A Worthy, But Backwards Facing Noah

Noah

With so much at play in discussing Darren Aronofsky’s Noah as a Christian movie viewer, I’m honestly not sure how to approach this film review.

If you are looking for someone to tell you, “Go see this and support biblical films in Hollywood” or “Boycott this unbiblical abomination,” you’ve come to the wrong place.

I will not tell you what you should do, except to say, make an informed personal decision. Hopefully, this review will help with the informed part of that. (I also put together a Lamp Post round-up dedicated specifically to Noah with filmmakers interviews and reviews, both positive and negative.)

In my mind, there are at least three factors involved in evaluating this movie – artistic quality, biblical adaptation and theological perspective. Each are worthy of consideration, with the title of this post coming from the latter of those.

Artistic Quality

Noah posterNoah is a visually stunning film. Somehow, it is able to simultaneously balance the feeling of an epic with the creativity of an arthouse flick. This was clearly a work of passion by Aronofsky, who says he has been obsessed with this story since he was a young boy.

The film is full of such grand scenes, but tells the story in a creative and not always linear way. Noah has visions and flashbacks. He retells the story of creation to his family on the ark. We all know the basic elements of the biblical story, so these work to give it new life and perspective.

Russell Crowe continues to be impressive. The angst-driven, conflicted Noah is able to carry the load of the film. All of the supporting cast were excellent. Anthony Hopkins provided well-timed comic relief moments. Emma Watson perhaps seemed the least ready for such a role, but she still did admirably.

The brightest performance belonged to Jennifer Connelly as Noah’s wife Naameh. She was absolutely perfect. Her character required a lot of nuance to portray. She captured well the loving wife and mother, who wanted to follow her husband as he followed God, but struggled with many of the implications and repercussions.

At it’s heart, this is not a biblical tale, but rather an epic fantasy inspired by the biblical story of Noah. When judged based from that perspective, the film works extraordinarily well.

Biblical adaptation

Noah arkNo, this is not a Sunday School lesson of Noah, but some of that is a good thing. Noah is both less and more biblical than you expect.

There are clearly some extra-biblical additions and changes to the story. The most obvious being the portrayal of the Nephilim as fallen angels who become rock giants. Clearly, that is not who they really were.

Some have tried to make a significant point out of the fact that no one speaks of “God” in the movie. This complaint cannot be dismissed strongly enough. The characters, even those who are evil, refer to Him as “Creator” repeatedly. The entire movie is a conversation between humanity and a non-verbal, but not-silent God.

Others point to the elevation of the environment in this film, as if it were a piece of climate change propaganda. According to reports, earlier versions of the script may have contained more of this, but I didn’t find it overbearing in the final version.

One of the points of contrast between Noah’s family and the other evil humans is meat-eating, but that seemed to be only an indication of their desire to destroy and conquer, as opposed to tending and stewarding the creation that God had placed in their care.

Is it more pronounced in the film than the Bible? Yes. Does it overwhelm the story? No, not from my perspective.

There are other alterations that serve mainly to provide cinematic drama to a months long boat ride and motivations for the way the characters develop. Those parts are not in the Bible, but they do not undermine the themes engrained in the film and the text.

When it comes to the biblical facts that are in the movie, many would probably be surprised at the aspects that are correct.

Cain, Adam and Eve’s son who killed his brother Abel, is described as the builder of a city (Gen. 4:17). His descendants boast about their ability to kill people (Gen. 4:23-24). Tubal-Cain, the villain of Noah, “made all kinds of bronze and iron tools” (Gen. 4:22).

Noah does get drunk and naked after leaving the ark, only to be covered up by two of his sons – Shem and Japheth (Gen. 9:20-23). The first time we see an explicit mention of eating meat is after the flood, when God expands the separation between man and animal (Gen. 9:1-7). Not to mention, the film erases any image of a toy boat ark, using the actual biblical dimensions to construct the massive vessel.

Noah is depicted as a righteous, but fallen man. The way Aronofsky and fellow screen writer Ari Handel decide to portray those dueling identities is not from the text, but neither is it explicitly unbiblical.

We see a Noah who seeks to obey God in the midst of society disapproval and personal struggles. He is a man who loves and cares for life, yet he is part of the destruction of so much of it.

The biblical text of Noah and the creation story is treated with respect. While I would not agree with the way in which many elements are interpreted and delivered, they are not dismissed as unimportant. That, in and of itself, is significant.

Man falls in the Garden of Eden because man disobeys God. Sin is wicked and deserving of punishment. Noah finds favor with God, even though he recognizes that sin has ravaged and twisted his own heart as well. These biblical themes are the driving themes of the film.

In the way the story is told, we see why it is God must destroy the Earth. But we also see, and perhaps for the first time realize, all that entails with the loss of life. Noah hears scores of desperate people wailing as they cling to the ship or scramble on to the last pieces of ground. We understand how difficult it must have been for those inside to consider the fate of all those outside.

But the theological viewpoint is where I think the most questions lie, but where we also come to see how Aronofsky views this story.

Theological Viewpoint

Noah faceThe acclaimed director has given us a backwards facing Noah. Because of his cultural and religious heritage, along with his current beliefs (secular Jew), Aronofsky always has us thinking back to creation. Things were perfect then, but they are ruined now.

Creation is where humanity needs to get back to, but the moment we get there, we bring our sin with us. We don’t have to pluck the apple from the tree, because we come walking in carrying a half-eaten core.

All humanity can do is long for what has been lost and seek to do the best we can on our own. In one of the last scenes, one survivor says that she is hopefully people can be kind to one another now. That’s all they have. They know they too are fallen and capable of sin, but all they can hope for is that we’ve learned to be nice.

Aronofsky can give us a Noah who longs for creation, but he cannot show us a Noah who looks forward to the cross. There is no covenant from the Creator to promise a future redemption. This time, the serpent’s head goes uncrushed.

The ark in this film can only remind us of what was lost and try to salvage as much as possible, it cannot point beyond itself to the place we can run into and find ultimate salvation and the eventual redemption of all of creation – humanity included.

The film raises tremendous and worthy questions about sin and grace, justice and mercy. I’m thankful any time we have a chance to discuss those in culture. We can enjoy it as a film and an opportunity for significant discussions.

But it cannot give us the right answers because this Noah is faced the wrong way. With only creation in view, Noah has its back to the cross, leaving viewers adrift in an ocean of opinions and wishes without any solid ground to provide true hope for what comes next.

Noah found salvation in the ark, but without turning our gaze to the cross, there is no room for us.

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Aaron Earls

Christian. Husband. Daddy. Writer. Online editor for Facts & Trends Magazine. Fan of quick wits, magical wardrobes, brave hobbits, time traveling police boxes & Blue Devils.