Things I liked and things that bugged me about “Noah”
I finally had a chance to go see Noah the other night and thought some might find a review helpful. Since this is a review of a movie and not a commentary on the biblical text, I’m setting aside all theological issues that surround this narrative, such as whether it was a local or global flood or whether or not God acted violently when he brought about (or allowed) this disaster. I’ll first state what I liked about this Darren Aronofsky film and then discuss what I didn’t like.
For starters, I personally think it’s a plus whenever Hollywood decides to make a serious movie about a biblical theme. Movies influence people’s imaginations, for better or for worse. By making biblical stories “come alive,” movies can potentially give people a sense of realism about the biblical narrative. They thus have the potential of moving western people outside their normal secular consciousness and to possibly wonder: “What if some of this is actually true?” This can’t be a bad thing.
On the whole, I thought Noah was an above average drama/action film. I thought the special effects captured the cataclysmic, world-changing character of the Flood very well. Special effects were also put to good use in a very impressive two-minute re-telling of the creation story that ingeniously correlated Genesis 1 with evolutionary theory. I was especially impressed with the Ark, which, I’ve read, was built to the exact measurements given in the Bible. And the way they had the animals migrate into it was realistic (if you believe in God) and grand to watch.
I also appreciated the way Aronofsky attempted to weave elements of the “Watcher” tradition of I Enoch (a widely popular ancient apocryphal work) into the biblical account. Not only is the concept of “Watchers” from this work, but the three names he has mentioned are from this work as well. Not only that, but the movie captured the connection between violence and the creation of cities that is present in the biblical narrative leading up to the Flood (e.g. the first murderer, Cain, founded the first city). It also captured the important connection between human violence and sin, on the one hand, and the corruption of the earth, on the other. This motif is present not only in the Flood narrative, but throughout the Old Testament. (BTW, a great book on this theme is Terrence Fretheim’s Creation Untamed.)
Finally, while this has, with some justification, become the biggest objection to this movie on the part of Christians, I personally appreciated the way this film humanized Noah by introducing ambiguity into his relationship with God. I agree with others that it was way “over the top” on this inasmuch as Noah almost appears to be a crazed mad man toward the end. But the fact that it brought Noah “down to earth” is consistent with the general realism of Scripture. With the exception of Jesus, all biblical heroes end up having significant flaws. It’s one of the things I most appreciate about the biblical narrative.
At the same time, there were things I definitely didn’t like about this movie. For starters, I get that the division of humanity into different races didn’t begin to happen until the Tower of Babel, but did the entire cast have to be white? The rich diversity of our gene pool was present before the Flood, just in a more evenly spread way. So I would have thought including more diversity than people would have expected would have captured the pre-Flood state of humanity better than having them all white.
Second, while I appreciated the ambiguity of Noah in this movie, I didn’t appreciate the ambiguity it introduced into “the Creator.” Both Noah and Tubal-Cain sincerely cry out to him at crucial moments, and they hear nothing, and I seriously wonder if that isn’t intentional on Aronofsky’s part. Even the fact that this deity is only called “The Creator” throughout this film is significant, for this is a cold and distant deity. In fact, at one point in the film (SPOILER ALERT FOR THE REMAINDER OF THIS PARAGRAPH) I was wondering if Noah was really insane for wanting to kill ALL humans (including his family and himself), or if perhaps he was still hearing “The Creator” correctly. Maybe “the Creator” actually told him to do this! If the movie is intending to be remotely biblical, of course, then it must be Noah who is mistaken, and I’m willing to give Aronofsky the benefit of the doubt. But is it not impossible that Aronofsky is intentionally depicting “The Creator” as evil, the way ancient Gnostics did? Maybe this is the Gnostic Flood account rather than a biblical account?
Third, assuming this was intended to be a biblical story, I disliked the way it flatly contradicted the Bible at points. Now, I have no problem with Hollywood movies going beyond biblical stories to fill them out with interesting fictional characters and fictional sub-plots. This is no different from what James Cameron and Jon Landau did with Titanic. They made this actual epic catastrophe more interesting by weaving into it a fictional romance between a wild guy named “Jack” and a troubled girl named “Rose.” We know this story didn’t happen, but something like it could have happened, which is what makes Titanic so gripping. Not so in Noah. Despite Aronofsky’s public claims to the contrary, this movie didn’t just go beyond the biblical story, it flatly contradicts it. And what I found particularly irritating is that the movie didn’t gain anything by inserting these contradictions.
Perhaps the most glaring contradiction is that the Bible tells us that Noah’s sons and their wives were included in the Ark (Gen 6:18; 8:16) and that after the Flood their descendants each occupied different territories (9:18-19; 10:1-32). Yet, not only does this movie only have the eldest son (Seth) married, but a good bit of its drama is woven around poor Ham lacking a wife. This also creates serious logistical problems for the movie after the Flood, because it means that Japheth, the youngest son, is going to have to marry one of his brother’s offspring (creepy!), while Ham ends up with no wife at all. Trouble is, in the Bible, the descendants of Ham became the Canaanites and they end up playing a significant role throughout the biblical narrative!
There are other points of contradiction as well, but I’d rather end by talking about the sad way this movie missed an opportunity to be more interesting and more biblical. (How I wish Hollywood producers would consult ME when writing scripts with biblical themes!). As I said above, I was initially impressed that the producers included the “Watcher” tradition of I Enoch in their movie. But I was really disappointed with what they did with it.
In I Enoch, the Watchers are angels who were commissioned by God to oversee humans, just as humans were commissioned to oversee the earth and animal kingdom. Unfortunately, some of these angels turned from the Creator and became evil. They then began using their authority to teach humans how to make weapons of war, and some became so evil they took on the appearance of human males and slept with human women. These women then gave birth to hybrid creatures called “Nephilim” that were violent giants. This is I Enoch’s rendition of Genesis 6:1-4, in which the “sons of God” (a Hebrew title for angels) take female wives and beget giants. I believe it is placed just before the Flood in the biblical narrative because it serves as the ultimate explanation for why the Flood happened. Not only were humans wicked and violent, their gene pool had now been compromised and it would only be a matter of time before the race that God created would disappear. As I read it, the Flood was God’s rescue operation.
This material would have made for a great movie! Think about what Hollywood, with all of its special effects, could have done with these fallen “sons of God” and their Nephilim offspring! But Noah inexplicably ignored all of this. Instead, the writers just create a story about the Watchers being punished by God by being thrown down to earth where they become giant rock creatures. And instead of helping humanity become more violent, as we find in I Enoch, they are foes of humanity. There’s more nonsense I could share, but I’d spoil the movie if I did, so I’ll leave it there.
In my opinion, here is one instance where a Hollywood movie could have been much more exciting if it had stuck closer to the biblical text (assuming that this is what Aronofsky was trying to do). Or, to put it another way, here is one instance where the Bible’s version of a story is more interesting than Hollywood’s.
So next time you Hollywood movie producers are thinking about making a movie with a biblical theme, will you PLEASE give me a call? I just might make the movie more interesting — and more biblical!
In fact, I’ll propose a movie right now — “The Nephilim.” (Watch, they’ll steal my idea, won’t give me a call, and screw it up again!)