Noah : A Movie Review

I finally got around to seeing Noah last weekend. I liked it, and it gave a lot to talk about. Also, there are spoilers.

The Vibe

I’ve seen Christian movies about the Bible, and I’ve seen Hollywood’s offerings, like Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments. Noah felt more like a Biblical Epic of the Hollywood variety than of the Christian variety. I liked that.

Artistic License

My first reaction was to grab one of my Bibles and re-read the story of Noah. Noah director Darren Aronofsky took some major artistic license.

I recently called out Mark Driscoll for claiming Noah wasn’t righteous, just forgiven in the post “Sorry Mark Driscoll, Noah was Righteous.” The Bible says the exact opposite. Darren Aronofsky opted to change that part and make Noah a normal man just like the rest of us, maybe more so. Noah points out how he and his family are all sinful as his explanation for why humanity doesn’t deserve to live.

The Bible says Noah’s three sons and their wives went into the ark. In the movie, only one wife goes in. She’s pregnant with the other sons’ wives, so technically you could say that they did in the movie, but it’s a stretch. There’s a good reason for this: it sets the story up for Noah getting to decide whether humanity deserves to live or die by whether he will obey God as he understands God or not. (It’s not what you expect).

The part where Noah gets drunk happens out-of-order for the rainbow in the movie. In the Bible, the rainbow comes before the alcoholic bout; in the movie, the rainbow comes after. I understand Aronofsky’s motives for that: the rainbow makes a nice closing motif. And for the first time in my life, I felt like I understood why he got stone drunk: he’d just watched the rest of the world drown. I think I might find myself reaching for the bottle, too.

The Bible says Lamech to have lived for 599 years after Noah was born, so it’s a fair guess that Noah wasn’t a little kid when his dad died like in the movie. But it made the part with Hermione Ila make a lot more sense and have that certain emotion to it. It framed the whole movie nicely. I didn’t mind it.

How Did They All Fit?

One of the coolest things about this movie was that when I watched it, I wasn’t thinking, “Wow, that’s ridiculous. How could they get every kind of animal onto the ark?” I’ve seen so many Creation / Evolution arguments about this. The evolutionist argument is that there’s no way we would have this much variety only 4,400 years later. The creationist says not only is it possible, it happened. They’re both wrong.

The ancient Greeks told myth about a boy named Icarus. Icarus and his father are exiled to an island, so his father makes wings with wax and bird feathers, and they fly away. The father warns the son not to fly too close to the sun or the sun will melt the wax, and not to fly too close to the ocean or the mist will weigh him down. Icarus (of course) flies too close to the sun, the wax melts, and he drowns.

Debating whether all the animals would fit on the ark makes as much sense as debating how Icarus’s father was able to make wings that would actually fly, or whether being that much closer to the sun would make the wax melt. It’s a dumb argument because the story of Icarus isn’t about the physics of flight any more than the story of Noah is about the physics of architecture.

The Creation Sequence

A lot of the folks who liked the movie liked it because of the creation sequence. It retold the ancient Hebrew creation myth in a way that fit nicely with modern science. I thought it was cool, but it’s not what I would’ve done. The Noah myth is just that – a myth – and so is the creation myth. It yanked me out of willing suspension of disbelief because I was like “Oh cool, science!” and then it went right back to being a modern retelling of the ancient Hebrew flood myth.

I’m probably the only Christian blogger who takes issue with the fact that Aronofsky wasn’t true to the way the Bible told the story and doesn’t think the Biblical story is historoscientifically* accurate.

An Accurate Portrayal of God

Many evangelicals have flipped out over this movie’s portrayal of God.

I thought Noah‘s portrayal of God was spoton.

When I say “spot-on,” I don’t mean that it lined up nicely with my theology or the theology of any of its Christian viewers.

I mean that it was accurate to how that part of the Bible portrayed God.

The story is horrific. God sends a flood and drowns out most of the population and only saves one family. God shuts the door. “God wouldn’t demand human sacrifices,” they say, until they remember Isaac. Either way, the story says God killed everybody and folks are all up in arms because Aronofsky has Noah thinking God wants him to kill his granddaughters.

I think the reason evangelicals hate this movie is because they know the God portrayed in the Noah myth is more than a little psychotic and nothing like the God they believe in – but they don’t want to know that they know that, so they lash out at Aronovsky, not because of the parts that are inaccurate, but mostly because of the parts that are – the film’s portrayal of God.

The finicky part is how God communicated to Noah. An audible voice? The Bible doesn’t say that; only that God told Noah to build an ark. And that’s exactly what happened in Aronofsky’s version.

But Aronofsky added a new layer of meaning to his telling of the story – a meaning that I’m surprised more Christians haven’t identified with: God feels distant. All through the movie there are people crying out for God. God is notably and palpably absent. I learned in film school that you can’t show the absence of something. God is absent at the beginning, and absent at the end. There’s a rainbow… but God still doesn’t feel quite palpably present as God felt absent. It’s like God is intentionally ignoring his creations, which quite often is how it feels.

God communicates in dreams and visions. God is hard to pin down. And I think that’s another reason evangelicals didn’t like the film. That is most Christians’ experience, and we want to believe that there was a time, if we go back far enough, when God didn’t feel distant. Noah told a story that many of we Christians don’t want to admit is ours as well.

Evangelicals don’t like this story because it simultaneously (a) doesn’t tell the story accurately enough and (b) tells it far too accurately.

Righteous Rebellion

Righteous rebellion is a big theme in this movie. Even Tubal-Cain sometimes (and only sometimes) is an identifiable character. His first sentences usually makes sense. God feels distant. We’ve been abandoned by the creator. We’re on our own. But Tubal-Cain takes this narrative in a crazy direction: If God isn’t paying attention, then anything is permissible.

The Watchers. I read so many reviews where people flipped out about rock monsters. I don’t get it. I loved the story Aronofsky told. It made sense. He got much of his inspiration for the Watchers from the extra-canonical book of Enoch. No, they weren’t trapped in rock in Enoch, but Aronofsky’s story was beautiful. They were angels who stopped watching and came down to help mankind after the fall, but God punished them for it. It seems like the sort of thing the God portrayed in Genesis 6 would do. Jude describes these creatures and their fate, and it doesn’t seem far off from what happens in the movie. The point here, though, is their righteous rebellion. God turns out to not be a complete jerk in the end and brings them back to heaven.

Noah’s decision between whether to kill his granddaughters or not IS the decision of whether humanity deserves to survive. Aronofsky’s Noah thinks God doesn’t want any humans to survive, and the only purpose of his family is to save the animals. Evolution takes a long time, yo. If Noah kills the two granddaughters with whom Ila is pregnant, humanity doesn’t deserve to survive – and it won’t. If he has mercy by disobeying what he is sure God wants, humanity deserves to survive – and it probably will.

God’s approval of Noah’s rebellion is made clear when they finally arrive on Ararat at the moment that Noah makes the decision to spare his granddaughters against his certainty that he is disobeying the creator. When Ila asks Noah why he didn’t kill the twins because “All I felt was love.” There’s a certain Huckleberry Finn vibe to it.

On the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel that maybe Noah’s decision to spare humanity might have been the wrong one. All the things that were happening then are happening now. Aronofsky made Noah‘s world so awful that I was almost calling for a flood myself. The Bible says that every thought of man was only evil continually. And darned if Aronofsky didn’t make it seem like it.

Environmentalism

Yeah, it’s there.

Noah and his family are vegetarian. People have taken issue with that point, but it’s in the original story. God gives Adam and Eve every green plant for food, but not the animals. The animals are given for the first time in Genesis 9:3. This part is faithful to scripture. It would make sense that Tubal-Cain would be disobeying God. There’s an absolutely beautiful scene in which one of Noah’s sons asks why the sons of Cain eat meat, and Noah replies, “They think it makes them stronger.” The son asks if they’re right. Noah says that “Strength comes from the Creator.” I loved that line.

Tubal-Cain and Ann Coulter would get along splendidly. Tubal-Caan and the ante-deluvian world feels like Ann Coulter’s dream:

The ethic of conservation is the explicit abnegation of man’s dominion over the Earth. The lower species are here for our use. God said so: Go forth, be fruitful, multiply, and rape the planet — it’s yours. That’s our job: drilling, mining and stripping. Sweaters are the anti-Biblical view. Big gas-guzzling cars with phones and CD players and wet bars — that’s the Biblical view.

When Aronofsky gave his art director inspiration for the suffering earth, he must have handed him a copy of that quote and said, “Make it look like that.” Minus the big gas-guzzling cars.


* Historoscientifically is a word. Urban Dictionary says so.

David M Schell About David M Schell
David M. Schell is a doubter, a believer, and a skeptic. He writes about God and stuff. He is happily married to Kristen, and that's why his posts don't come out as often or as angry.

  • dart

    If it’s ever proved that the creation story was an actual event, then I’m making the call that Ann Coulter was actually the serpent. Just saying.

  • I really enjoyed the Noah movie too, and I wrote a review of it. Noah was super-exciting for a number of reasons, but solutely loved the Watchers.

  • RLYHYPERGUY

    Newcomer here, and just wanted to say I’ve been looking forward to your review of this ever since I saw your post on To Save A Life. I’ve loved this movie ever since it came out because of how brutally honest it is about Christianity. It’s not afraid to portray OT God as He really is, and beautifully examines the human condition.

    Another aspect that I find fascinating is the extra-Biblical influence on it. There was a fun conversation happening a while back concerning Gnostic influences on the film, particularly the snakeskin. Here are those posts:

    The original one that brought it up:
    http://drbrianmattson.com/journal/2014/3/31/sympathy-for-the-devil
    A response:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/filmchat/2014/04/no-noah-is-not-gnostic-say-that-ten-times-fast.html
    And more on the topic from the responder:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/filmchat/2014/04/be-as-wise-as-serpents-but-stay-away-from-snakeskins.html

    Some have used this to try and take the movie down, but I actually think it’s wonderful. First of all, the movie’s not the Bible, so let’s not act like it is and second of all, it’s an opportunity to look at this tale through a different lens, which leads to learning! These are great things!

    Again, I’m really happy to see this post and I look forward to your thoughts on any other religious movies.

    • Thank you so much for this comment! Dr. Mattson’s post in particular was absolutely fascinating, as were the responses you shared. I really enjoyed that reading and your comment as well 🙂 I hope you’ll stick around 🙂