“Noah” in a nutshell: Watchers lose, love wins

“Noah” in a nutshell: Watchers lose, love wins March 30, 2014

In my previous post about “Noah,” I observed: “Like any artist with a singular vision, Aronofsky’s work is often uneven and polarizing, but always thought-provoking and engaging.” I didn’t realize how prescient those words would be. Though intended to describe Aronofsky’s entire oeuvre, that sentence turned out to be an apt summation of my feelings after seeing “Noah.” Uneven? Definitely. Thought-proving? Undoubtedly.

Spoiler Alert: I reveal some plot elements that aren’t in the Bible and are key to the movie. If you haven’t yet seen it and plan on doing so, don’t continue … you’ve been warned!

First, the uneven.

Aronofsky’s Watchers are the ultimate Gnostic archetypes: beings of pure light entrapped by the muck of the material world, yearning for release from the bondage of physicality. But the Watchers, as depicted by Aronofsky, are lumbering, cartoonish beasts, an awkward and uninspired mix of Ent, Transformer and Muppet that would be laughable if not for the naïve earnestness of their role in the script.

The film would have been far stronger had they been omitted entirely, along with the underwhelming battle scene in which they featured. Aronofsky is clearly at his best when examining the psychological motivations and interactions of his human characters, not when orchestrating CGI battles featuring ballet dancers with yoga boxes taped to their arms and legs.

Rather than further bemoaning this misstep, I have another interpretation of these Watchers that offers at least a bit of reprieve: that they are intentional references to our cinematic mythology and deliberately unsettling reminders that we are watching a film that is far from perfect. The Watchers seem so false and out-of-place, so poorly conceived and awkwardly rendered, precisely because we are judging them in light of our intimate familiarity with myriad expressions of modern cinematic myth.

They are a potent reminder that, just as the people of the Ancient Near East had stories to make sense of the world around them, so we too cling to tales to help fashion meaning out of reality. The story of Noah is merely the antecedent of our own mythologies; each has their relative strengths and weaknesses and each must be evaluated within their own contexts and on their own terms.

But despite the distraction of the Watchers, “Noah” still offers fertile ground for theological and philosophical reflection.

At the heart of the film is a masterful exploration of the mimetic desire that drives humanity toward violent confrontation. Aronofsky’s antediluvian world is shaped by murder, Cain’s single act of violence reverberating through virtually every aspect of life, pushing humanity toward ever greater strife in desperate attempts to regain what was lost so long ago.

Aronofsky also shows us the only antidote to that pervasive and pernicious violence: love. His postdiluvian world is founded on love, where Noah’s choice to place innocent life above his own will — and even above his perception of God’s will — sends a decisive message about the priorities of the new creation.

Noah’s selfless choice in favor of love gives humanity a second chance, and in his refusal to sacrifice his grandchildren for a supposed greater good we see mirrored God’s refusal to sacrifice all of humanity despite our constant failures. We are deeply flawed creatures, bent on defilement and destruction and death, but we also have, inside ourselves, the ability to rise above selfishness and greed and jealousy and to choose what is good and just and right.

The film asks us to confront what it means to be able to make that choice for good, what it means to be bearers of the imago dei: are we reflecting God’s image by exercising dominion over creation, taming it and subduing it and bending it to our own will? Or do we best reflect God when we show his love, choosing love even when such a choice challenges our preconceptions?

The story of Noah is a story of choices. In Genesis, it is about God’s choice to push the reset button on creation and his choice to save Noah and his family. In Aronofsky’s film, it also about Noah’s choice of love.

As humanity continues to push our world and our lives out of balance, the choices we make inevitably have consequences. Those consequences may not take the form of a divinely instigated global deluge (though anthropogenic climate change may eventually have just such an effect), but nevertheless justice must eventually be served and balance must be restored. As in “Noah,” there is only one choice that promises to guide us towards peace and justice: love.

The words of 1 Peter 4:7-8 would have been timely before the Flood and are even more timely today:

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.


Dan WilkinsonDan Wilkinson
Dan is a writer, graphic designer and IT specialist. He lives in Montana, is married and has two cats. He blogs at CoolingTwilight.com.

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  • Dwayne Walker

    Totally disagree about the Watchers! I would have been disappointed if Aronofsky hadn’t made some attempt to explain and portray the ‘sons of God’ or the giants that roamed the earth in those days. Other Christian movies, and even John Huston’s Noah, totally skipped through this. Probably because the filmmakers thought it would confuse the audience? Confuse or challenge?

    Obscure evangelist Peter Ruckman described them as the source of Greek mythology. Sons of god mated with daughters of men and brought forth Zeus, Apollo, Mercury, etc. That probably would have been a more accessible portrayal of ‘the Watchers’, but I can just imagine the reviews: “Is this Noah or Clash of the Titans????”

    BTW, another common fundamentalist p.o.v. is that Noah and family were vegetarians until after the flood. Then, they could eat meat.

    • It’s not that I object to the inclusion of Watchers per se, it’s that Aronofsky’s depiction simply didn’t work for me. I’m familiar with the mythology surrounding the Watchers/Giants/Nephilim/Fallen Angels, but I’d prefer no mention of them at all rather than the second-rate treatment I felt they received in this version of the story.

      • Dwayne Walker

        I can partially agree with that. It took me awhile to catch on to what they were. Nephilim? Fallen angels? Once I got the gist, then I was able to sail with it. My first thought was, “The Transformers built the ark!”

        Still, I needed the sons of god or nephilims in this movie! Almost every Christian that I have discussed the ‘sons of god’ with seem to brush it off! It’s like they just want to stick to Sunday School flannelgraphs for the end all/be all of Noah’s story. And they don’t even want to get into cursing Ham, or Noah being drunk, unless it’s to rationalize racism..I like that Aronofsky rose to the challenge. Otherwise, it’s just the same old boring mainstream Judeo-Christian propaganda.

  • Yes, love wins. Noah’s Flood was an act of love — only that and nothing more.

    The more I learn about Aronofsky’s version (the film has been delayed here in the Philippines), the more it seems that his interpretation of the Bible is just as twisted as that of most Christians.

    One of the most startling revelations, for me, was to discover in my own research that the reason for the Flood could not have been any of the garden-variety wickedness and violence we have known in human history. God was the one displeased. We have to understand His purpose and His reasons for the Flood, not our own human misconceptions.

    For instance, the “sons of God” are us! Described in Genesis 1:26, Genesis 2:7 and Genesis 6:3. The “sons” are sleeping, immortal spirit wrapped in Homo sapiens flesh. The Nephilim are the “fallen ones” — that’s us, poisoned by the forbidden fruit of Ego and selfishness — the ultimate in separateness and the hunger to be “first” or “right.” The daughters of men were not us. They were the target of the Flood. And the new biblical timeline shows us, through science, that the daughters were a very specific species which went extinct at the new Flood date.

    My new book, “The Bible’s Hidden Wisdom: God’s Reason for Noah’s Flood” describes my journey of discovery, like an Indiana Jones expedition into scripture. The results startled even me.

    Today’s world is rapidly approaching Armageddon — another worldwide disaster that will challenge the Flood as humanity’s worst. We need to understand God’s purpose, because the rescue mission is not done yet. Understanding His purpose will help us navigate the storm ahead.

    Rod Martin, Jr.

    • People died by drowning, an environment was decimated because of that regional flooding, dead bodies and livestock floating about,which would have bred disease like crazy, and cause more ecological havoc until nature finished its work, all because God decides only 8 people deserve to live out of thousands. How in the hell is that love?

      • Thanks for the comment! Regional flooding? Not at all. A real water global flood? Perhaps. Or perhaps something for which “water” was the closest analogy. I do not know. God was satisfied with the result and yet promised never again to use the Flood. We’ve had thousands, if not millions, of regional floods since Noah’s Flood.

        The literal timeline is incorrect. A timeline discovered recently pushes the Flood back more than 25,000 years. One date in science confirms the new date for the Flood.

        How was it an act of love? First, you have to see everything from God’s viewpoint. He was the one offended by some rare form of wickedness and violence — not the garden-variety forms we have committed throughout human history. (WW2 a garden-variety form?)

        Also, you need to understand the purpose God was protecting by bringing the Flood. You see, this is a rescue mission. God created His children in His own image and likeness and He is NOT Homo sapiens. The Heavenly Father loves His spiritual children — not the bodies they wear.

        Rod Martin, Jr.

        • You certainly have a unique perspective…I’ll give you that much!

        • I seriously doubt anyone has a clue what God’s viewpoint is like. A retelling of the story of Gilgamesh doesn’t exactly do it for me.

        • John Bickham

          You are perhaps assuming that the flood account was a historical event. I see this and other stories such as the creation myth etc. as stories which were passed on from generation to generation about man’s evolutionary concepts and ideas about God as they progressed throughout the centuries. God’s demeanor ‘appears’ to gradually become kinder & gentler as the stories progress.

          Again, I see these stories as cultural perspectives and a continuation of creating God in their own images throughout the centuries. This course of our own projections of what God’s image and nature is continues to this day.

  • Bill Steffenhagen

    I like epic style movies and was very interested to see NOAH. I wish I had not. It was dark and depressing (something I have no problem with artistically) but the big surprise stunned me. That surprise was Noah’s decision, sprung on the audience, to let humanity die, even to the point of killing the babies. Where did that come from? Did Aronofsky just pull it out of his….blue sky? From the moment of Noah’s first revelation of where his mind was going, I felt very disturbed by the entire rest of the film. For me, it just didn’t fit. There seems to be no reason to enter such a dark idea into the story.
    The special effects were great but the human relationships seemed contrived which, of course, they were. So ok, the movie, and probably the Biblical story itself is a metaphor, but that idea of letting humanity die off and especially killing the babies was almost cartoonish.
    And the ending was just plain sappy.

    • The story of Noah in the Bible is dark and disturbing. All of creation is destroyed because it’s evil!

      • Bill Steffenhagen

        As I noted, dark and disturbing isn’t what put me off. I simply cannot and do not believe the story literally. Something happened, yes, but I’m more inclined to go along with this book: NOAH’S FLOOD by William Ryan and Walter Pitman.

        Something happened and the story of Noah is just that, a story or myth developed from that Something. To take it literally is preposterous except for the possibility that the “flood” may have indeed destroyed SOMEONE’S KNOWN world.

        Someone noted in a comment on Facebook about this very subject, that……. WHAT?! Nobody else had a boat? NO ONE?! In the whole world?
        I made quite clear what I found disturbing about the movie.