version. Noah’s character is bent on justice – but what is justice? What does justice look like? Moreover, Noah’s actions don’t always portray our ideas of “righteousness”, but then, what is righteousness? Many of those who the Bible describes as righteous committed evil deeds – King David was much loved by God, but committed adultery and had the husband of his mistress killed.

Aronofsky points to the fact that the flood didn’t eliminate sin and highlights our free will, specifically through Ila’s final words.

This movie is absolutely excellent for conversation. It forces the viewer to ask themselves some tough questions, including 1) What is the nature of God? 2) What does it mean to be righteous? 3) What is justice? 4)What is God’s relationship with humanity and 5) What is our relationship with the earth?

Darren Aronofsky’s film is nothing short of fantastical – but this does not take away from the many moral messages of the story. Let’s not forget, as well, that his inspiration came from numerous sources, not merely the story as found in Genesis. The movie is not anti-Christian as many would claim and it does, in fact, follow the Biblical morals of the story of Noah, but in a way that is thought provoking and artistically imagined.

My Final Verdict: 4 out of 5

Here’s Christianity Today’s review of the movie.
Five Positive Features of the Film from Christianity Today
Five Negative Features of the Film from Christianity Today

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