now that I’ve actually seen the movie, 16 random, non-spoiler, thoughts on “Noah”

now that I’ve actually seen the movie, 16 random, non-spoiler, thoughts on “Noah” March 31, 2014

After saying in my last post that I would probably wait to see Noah until it comes out on video, I went and saw it anyway because so many people were telling me things like, “Dude, you HAVE to see this movie; it’s epic” etc. So I went with my wife Sue on Saturday.

General comment: IMAX is #$%^ expensive. I almost made Sue wait in the car but she insisted on coming along.

That being said, I loved the movie. Of course, I would say that, seeing how generally heretical my views toward the Bible are, and now with giving this movie a big thumbs up, my journey to the dark side is complete. No more wolf in sheep’s clothing for me.

Let me reiterate. Judging a movie by its trailers or by the opinions of others is the cinematic equivalent of judging a book by its cover. And if you feel that movies about biblical stories need to depict those stories “accurately” (whatever that means), trust your instincts and save your money. Don’t follow along with your iPhone Bible app to confirm how “inaccurate” the movie is. We know that already.

I’ve read some thoughtful reviews out there (though I purposefully avoided reading Darren Aronofsky’s take so as not to influence my viewing experience), and I don’t want to add one more, nor do I want to spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it. So here are some things that struck me that will hopefully just make you curious. For those who have seen it, please feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments.

  1. Noah isn’t really about “Noah” in my opinion, but about issues of life and faith using the biblical story as a jumping off point.
  2. I like how God is referred to throughout as “The Creator.”
  3. I also like that God doesn’t speak. Of course, after Alanis Morrisette’s triumphant rendering, how could there ever be another voice of God? But to me, this decision makes the movie more religiously immediate and less cartoonish, since we don’t hear God’s voice either.
  4. Like the Ten Commandments, the film self-consciously uses some ancient extra-biblical themes–although, as with the use of the Bible, there is no pressure “stick to the script” (see if you can spot the “rock-Ents”).
  5. A big theme I saw is struggling with faith: “What does it mean to be human, what does God want from us, and while we’re at it, where is God, anyway?”
  6. The movie is set not in the Middle East, as one might expect, with people wearing sandals and robes, but sort of “anywhere.” I felt like I was on the set of Lord of the Rings, in medieval Europe, or in the Neolithic period all at once–almost as if Darren Aronofsky is trying to tell a story about humanity (duh).
  7. There’s some good acting in this movie.
  8. You can see Tubal Cain wearing a welder’s helmet.
  9. The flood isn’t a bad rainstorm, but the release of the waters of chaos held back at Genesis 1 to return the created order back to its pre-creation state in order to start creation over. This Old Testament scholar thanks you.
  10. There might be a Virgin Mary thing going on–or at least the common biblical “barren woman” theme.
  11. Noah is conscious of–even tormented by–his own sinfulness, which is important, I feel, to what Darren Aronofsky is trying to say.
  12. I feel so bad for Ham.
  13. Noah’s monologue, where he retells the creation story, is like Genesis 1 meets Cosmos (and not remotely in a Reasons to Believe apologetic kind of way.
  14. Though there is a “fall” in the movie, the serpent doesn’t seem to be to blame for what happened to Adam and Eve in the Garden (am I right here?). Adam as a more neutral figure is an alternate reading of that story in antiquity, though is largely untapped in Protestant Christian circles.
  15. Religious zeal almost made Noah do a very, very bad and dumb thing. Moral: Just because you think God is telling you to do something doesn’t mean he is, especially if what you are thinking of doing is stupid. Listen to those around you before acting and let love guide you.
  16. I think “retributive violence” and “second chances” are the concepts that sum up the heart of the movie for me.

Here is my elevator pitch: Noah re-presents the biblical story as a complex parable of how human violence (individually and socially/tribally) feeds off of bad ways of thinking about God, and how God can truly be found when we act on mercy, justice, repentance, and forgiveness.

Of course, that leaves a lot out, but that gets at what I took out of it.

If anything, the movie might make you go back to the biblical story itself, to read it from other points of view than simply, “See how God is intolerant of sin, enough to kill everyone.” Maybe there’s more to be seen there than what a literalistic reading allows.

Maybe the biblical flood story is supposed to make us think. If you go with an open mind, the movie certainly will.

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  • Dan

    My understanding of the welder a helmet, clothing, and other anachronistic elements came from the concept that the ancient peoples believed the world was a “very different” place before the flood and something was lost in it. I thought I had read that from you, walton, or both?

    If that is true and that was the thought process behind it I thought it was genius

    • ericKUnkel

      Tubal-Cain was a metalsmith, hence the helmet. And tradition holds there was a kind of stowaway on the ark, right? We should expect some Hollywood license. I would like to see more movies like this.

  • Jon

    #15 struck me the hardest and seems most relevant today — or probably any day.

  • Julie Walsh

    #15 I think may instead be the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac, no?

    • rmichaelj

      Er, no. The point of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac is that Abraham was willing to obey God and do his will (some theologians postulate that Abraham thought God would perform a miracle – possibly resurrection – in order to keep his promise to Abraham).
      In the movie the point seems to be that “Noah” decides on his own what is right or wrong and performs a good act by putting his own will above what he believes “God” wants.
      Of course this is part of the extrabiblical part of the movie which sees material creation especially in regards to humans as a bad thing (infanticide and abortion was seen as a good thing among some gnostic communities.

      • Julie Walsh

        Child conceived by miraculous intervention. Child is the only one to carry on the godly line. In the movie, Noah like Abraham seemingly goes crazy–intent upon killing the child out of obedience because he believes God wants it destroyed. Yes, in the movie Noah changes his mind instead of God showing mercy, though. But remembering that the story of Noah is pre-Christ of course–who took upon himself the curses of the Law–God did again want to slay all of the peoples in Exodus 32 and start again with Moses but showed mercy due to Moses’ intercession. The Gnostics were post New Testament times, however.

  • Noah Fan

    All movies have truth in them. Bruce Almighty had some interesting ideas about “why doesn’t God answer all questions”. Evan Almighty was an interesting take on the Noah story – the difference is, it wasn’t called “Noah”. So, people understood it for what it was and could appreciate the comedy and the cultural considerations.

    People make fun of evangelicals not being happy about the liberties taken in the movie: I think they have a right to those opinions. It seems hip to be a progressive, liberal theologian and make fun of evangelical’s reaction to the movie. But, if Dumb and Dumber were renamed “I Have a Dream – The Story of Martin Luther King”, you would be outraged.

    If you are going to create a movie and call it Noah, as a film maker you should keep it close to the story, otherwise, do what they did in Evan Almighty – just give it a different name.

    • Luke Allison

      Keeping it close to the story would mean nobody besides God would speak until Noah curses Ham and blesses Shem and Japheth.

      The story would involve a lot of “Noah doing all that the Lord commanded him.”

      The animal scenes could stay the same.

      We would then move to a thrilling montage of the waters rising and the ark floating. Probably a good 45 minutes of that would suffice. Then we could see a montage of everything dying.

      Then the thrilling conclusion, wherein Noah waits for birds, God creates a rainbow, and then gets drunkenly naked. Stirring stuff.

      I think Dr. Enns had a post on here about how the Bible miniseries didn’t really follow the story, but evangelicals loved it anyway. I suspect that “following the story” is shorthand for “confirmed my theological presuppositions.” I really think it’s that simple.

    • Argo

      The Bible is fiction, so film makers are free to re-interpret it as they would any fictional book.

      • Noah Friend

        So according to your logic, since Huckleberry Finn is fiction I have the freedom to make a movie called “Huckleberry Fin” and make it about a transvestite prostitute who works in LA as a fry cook.

        Don’t know if your logic skills are weak or if you are just an atheist tool trying to make a snarky comment.

  • Marcy Palmeri

    As long as the movie encourages people to think and possibility explore, its done its job. There is no actual way to accurately depict the bible to everyone’s liking, but we all have the resource in which to gain further clarification. If this movie serves to be nothing more than an entertaining tool, so be it. It kept the movie goers from entering the horror movie in the next theatre down and may have opened a mind or two. We can’t expect a movie, one movie to change the minds of the masses, but we can thank it for opening the floor to the many discussions to come.

  • S. Payne

    I enjoyed the film. Including the watchers was interesting, even though it may come out nowhere for viewers that don’t know the extra-biblical material. I would have liked them to go even further into the Nephilim story.

    That being said, I didn’t like the events on the Ark so much. That came out nowhere for me and felt contrived for suspense. While I’m no biblical inerrantist, I am a purist when it comes to works based on other works (whether that be some ancient story or The Hunger Games). I just don’t find any precedent for the main event on the ark and Noah’s particular reaction to it.

    Never-the-less, I liked the ending as well. The incident with Ham and his father was done well.

    • Kathie

      I agree with you there. The original story as told didn’t need to be altered so much for dramatic effect. The Nephilim were giants in the land, a boat full of couples is bound to have conflict, especially with a father that everyone think is crazy plus being shut up inside a boat being tossed about in water. That could have provided plenty of extra tension to the plot. I’m not a biblical purist and I went knowing the story was going to be changed, but I found myself distracted from it because I kept wondering why certainn things were changed.
      That being said, I did somewhat enjoy the film.

  • Lise

    The movie (which I loved) has been flitting in and out of my consciousness all weekend. These are things that keep popping up for me:

    When Ham says, “The animals come in pairs, you have mother, Shem has Ila…. What about me?”, my heart broke. Similarly, Noah’s line to Ila about her being a precious gift, despite being barren was moving. In a society where continuing the family line was so highly valued, I loved that Aronsofsky gave more than a brush stroke here. In our society of increasing alienation, these themes have new resonance. Try being Ham in today’s Christian world. When Ham removes himself from his family, I want to say, “Dude, don’t you see you are so loved and are a part?” And yet, I know many times I have been Ham – walking away from both self-imposed beliefs of not belonging and an experience of genuine separation.

    The other aspect of this film that haunted me was the constant reminder of how we are destroying our planet. It is not just violence that sickens me but also our greed. The degree of ecological damage I’ve witnessed in the last twenty years astounds me. Our hubris will be our demise. What we had remaining of Eden we are arrogantly and foolishly destroying. Our actions are more than a slap in the face to our Creator.

    I’m rambling here. But I liked that the snake wasn’t depicted in black/white terms, the montage during Noah’s monologue on creation brought to mind the comparable and beautiful sequence in “Tree of Life,” and the acting in this film had to work or the film would have been ridiculous. They delivered.

  • Gene Chase

    I wish I could do comedy with a straight face, but the reviewer at The Onion can. You should watch it.,35636/

    • Luke Allison

      That was as priceless as his review of “The Butler.”

  • Billy Bob

    “I feel so bad for Ham.”

    Your readers of Hamitic descent thank you.

    • Preston Garrison

      As well as Ken.

  • Allyson
    • Joel Vaughan

      Ditto that. I’m not enlightened enough to know whether or not this is legit.

      • Luke Allison

        It seems to fit together a little too perfectly. Reviews from Jewish sources have said that he pulls from tons of different kinds of Jewish literature, from Kabbalist to Rabbinic commentary/debate. It’s a bit of a smorgasbord.

        What Dr. Mattson is doing smells a little bit like the conspiracy theory writers who see everything perfectly and then wonder why everyone else doesn’t. It’s one thing to say: “These elements obviously influenced Aranofsky.” It’s another thing to make the leap of saying that Aranofsky is intentionally trying to manipulate and deceive us all for a sinister laugh.
        Then we’ve officially moved into the realm of interpretation. Hard to do, especially when the director himself has given his reasons for making the film.

        • peteenns

          First of all, Luke, your profile pic is freaking me out. as for the Kabbalah review, i think there is definitely something to it (and others have mentioned these points earlier than the review Allyson mentioned), but it struck me as too much too black and white, not to mention triumphalist, in tone. Also, as is often the case, connections to esoteric sources, at least when the general public is concerned, are totally lost and therefore ineffective. If Aronofsky wanted to promote a Kabbalistic agenda, he would likely be quite frustrated. Of course, he is also atheist, but that has no bearing at all in how i saw the story he wove.

          • Luke Allison

            Right. The reviewer seems to start with “Aranofsky is an atheist” which automatically seems to mean he has a devilish agenda of sorts; then moves to “And Aranofsky once made a movie about Kabbalah” (Which Pi wasn’t only about of course). Then the Gnostic connections to Kabbalah, then the content of the film, then the fact that everyone’s missing the point except for him.

            But seriously, what did you think about the snakeskin device in the story? As long as I have you transfixed by my profile picture….

          • Preston Garrison

            Did anyone else understand why Frasier’s wife on Cheers was named Lilith? (I read Paul Johnson’s History of the Jews and remembered a little Kabbalah from there.)

          • In enjoyed his review, but came to a different conclusion. If this movie has deep gnostic themes, then it IS a great conversation starter. Evangelicals having a conversation about gnosticism wouldn’t be a bad thing (our subculture is often unknowingly prone to certain aspects of gnosticism). I did like a comment near the end: “Henceforth, not a single seminary degree is granted unless the student demonstrates that he has read, digested, and understood Irenaeus of Lyon’s Against Heresies.” I’m cool with that. Of course, I do teach Christology 😉

    • Marshall Janzen

      Dr. Mattson writes, “If a serpent skin wrapped around the arm of a godly Bible character doesn’t set off any alarms… I don’t know what to say.”

      Well, at least the movie didn’t have the God-followers make a bronze statue of a serpent, put it on a pole, and then have everyone who looks at it get healed. That would have been way unbiblical.

  • I wrote about it as well. I’m surprised that Noah getting the basic morality thing wrong due to what he thought the Creator commanded (or what the Creator did command?) wasn’t a bigger issue for you.

    As a nuanced (not cartoonish) movie, I liked it as well. But if this has any biblical lessons, that muddies the waters. The bad guys had metallurgy and killed people … but doesn’t that describe Noah as well?

    • tearfang

      “or what the Creator did command?” SPOILER
      I presume you are talking about the twins… What gives you the impression that God commanded Noah to kill them? The impression I got from a number of miracles is that God was sending signs that they should live and Noah was consistently interpreting them incorrectly.

      Original new life sign, sprouting plant, the beginning or everything, Methuselah new adam comment. God’s hand being required to the twins to be conceived. The twins being girls- wife for each of the two other sons- what we need comment. Finding land after the burning of the mini-arc. And even the timing of beaching of the arc. The rain stopping (probably the most ambiguous of the signs and iir the movie gives us competing interpretations of it in two diff characters).

  • skabel

    I didn’t so much mind the Biblical inaccuracies as what they were used for. This was another movie trying to prove that humanity is inherently good and God is not. It’s a misrepresentation of what sinful nature is. When movies make the emotional argument that youth equals innocence, they show that they equate sin with behavior. I believe the Bible teaches that the only light in us is God actively working in us. Our existence presupposes God’s mercy. Our good behaviors show his working in us. Noah makes a very different argument. Aronofsky was trying to convince us that because Ham’s friend and the newborns hadn’t to our knowledge done anything wrong that they deserved to live. It’s modern, humanist philosophy. My life isn’t something I deserve to have. Rather I appreciate it as a gift from God, enabled by the sacrifice of Jesus.

    By the way, Tubal Cain makes strong statements about what it means to be human, and he ends up looking more reasonable than Noah. Intentional, I’m sure.

    • Luke Allison

      Wow. What a wicked pursuit, trying to convince people that newborns deserve to live.

      This is the problem when you sacrifice your humanity on the altar of theological certainty.

    • Derek

      Great comment.

      This is what happens when one is has crucified himself to the world. =)

      • Luke Allison

        They assume that babies deserve to live? Count me in!

    • Andrew

      Where did you get the idea that it was trying to show humanities goodness? I saw the exact opposite.There is a difference between being “inherently good” and being innocent

  • Agni Ashwin

    Your comments are very Enns-ightful.

  • JL Schafer

    I just saw the movie. My take: If Christians could forget what they think they know about the biblical account, sit back and enjoy the film for what it is, they would enjoy it as much as they enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and other films in that genre. It’s an exciting, multilayered film that wrestles with fundamental questions about the character of God and the character of mankind. The overall messages are consistent with big themes of the Bible. God loves his creation and hates what has become of it due to man’s sin, and yet wants to show mercy and redeem the world. But if you sit there judging whether every detail lines up with the Genesis account (which the makers of the film admit that they have taken liberties with) you won’t be able to enjoy it. And if you want a movie that tries to prove the feasibility of the Genesis account as being historically true by modern standards of historical record-keeping, you will be very disappointed; that wasn’t the filmmakers’ agenda.

  • Shawn

    Who doesn’t feel bad for a guy named “Ham”

  • Andrew

    I liked how you get some of the creation account from Noah and some from Tubal-cain. It was interesting how in the movie, the oral tradition was emphasized differently by both guys and they would both eventually shape Genesis 1-2.

  • Joy_F

    Thanks – have been looking forward to seeing the movie and annoyed with all the outrage. Especially after reading that Aronofsky had tried to do a “quasi-midrash” and had consulted with several rabbis in the writing. (He is Jewish after all). I look forward to seeing it!

  • Phil James

    I’m finding this really frustrating. I’ve read review after review that condemns this film because it is clearly and transparently an environmental, Gaia worshipping, earth loving piece of propaganda.

    Now, it is being condemned because it is clearly promoting an ancient godless anti-matter philosophy.

    These contrary charges make the situation clear to me: it’s obvious that the film is guilty; now all that’s left is figuring what to charge it with.

    Reminds me of those in certain camps who wish to criticize Wright’s work on Monday because of his hubris in proposing ‘a complete novelty,’ but who on Wednesday decry it because it’s nothing but Trent warmed over.

    I don’t know why anyone is surprised to find Kabbalistic imagery in the thing. I find Dr Mattson’s self-congratulatory exasperation a little off-putting. No one saw that it was a gnostic movie because…. it is not a gnostic movie; or if it was intended to be, then Afronofsky has sent thousands away inoculated from Gnosticism’s contempt for material creation.

    • Phil James

      Oops. Put this in the wrong place. Should have put it under Luke Allison’s comments below.

      This review wasn’t frustrating. The way in which Dr Mattson’s criticism has now become ‘the obvious one’ is frustrating. Be easier to take seriously, if everyone would first recant of the contrary criticism that was obvious yesterday.

      • peteenns

        Phil, see the response to Mattson’s review below, which has in it a link to an even better review. Mattson makes some interesting points, but there are also some significant problems. There’s always more to be said on any topic, and it seems he crowed a bit too soon.

        • Phil James

          Thank you, sir.

          Oh, and sorry about barging in like I belong. Usually just lurk about. Appreciate you.

  • Heith Bar Alan Wetzler

    First, let me just say, I appreciate your perspective immensely, and your words have profoundly challenged me to take my beliefs more seriously and evaluate them more rigorously.

    Now that I’ve sufficiently buttered you up, my friend referred me to this blog about the apparent blatant Gnostic parallels supposedly purposely explores in Noah. Thoughts?

    • Heith Bar Alan Wetzler

      Wait, looks like someone already posted this.,,

  • Pat68

    Amen on iMAX prices! I could have just seen it in the regular theatre just fine.
    I agree with you about the movie not being so much about him as about the human condition. He is just the movie’s foil. I was able to watch it and reflect on how we all do what he did to one degree or another. A big amen on point #15!
    I actually couldn’t believe that some used God’s lack of voice as a criticism. I would think they wouldn’t want His voice to be heard and I’m sure if it were, there would be critiques about THAT–too deep, not deep enough, not masculine enough, etc.

    • Agni Ashwin

      God speaks Creole.

  • tearfang

    Could you go a little more into point 14 about why you think the movie’s fall doesn’t blame the serpent?

    I thought the movie in fact had a very negative view of the serpent. The serpent sheds its skin of light and gets a new dark skin just before tempting Eve. The fall sequence is turned into a montage that is played over and over again. I thought the snake was always part of that montage. When the snakes are coming onto the arc there is a comment ‘them too?’ expressing surprise that they were going to save snakes (edit: an implicit indictment of blame). And in one of the final scenes on board the arc Tubal Cain, the primary villain, is hiding among the serpents in the arc.

    The only good representation of the serpent is the way the shed snake skin was used, but that was the glowing skin the snake shed before for lack of a better phrase, turning to the dark side (and skin)… precisely why the snake skin was chosen is not at all clear which is perhaps what you were getting at with your point 14, but I think the rest of symbolism in the movie was clear: the serpent started out good, went bad and is blamed. thoughts?

  • Al Cruise

    You are correct in your elevator pitch, on how God can be truly found. That applies to all people of the earth. When we act on mercy, justice, repentance, and forgiveness we move into the presence of God. That can be done outside Evangelical dogma and doctrine. Something that many Evangelicals can’t quite come to terms with.

  • SirThinkALot

    I finally saw Noah. My thoughts:

    As a film, it was great. Great story, great action sequences, interesting and well developed characters. Just a great overall piece of film making.

    As an interpretation of the Bible, it was lacking, although not nearly as bad as it has been made out to be. The whole ‘watchers’ concept has no particular basis, in fact I’m a little surprised that they went with that, and not the Nephilim, those giants born when angels had sex with human women, that are specifically described in the Bible. I also find the idea that the destruction was primarily about industrialization and the destruction of nature pretty iffy. I mean building the ark would have been a massive industrial undertaking back then. And its purpose was not merely to protect the animals, but also to protect God’s chosen people as well.

    Which actually brings me to my biggest problem with the film: the characterization of Noah. The film makes him out to be a genocidal maniac who wants nothing more than to see humanity wiped out, and only relents at last minuet because he cant bear to kill a baby with his own hands.

    But the Biblical story of the flood isnt just about judgement(although thats part of it to be sure), but about giving humanity a second chance. Thats WHY humans were on the Ark to begin with. If God only cared about the animals, he could have protected them any number of other ways. But God chose to protect a few humans as well so they could be given a second chance.

    But the way the film portrays its main and titular character completely undermines that point. Making it seem like God wanted humanity wiped out as well. Even implying(although admittedly its not completely clear) that Noah was disobeying God by letting humanity live.

    What I loved about it as an interpretation of the Bible is that it is expressly NOT the ‘happy cute version’ of the flood story you see in far, far too many nursery schools and childrens Bibles. The story of the flood is not a happy story, its a story of a wrathful God and a world so irredeemably wicked that he destroys literally everything except his chosen people, in order to have a ‘fresh start.’ Its not even a happy ending for those people, God had just destroyed literally everything they had ever known or loved, and forced them to figure out how to rebuild the world from nothing. No wonder Noah turned to drink after the flood. That would drive even the most devout Mormon to drink.