Review: ‘Noah’ a Rare Bible Movie that Never Preaches, Never Browbeats

Review: ‘Noah’ a Rare Bible Movie that Never Preaches, Never Browbeats March 21, 2014

If you look closely at the image of God bringing life to Adam in the Sistine Chapel ceiling painting by Michelangelo, you’ll see the iconic work of art is not Biblically accurate.

Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. – Genesis 2:7

And yet, the image of God reaching down to touch Adam, rather than breathe into his nostrils, is beautiful and true and touches the soul.

Nor was Rembrandt there at the raising of Jesus’s cross, although he painted himself into the scene in Raising of the Cross, as Jonathan Merritt points out over at RNS. His painting is not merely a retelling of the factual story but a theological statement.

Which brings us to Darren Aronofsky’s Noah, a work of art in film and a theological exploration of the ways of God and man, the likes of which have not been seen on the big screen since No Country for Old Men or The Tree of Life.

Anyone hoping to see merely an accurate portrayal of the few verses in Genesis is thinking too small. The movie is much bigger, much richer, and much more exciting than that.

It’s the kind of movie that Christians, indeed everyone, should want Hollywood to make.

Darren Aronofsky has breathed fresh life into a treasured story and made it a story everyone can enjoy and everyone can ponder.

The action starts in a predeluvian world, somewhere between the Garden of Eden and present day. In style, it’s a little bit Braveheart and a little bit Lord of the Rings. Noah, his wife, and his sons live gentle lives, at peace with man and nature. They take what they need and do their best to avoid the rest of mankind, those who would take not only what they need, but take from others as well, by force.

There’s a mystical quality to this early earth: Anthony Hopkins plays Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather and the oldest recorded man in the Bible. He is wise, very wise, and a conduit for the Creator’s mystical power. Other beings also roam this early earth. They are the nephilim, heavenly creatures entrapped on the barren planet.

The family of Noah stand alone in a humanity that has horribly, terribly lost its way. They value life. Mankind considers it cheap. They value kindness and respect. Mankind honors only strength and power.

It’s not so different, at its core, than our world now.

Except that Noah has disturbing visions. He knows the Creator is speaking to him, and the message is anything but gentle: Mankind has contaminated creation. Mankind has violated everything: Earth, animals, spiritual beings, each other.

It’s time to put a stop to it. God is going to send a flood. And Noah had better get ready. He is to build a refuge for the innocents, the animals. How can he restore the earth when he can’t perfect his love of his own family, especially his son Ham (Logan Lerman)?

Russell Crowe does a wonderful job as Noah, a decent man tasked with a huge burden. He is tortured, yes, but resolute. Jennifer Connelly, equally resolute, becomes a lovely voice of mercy in an increasingly dark story. Emma Watson, as Noah’s adopted daughter, has a surprisingly large role. She is occasionally overwrought, but still a fine actor.

Darren Aronofsky has proven himself a lyrical director in the past and this movie is no different. The images are stunning at times: when the Creator provides a forest in a wasteland with which to build the ark it not only moves the plot along but conjures images of life versus desolation, renewal versus devastation, the water of life. When the rain pours and the deeps open and the waves crash, the film recalls great art such as the woodcarvings of Gustave Doré: dark, desperate bodies writing on rocks.

For all the grief that has preceded this movie, there is no softening of the central story as often happens in Christian depictions of it. The flood is not regional, not muted, not filled with smiling animals and sunny skies. It is a cataclysmic event. It is exciting and dreadful and total.

The biggest surprise of the movie, besides Noah’s dark inner conflict, comes in the person of Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone), a tribal leader determined to survive the flood by force of will. “I am man made in Your image,” he cries to the Creator as he sharpens a sword for battle, “Why do you not converse with me?”

He goes on: “I give life. I take life away. I am like You, am I not?” This man, this personification of the wickedness of humanity, believes in the Creator but will have his own way. He will control his own destiny.

He is not unlike Satan in Paradise Lost. 

This is heady stuff for an action movie, and action movie it is, what with all the crashing waves and clanging swords.

I was never bored in this film. I was never embarrassed because it became too corny or trite or simplistic or unprofessional. Both those happen in Christian subculture movies. But this isn’t a Christian subculture movie. It’s a mainstream movie with deep theological themes.

It is just a good movie, a good movie made for everyone, that happens to be based on a Bible story.

Rated PG-13, the film has clean language and no overt sexuality, although one storyline does involve a pregnancy. The violence is not gory. The hardest thing about this film for kids is the dark thematic material: God destroying humanity. There are plenty of images of death, both in visions and in the action. This may be very disturbing for some youngsters and is a good reason to limit the viewing to teens.

The film differs from religious movies we all know in that the viewer doesn’t feel browbeaten at the end, forced to either accept or reject some theological point of contention. Rather, it opens questions and lets them linger. For all its talk of Creator, creation, and sin, it never preaches.

Ultimately, the movie explores hope versus despair, mercy in tension with justice, second beginnings. It is dark, but the darkness makes the clearing skies all the more lovely. It is a work of art and one that I recommend seeing, for believers and nonbelievers alike.

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101 responses to “Review: ‘Noah’ a Rare Bible Movie that Never Preaches, Never Browbeats”

  1. Nice review Rebecca. I was interested in how you contrast this movie to most Christian-produced movies. I too find Christian movies tend to be “corny or trite or simplistic or unprofessional.” It’s funny that secular productions have always told Biblical stories much better than Christian movies. Why do you think that is? I would think that Christians, who should be more familiar with the Bible, and who profess to be committed to truth, would tend to create more honest and accurate films. Plus, they have a special connection with the author of the Bible: you’d expect they’d make the better Bible based films, no?

    I don’t know if you’re a Christian, but if you are, I appreciate the candor and insight you display. Christian filmmakers could take a cue from you.

  2. And what about the environmentalism? No mention of that in the review. Genesis is NOT about wacky Gaia worship.

  3. Not saying the word “God”, but “creator” gives a lot of food for thought. Is God different from the creator? Did Noah have free will? If so, could he have saved more humans? Do we have to be environmentalists to be considered “good”? I loved your review by the way.

  4. Thanks.

    If you think about it in terms of what Noah would have known of God, it pretty much is two things. 1) He created everything and 2) He got mad when Cain killed Abel. Anything else about God is a later revelation, right? So Creator seems to be extremely theologically correct.

    The other questions are such good ones too. And I love the phrase “room for thought.” That’s exactly what’s happening here.

  5. Interesting review. I didn’t like the trailer and as an atheist I’m not particularity interested in the subject, but after reading your review, I might give it a try. Thank you.

  6. I love this question—it’s one I ask myself all the time. I think one big reason is that Christians have a preconceived notion of what God and man in the Bible are like, and are prone to think conservatively about what it all means. On the flip side, so-called secularists (I use this word carefully, anyone can have faith, after all) who want to approach the holy might feel more free to look for unconventional and even radical things. It’s a hard balance though because that sometimes ends in disastrous statements about God that are just not true. A truly gifted artist (I consider Aranofsky one) can find the balance. It sounds like he may have done just that. OH HOW I PINE for good Biblical movies. I hope this is just the beginning of many, many more.

  7. Good review. As your opening graphic suggests, you argue that Bible stories should be given a chance to exist and even evolve as art and not just dogma. Indeed, perhaps this was always the case – or at least the original case. The Biblical account of the Flood is actually a pretty direct lift and re-telling of the more ancient Mesopotamian legend of Gilgamesh (literalists go look it up). In this sense, the Biblical version is already Noah 2.0. And now it appears we have a Noah 3.0 to ponder and enjoy – ah, such is human creativity. Consider also that in ancient times it would have been gripping tales told around an evening fire – perhaps acted out to some extent, subtlety modified by the teller – that would have performed the role of populist entertainment – read cinema – of the day.

    Thank you Rebecca. Because of your review I am that much more likely to give this movie a chance.

  8. I’m a huge fan of Aronofsky. I’ll have to wait for this film to be released on DVD, though, as I’m short on cash, and would definitely want repeat viewings….

  9. I appreciate your different take than what I have seen others say. While I appreciate artistic movies, I have some trouble with taking liberties with biblical stories because so often people think it is true. People rarely ever take the time to REALLY understand the Bible. They love to take obscure nuggets to develop their view of God and Scriptures. Two big issues I recently saw–which are not addressed here–what about the rock people and Noah attempting to kill his family. The rock people make the story sound like a myth and the murderous attempts are not at all in line with Noah’s character as we know it. Early reviews discussed the global warming issue. Perhaps that was removed. Perhaps you buy into it so it did not seem to be an issue for you. I don’t know. I think I will wait for it to come on video.

  10. The only reason it is even watchable is that it wasn’t conceived as a Bible movie, but just a movie; based on an ancient fairy tale for children that a distressingly large number of adult Americans believe actually happened. (Probably largely overlapping the 25% that think the sun goes around the Earth.) And disregarding that unfortunate truth, it’s a great story to make a movie out of as long as you just let it be a story.
    If you want to see exactly why so many Christian movies suck, have a look at “God Is Not Dead,” a steaming pile of pandering drivel whose plot is basically one of those Fwd>fwd>fwd>fwd glurge-mails you used to get from your annoying right-wing great-aunt-in-law from Florida before you added her to your spam filter.

  11. So – if the movie does not warn of the danger of sin (the reason for the flood) there is no real reason for Christians to attend? This article seems to overlook God’s purposes for everything in Genesis and instead is just for the action.

  12. I think the movie is approachable for both people who believe that it’s fact and people who see it as a mythical story. That’s almost besides the point here. The film takes the story on its own terms and treats it with respect, which is what you need to do whether you’re telling a factual story or a myth.

  13. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    The rock people are the nephilim, which are clearly mentioned in Genesis and which have been confusing theologians for centuries. We simply don’t know what they were exactly. So the rock people are a backstory for them and I will tell you that it does not contradict the scripture, but does dramatize it.

    As far as Noah’s struggle…first, he isn’t going to kill his family. That’s a mischaracterization of the storyline. There is a point in which he does contemplate that it is his duty to fulfill God’s mission by killing someone. I won’t tell you what happens but I will say that actually is one of the highlights of the story for me. They let Noah wrestle, really wrestle, with God’s purity, His decision to send judgement on mankind, and how that intersects with original sin that Noah knows is in himself and his own family. It’s a pondering on the scripture, kind of imagining what it would have felt like to be Noah.

    No one would say that is actually what happened, least of all the filmmakers. They would say that it could have happened and it’s their imagination of what they think would have happened if it had been them.

    We don’t know much about Noah’s character, actually, everything we think we know is interpretation of the text. It says so very little about him.

    I like that storyline very much because it made me think.

    Global warming is never mentioned or referred to.

  14. I am a Christian, BTW.

    Good art is very, very hard. And non-Christians make lots of bad movies, bad art, and bad music as well. I mean quality-wise here, not like subject matter. So it’s not just us. Good movies can be nothing short of a miracle, Christian-friendly or not. (And I’d argue that the good ones are at some level Christian-friendly because they are at some level true and that is by definition connected to God.)

    We have to be willing to be challenged. For me, it comes down to loving and understanding ALL the characters, not just the Christian ones. So, if there is, say, a bad guy, like maybe a party animal (like in Grace Unplugged) or a pro-abortion person (like in Gimme Shelter), respecting and understanding and loving the character enough to make them relatable and sympathetic on some level. Not expecting easy answers and a neat ending, but just some progress toward truth. If a character gets closer to understanding, love, and truth, that is inherently Christian. They don’t necessarily have to convert and spend their lives as missionaries in Africa for it to be a good story, a true story.

  15. No. I am not going to see this piece of garbage. Don’t you dare call this a Biblical story, because simply, this is not.

  16. And yet, God is Not Dead drew in over 8 million on a limited screen release. Intolerance much?

  17. Can’t wait to see it. I feel sorry for unbelievers because….they don’t believe. Noah happened – I have no doubt about it. Considering the Ark was figured to be built over a period of 75-125 years, WHO KNOWS what the guy came up against? Imagine having nobody on the planet supporting your vision, outside of family. Tell me you wouldn’t go a little crazy over a hundred years of you against the world. Thanks for the thoughtful review. I read Glen Beck’s account in which he dissed the whole thing. Glen’s a great guy – I think he probably missed the boat this time. (pun intended) So little is known about Noah that it gives plenty of license to be creative. Good for Aronofsky. I’m going to enjoy seeing the Word of God brought to life in epic form. Don’t think anyone can talk me out of it at this point. 🙂

  18. Thank you for this review. I intend to see the movie, and I have been taken aback by the many blogs and comments about this movie by Christians who haven’t even SEEN it yet, but are decrying it based on what they’ve heard about it. One person even complained that she was appalled that Noah got drunk. According to Scripture, Noah did get drunk. I’m hoping that people who are ready to be mad about it will go read the Bible and see what it really says.

  19. OK Rebecca – you may be correct. I have not seen the movie, just going by the various reviews – both pro and con. However, I do sort of doubt that “the entire movie” is about the dangers of sin and whether or not that means mankind should be saved or doomed. The producers do not believe that, and have not mentioned that is or was their focus. However, you must have seen the movie and I will waity for further review or see it myself. Thanks

  20. Yes I have seen it. I would never review a movie without seeing it.

    But that’s what the story is about, at its core. Sin. Judgement. The question of mercy. That’s the big arc, although there are smaller story arcs in there too.

    I would love to hear your thoughts after seeing it.

  21. Is there environmentalism in the movie? That’s the thing that would keep me away and has nothing to do with the story of Noah. Interpretation is one thing…but just putting some political rant in there is another.

  22. Taking Noah’s story in the book of Genesis chapters 6 through 8 seriously as I do, even without a dazzling, frightening, sensory Hollywood motion picture incarnation, every Bible-believer—whether Muslim, Jew, or Christian– is left with “questions” that “linger” as you say, Ms. Cusey, does Darren Aronofsky’s movie Noah, in your very engaging, informative review.

    Even the most learned Bible scholars have lingering questions about Noah and the Ark, such as: who were the “sons of God,” if they are angelic beings how could they have children with human females, who were the Nephilim,” how wicked were the antediluvians to make God repent, why would God choose a man who would get drunk as a skunk to restart humanity?

    Aronofsky is to be greatly appreciated for making a picture that will make Bible-believers and non-believers think about the ancient book of Beginnings’ story about the interactions among God, possibly angelic beings/super human beings, human beings, and all the amazing animals on earth—a story to borrow from Frodo Baggins that is both a very sad-story and a very happy-story.

    I’m very much looking forward to checking it out; I wish it great success. Thank you, Rebecca; well done.

  23. So how much did they pay you to do this review. Its a non-Christian movie but you are trying to get Christians to see it and support them while they re-wrote it on purpose. Mad no Cusey just not falling for lies.

  24. It’s not a political rant. Not by any means. I know them when I see them and I always call them out.

    There is the sense that everything, including creation, was created good and everything, including creation, was fouled by man. Which is also in the text. So I think if people are looking for it to be “environmentalism” they will see it. But I think it’s bigger and richer and more theological than that.

  25. It’s hardly worth answering….I was not paid to do this review. It reflects what I really think. I’d be offended by the suggestion, but it’s so outside of understanding the role of a critic that I’m not even upset.

    As for “trying to get Christians to see” a “non-Christian” movie, I do not believe there are Christian and non-Christian movies. Those are unhelpful labels and I do not use them or think that way. There are just movies. Some are valuable to some people. Others are not. For a variety of reasons.

    My job is to help people have a sense if the movie will be worth spending a few bucks to see, for them.

    I think this one is. I would (and probably will) spend money to see it. You are free to make up your own mind. You don’t need anyone, least of all me, giving you permission to see a movie. You are not a child. Christians are not children.

  26. That would be like watching a movie about the Cross and not saying the name Jesus. PC movies they try to push to not offend others. I am not ashamed of the Cross are any other Christians.

  27. Taking Noah’s story in the book of Genesis chapters 6 through 8 as seriously
    as I do, even without a dazzling, frightening, sensory Hollywood motion picture
    incarnation, every Bible-believer—whether Muslim, Jew, or Christian– is left
    with “questions” that “linger” as you say, Ms. Cusey, does Darren Aronofsky’s
    movie Noah, in your very engaging, informative review.

    Even the most learned Bible scholars have lingering questions about Noah
    and the Ark, such as: who were the “sons of God,” if they are angelic beings
    how could they have children with human females, who were the Nephilim,” how
    wicked were the antediluvians to make God repent, why would God choose a man
    who would get drunk as a skunk to restart humanity?

    Aronofsky is to be greatly appreciated for making a picture that will make
    Bible-believers and non-believers think about the ancient book of Beginnings’
    story about the interactions among God, possibly angelic beings/super human
    beings, human beings, and all the amazing animals on earth—a story to borrow
    from Frodo Baggins that is both a very sad-story and a very happy-story.

    I’m very much looking forward to checking it out; I wish it great success.
    Thank you, Rebecca; well done.

  28. Thank you for the non shrill and thoughtful review of the film. I don’t know if it will be any good or not, but you’ve approached it as a feature film (which it is), and not as a documentary about the Noah account (which it isn’t). The quality and accuracy of the film is yet to be seen by the general public, but unfortunately that’s not the case for the terrible witness that many Christians have displayed toward Mr. Aronofsky and Mr. Crowe and many of the other people involved in the film is atrocious. Judging things sight unseen is a very ungodly behavior and I’m thankful that you’ve shed a little light on a film that I was interested in but not sure if it was worth seeing. You have convinced me that it is worth seeing.

  29. How do you know it’s a piece of garbage? And how do you know it is so completely not a biblical movie that you feel the need to order the reviewer not to call it one…when you’re not going to even see it?

  30. Interesting, however I have a few question for you.
    1. In the film what does the Ark represent? 2. In the film does Noah tell the people that they need to repent and turn to God? 3. Is Noah in the film portrayed as being righteous? If yes then why does he attempt to kill his grandchildren? 4. Does the film share a message of the Gospel, in as much as salvation? 5. Is the film a good Biblical interpretation?
    No of cause I haven’t seen the film, but a review I read from a Christian has gotten me very concerned. Darren Aronofsky said about the film Noah is “the least Biblical Biblical film ever made. Really? with that in mind can a Christian really encourage other Christians to go and see it? Can a Christian encourage non-Christians go and see it even if they have no understanding of the ‘truth’ written in scripture?

  31. 1) It represents a lot of things. I’d be curious what you thought it represented and what you think it should represent.
    2) No. He does not to my memory. Neither does he do that in the Biblical text. Go back and read it. You are taking an interpretation as truth. It may be a good interpretation. I’d believe God led Noah to beg people to repent. I would myself interpret it that way. But that is not in the Biblical text in any way and you adding an extra-Biblical element to the text.
    3) He is righteous. But what does that mean? Righteous is not the same as sinless. It is not the same as not having doubts or struggles.
    4) No overt Gospel (and Noah had no overt Gospel either) but a message of hope and renewal and mercy. So yes and no.
    5) I think it’s a good Biblical dramatization.

    To your final paragraph, Christians can see films that are bad Biblical interpretation. Our salvation does not rest on whether every film we see is theologically prefect. We can even be moved by and learn from incorrect interpretations or stories. Our faith is not so weak, hopefully, that a movie that is off will sink it. Christians are not children. We do not need to be protected from sincere, beautiful questions.

  32. Thank you for commenting. I agree that judging things sight unseen is ungodly behavior. I also think self-righteousness and self-satisfaction is less godly than humility.

    Please, if you remember, let me know your reactions once you’ve seen it.

  33. Rebecca. I thought your article was well done, but a couple of thoughts to add. You were celebrating how you were not embarrassed because Noah was too trite, or too corny and you cited the usual low budget, low quality movies that our Christian community so often produces.
    However, I must wonder which one God Himself would prefer? Would He prefer the movie with extravagant special effects, but a storyline that did not stay completely true to the Scriptures, or would He prefer the ones that were indeed “campy” but shared the absolute and whole truth that human sinfulness cannot be cured by any other means than by the mercy of God himself? The Biblical story of Noah is at its heart a story of deliverance, and to water it down even a little (pun intended) does not do the God of the Bible justice.
    Are we Christians too quick to sell out our Holy Book and Holy Stories for a good movie that will probably have absolutely no eternal value to anyone? Or should we be encouraging Christian film producers to keep faithful to the Scriptures but to write better scripts with better special effects?

  34. Does the film point to Jesus, as every Bible story does? Are the baptismal implications clear anywhere in the film? The whole of Noah’s story IS the Gospel! The Law of God kills the whole world, but because of Noah’s FAITH, he and his family are saved from judgement in the ark of JESUS (aka a direct foreshadowing of baptism). Is it clear that faith is the difference between Noah and the rest of the world?

    The couple reviews I’ve read often come away from this film with little more than the idea that we should be “more careful stewards of the only planet we’ve got.” That’s a pretty awful reaction to Noah’s story.

  35. I don’t think the message is at all “we should be careful stewards,” although I do think that’s a noble message and a Christian one, it’s not the main thrust of the movie.

    The main thrust of the movie explores original sin and mercy, as it relates to mankind.

  36. I admit I haven’t either, but I imagine the experiences were rather similar.

    I’m not sure what threw me off more, Noah’s infanticidal tendencies, the Rock-Ents, the Battle of Helm’s Ark, or Tubal-Cain quoting Ann Coulter.

  37. I saw your comments on another site that wasn’t so kind to the movie or people who liked it. I came to your site and am not a fan and will read your take on things in the future.

  38. Thank you for your thoughtful review, Rebecca. I am genuinely looking forward to seeing this movie.

  39. The story isn’t just a folktale with themes of hope vs. despair, or mercy and justice. For a Christian with a biblical worldview, Noah was an actual person that God considered RIGHTEOUS and the flood historical fact. Portraying Noah as a rage-a-holic hypocrite who won’t pick a wildflower but murder his own flesh and blood is hardly a respectful interpretation of the text. Neither is portraying God as small-minded, elevating animals above humans in God’s sight, or completely contradicting Scripture in making mankind meat-eaters before the flood. This article is ridiculous and cloying.

  40. I am a Christian with a Biblical worldview.


    For the record, you’re mischaracterizing the story. I’m sensing you haven’t seen the film.

  41. The giants are briefly mentioned in the bible and expanded upon in the book of Enoch. Enoch is a later Jewish apocalyptic work that directly ties those fallen angels to the cause of the flood. In time they become very much like vampire spirits. They know no obstacles, pursue women to torment them, drink blood, are bound to the earth, etc.

  42. Rebecca, I so appreciate your thoughts. Your review of this movie is wonderful and seems to frame it well (I plan on seeing it in the next couple of days). More importantly, your openness to wonder and explore what it means to read scripture and follow Christ are evident and encouraging to read. I appreciate the ways you are responding with such gentleness to people in the comments section also. And your views on scripture and God’s story and the nature of sin that are coming through as you discuss below are all really helpful and encouraging. Thanks for your work!

  43. Don’t forget the midrash where Methuselah wields a fiery sword! The story of Noah is not a story that belongs to Christians. It belongs to Jews.

  44. Yes. Thanks.

    Although, I’m pretty sure that when I talked to him Aronofsky kept saying “prediluvian” which I didn’t really think anything about at the time, but now I wonder if it’s a word too.

  45. People complaining about environmentalism in Noah seem to intentionally ignore what the movie actually says. The destruction of the environment is only one manifestation of the evil of man. It’s not even the most impactful of the sins depicted on screen.

    However, the wildflower scene provides plenty of ammo for critics. It’s a bad introduction to the mature Noah. It’s our first contact with this version of the character, so it’s the one that lingers for a good while. Worst of all, it was done better in the earlier script drafts and subsequent comic.

    In these earlier versions, while picking “useful” plants, Ham is distracted by the pretty flowers. He puts a bunch of them in his father’s satchel, who at first doesn’t notice but then removes them. Ham tries to sneak the flowers back, at which point Noah catches and startles him. But then he tells Ham to pick more for his mother.

    In the finished movie, the flower scene is meant to be a lesson. However it comes across as harsh and petty. Something is off in the delivery.

    Anyway, it’s very easy to fling mud at Noah thanks to various bizzare elements: the fallen angels, the snake skin, the whole vegetarian thing… They all have explanations that can be traced back to the Bible, to non-canonical texts or traditions. It’s a solid story with airtight logic and nothing was included just for spectacle or to generate controversy. It saddens me, but somehow it does not surprise me, that many Christians call it an insult to God. It seems they pass judgment quickly and never stop to actually think about this movie. I suppose that’s more comfortable than engaging in the research and discussion of obscure elements of faith, tradition and artistry.

  46. As a non-Christian (atheistic Buddhist, though I draw inspiration from a wide variety of spiritual traditions, including Christianity), I was gratified to see a film that, while based on a biblical story, wasn’t afraid to examine the story from a human perspective, draw from more sources than just the few verses in Genesis and take a look at what the real impact of such a literally world-shattering event would be.


    The Watchers are based on folktales and esoterica found in both Kaballa and Gnostic sources, and they raise questions on what kind of God would punish his servants for trying to do the right thing. I’m not completely sure, but I think I even heard Noah call one of them Samael, which was Lucifer’s original name according to some sources. The notion of angels falling from grace for love of man, rather than from petty jealousy, is a refreshing change from Christianity and American culture’s common understanding.

    To me, while the most obvious conflict is Noah’s guilt over leaving the rest of the world’s population to die and his attempts to convince himself that humanity has to end with his family, the most tragic character is actually Tubal Cain. Yes, he is ruthless, evil and cruel, but his scene demanding that God speak to him shows him to be wracked by fear, doubt and yes, guilt. He is evil because he was raised in a dog-eat-dog culture with no room or respect for mercy or kindness, and so he sees such things as weaknesses. In Buddhist understanding, he would be classified as a hungry ghost, forever grasping after what he wants, but never finding any satisfaction in it. Even leaving aside the environmental message, the culture portrayed among the descendants of Cain could easily be a satirical representation of modern America, with a powerful few wielding absolute control over the many’s resources and survival.

    Noah’s struggles with his task and his attempts to convince himself and his family that everyone outside the Ark deserves to die are a refreshingly honest look at what being in a position to decide who lives and dies can do to a person. Imagine every shell-shocked soldier, every guilt-ridden executioner, everyone who’s ever killed another in self-defense, and multiply those feelings by millions. It’s only natural that he would retreat into misanthropy in an attempt to reconcile his conscience with his actions, convincing himself that he and his family had been chosen for survival from purely practical considerations, rather than any righteousness of their own.

    The final explanation for why Ila had twin girls, that God ultimately placed the decision of whether mankind was worth saving in Noah’s hands, is a striking and emotional scene because it so closely reflects real life. Every day, we make the decision whether to treat people as equals or objects, as worthy or unworthy of consideration and empathy. In a very real way, this reflects what Jesus said about hate and murder being equal, and while I don’t agree that the thought is the same as the action, the thought will always be the seed of the action. Noah’s thoughts almost lead him to the action of murder, but ultimately his mind and nature are like the sun: It can be obscured by clouds, but it is always there. He comes to appreciate that there is good in everyone, and it is worth giving them a chance, even if it means feeling that you’ve failed in something that God has told you to do. It is the story of Abraham and Isaac, but without Abraham’s frankly sociopathic dedication to obedience.

  47. Well they both involve playing around with Latin prefixes. In the past, ante- was more popular. That’s why “antebellum” refers to a time before a war, specifically used for “before the American Civil War”. Pre- is more common these days.

    I believe it would more generally correct to say antediluvian and preflood.

  48. Since Aronofsky had taken a lot from the Midrash, I feel compelled to point out that the Bible says Noah was “Righteous in his generation”, and some of the Midrash commentators point that out, that compared to others, he was righteous, but compared to later people, like Abraham, he was not nearly on the same level.

    Secondly, while God first says, “Eat meat” after the flood, most scholars believe that it was after being kicked out of the Garden of Eden that meat eating began.

    Anyway, I agree with Rebecca, you’re mischaracterizing the whole thing and probably have not actually seen it.

  49. Considering Darren is Jewish, and Ari his co-writer is also Jewish, my guess is that there is absolutely nothing about, or pointing to, Jesus in this film.

  50. Therefore, why should anyone think this film is valuable to Christians in any way beyond a generic Hollywood drama? Obviously Aronofsky can make any film he wants; that’s his right. But having a biblical veneer on it shouldn’t compel anyone to praise the thing just because it *looks* Christian.

  51. The short answer here is that “A Jewish interpreation of Noah” doesn’t sell things. Despite the obvious Jewishness, and the fact that Darren and Ari both talk about the Midrash and other distinctly Jewish tomes / ideas, this is hardly ever mentioned because they are too small a group.

  52. So our reading today was from Hosea and I thought it really summed up some of this “environmentalism” issue:

    Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites, because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. 2There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. 3 Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.

    Chapter 4.

  53. This was definitely not a bible movie. Beyond Noah, the ark, and the flood there was really nothing pertaining to the bible.

  54. Seems a fair review, all in all. I have been curious about seeing the movie. As I tend to view Genesis as more Jewish myth than literal historical truth, I will likely not have to worry about having my Christian sensibilities too hounded by what is shown plus they reached into apocryphal text for some of it which is very cool.

  55. Nice review – and enjoyed the comments, too. One thing you have to admit – Aronofsky has created a film that has people talking, from all walks of life. Would that our “faith-based” films would have such an impact!

  56. Rebecca, you are the epitome of grace and graciousness, the way you’re fielding these questions. I loved your review, and I loved the movie… for all the reasons you did. Keep writing and opening hearts!

  57. I think it’s because Aronofsky doesn’t answer all the questions and tie up all the ends for the audience. “Faith-based” films don’t trust their audience enough to let them ponder the questions. We always have to make SURE they know the TRUTH before they can leave the theater.

  58. I feel like it’s tremendously cool to learn about Jewish tradition and thought about the stories. There’s a lot of wisdom there, even if it’s not the inspired word of God like some of us believe the Biblical canon is.

    Plus, it’s just interesting!

  59. Well, being a movie critic, I think all kinds of films are valuable. I think there is truth in many many films, truth about what it means to be human, about good and evil. So on that basis alone, I would say it’s valuable.

    This film goes beyond that and explores the nature of God and man’s relationship to Him. It may not get it all right, I happen to think it’s very deep, but I like that it makes me think about that.

    Plus, it’s got beauty. Beauty is valuable in its own right.

  60. Exactly! I’d invite you to read my blog, “What’s Wrong with Christian Filmmaking”, which to my utter amazement, has had over 80,000 hits in the last few days. The things that you have been saying here mirror what I wrote in that article. Nice to know there are so many kindred spirits out there! Maybe we are actually in store for a renaissance in “faith based” art?


  61. Okay. Saw the film. Will try to talk about it without any serious spoilers. If I’m too wordy, I apologize ahead of time, but I just saw it and all this is buzzing in the noggin — It WAS interesting. It was visually stunning. It did deal with very biblical themes and ideas. I thought it was fairly respectful while, at the same time, also being purposefully controversial. It seems clear to me that the film-makers see the account of Noah as a myth and treated it as such. It seemed a bit like Lord of the Rings meets Noah. They seem to have spent a lot of time asking themselves “what’s the motivation” for the characters and let that drive the story. Nothing unusual from that vantage. — I thought the acting was great. Russell Crowe is simply a compelling actor. A few scenes seemed on the verge of over acting and slightly clumsy, but it was effective overall. — I thought the melodrama that drove the entire section after the flood, on the Ark, was over-done and slightly cheesy. It seems to have been dreamed up because they had to dream up something, though it did bring up issues of original sin and explore Noah’s realization that we are all sinners. So it had it’s merits. Seems like they could have done better. — The change up of characters (and/or elimination of characters) from the Bible to the film seemed inexplicable to me. The actor playing Tubal Cain was great, but the through life of that character seemed contrived in order to provide and effective villian/foil. The way they left the film sort of open regarding what God was (or wasn’t) communicating and how the characters were interpreting what they believed God was saying was interesting throughout. I personally don’t fine environmentalism to be an anti Bible thing, when you take the politics out of it, God made us “stewards” of the creation. That means caring for the environment, and the film tried to communicate that. But it WAS presented somewhat politically as clearly contrasted against the “industrial” cities of Cain’s descendents, which were clearly presented as evil. Industrial nations are characterized by this as essentially evil and self serving. — As a whole, it was a very mixed bag. I don’t feel it was “about” the Noah account. It seems to be “about” some theological and social/philosophical ideas. The Bible story simply gave them a framework to explore those ideas. Kind of like how the film “Doubt” wasn’t really about the Catholic church, even though the Catholic church was the setting to explore broader ideas.– Peace. And thanks again for the great review.

  62. Myth isn’t without value, even historical. I am sure somewhere in Jewish history is a great flood that inspired the story. Or perhaps it is symbolic of another story of the Jewish people. There is a lot to learn in such stories about the people who brought you the Scripture we believe in today. As such, I would agree with this importance it holds (even if I doubt the historicity). Didn’t want to make it seem like I was just saying it was pure fiction or disregarding it as worthy of consideration as my previous comment came off that way, being so short.

  63. First of all it is unfair to hold artists accountable for the existence of ignorant people. Second,it is arrogant to assume that most viewers won’t try to understand the Bible.

  64. Just came back from seeing NOAH with my daughter. Nothing prepared me for what a fantastic movie it is! We both enjoyed it! It is one of the best Bible epics ever! I saw nothing gnostic or kabbalistic or even politically correct about it AT ALL. It is a VERY pro-life film, and filled with Catholic symbolism reminiscent of the writings of the Fathers. It is a work of art. My daughter was very excited to see Methuselah portrayed in a film. It is a great film for tweens and teens. Of course, she is already familiar with the Old Testament and we take her to a lot of art galleries so she is able to appreciate a film which is rich in symbolic imagery. It has already led to some great conversations!

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