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Some Thoughts on Aronofsky’s Noah

March 31, 2014

Noah-posterI’ve run across some interesting reviews and articles about Noah – in addition to some reviews that I think are misleading and unhelpful, and say more about the reviewer’s bias than the movie. Rather than flooding Facebook with the articles I’ve found helpful, I thought it might be better to put it all in one blog post – along with some thoughts of my own – for those who are interested.

First, a few of my own thoughts. Cari and I did see the movie. We liked it. It is not a “literal” retelling of the story of Noah. If you go into the movie expecting it to follow the biblical account word-for-word, you’ll be disappointed or upset. Having said that, I do think the movie stays true to the themes found within the biblical version of the story, and it provokes thought about the meaning of the story, the reason God would choose to flood the earth, and the very real difficulty many face when trying to understand God and his voice. While there are imaginative and sometimes fantastical elements in the movie, I generally did not find that they detracted from the biblical story. I’d like to make some more specific comments about elements in the movie, but I’ll add a spoiler warning for those who are concerned about it:

  • The most fantastic element of the movie is the Watchers, rock-like fallen angels who assist Noah in building the ark. They seem to be Aranofsky’s answer to the “nephilim” of Genesis 6:4. Since nobody seems to know who the nephilim are – some Christians believe they are giants, the offspring of angels and human women – I don’t see this as a big problem. Do I really believe that the nephilim were giant rock creatures? No. But does their presence harm the story of Noah as told in the movie? I don’t think so. Its also interesting to note that the Watchers are actually drawn from the Book of Enoch, which uses that name for the angels that fathered the nephilim. Very few Christians view the Book of Enoch as inspired, but some Jewish traditions do – which makes sense since Aranofsky’s religious background is Judaism. It’s helpful, I think, to realize that Aranofsky did not pull the concept of the Watchers out of thin air.
  • The movie is an imaginative telling of the story of Noah in that it contains elements – dialogue and plot points – that are not from the biblical text. However, I challenge anyone to describe how they would make a movie based on the biblical text that was not an imaginative telling of the story. Noah does not say a single word in Genesis until after he is found drunk and passed out by his sons, after the flood. So unless the movie is going to be a silent movie – or Noah is a mute – some imagination will be required.
  • I loved the theme that Aranofsky develops about Noah’s struggle to understand God’s voice. Big spoiler here: Noah believes that God wants to wipe humanity from the face of the earth – his family included – and he goes so far as to threaten to kill his own grandchildren to ensure that it happens. Some reviewers have taken this to mean that Aranofsky thinks God is a monster, and Noah ultimately decides not to listen to God. But I think that is a mistaken understanding of the movie. Noah struggles to understand what God is up to with the flood – this does not seem implausible to me. Wouldn’t most of us have some questions for God if he decided to kill every living thing on the earth but us? Ultimately, Noah chooses mercy over justice – and his struggle between those two themes is a central conflict in the movie. But I think the lesson of the movie is that God, too, chose mercy by saving Noah and his family.
  • Aranofsky does a great job handling the episode of Noah’s drunkenness in Genesis 9. He connects it to Noah’s struggle to understand God, and his struggle with justice vs mercy. While this connection is not present in the biblical text, it is certainly plausible. Genesis is silent on why Noah got drunk – Aranofsky’s imaginative retelling of the story helps to suggest a possible reason.

Those are some of my thoughts about the movie. Now I’d like to make a few observations about the controversy that has surrounded the movie.

  • I find it unfortunate that so many Christians are choosing to attack the movie without having seen it themselves. Choosing whether or not to see the movie is a personal decision, and one that should be respected. But making pronouncements about whether or not it is biblical, and whether people of faith should see it, based upon hearsay – often from people who haven’t even seen it themselves – is dangerous ground. We should not condemn from positions of ignorance.
  • Some have criticized the movie for never mentioning God’s name. This strikes me as incredibly silly. God is repeatedly referred to as “the Creator” in the movie, which is a very biblical way of referring to God. In fact, Jesus himself refers to God as “the Creator” in Matthew 19:4. Why would Christians see this as a problem?
  • Some have criticized the environmental concern that is present in the movie. An argument could probably be made that it is a little heavy-handed at times, though I did not think so. Regardless, this is a biblical theme – and one that makes sense as a point of discussion regarding this era of biblical history. In Genesis 1:28 – just five chapters before the story of Noah – God tells Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it.” And there have been competing interpretations of that phrase throughout history, exemplified in this movie by Noah and Tubal-Cain. Tubal-Cain sees the earth as a place to exercise what he calls “dominion” – which means taking whatever he wants to get ahead, regardless of the costs to environment or other life (animal or human). Noah sees his God-given role as a caretaker of a creation that God called good – which seems to me to be the biblical environmental ethic. So while that theme is not directly present in the four chapters of Genesis that tell Noah’s story, it is certainly present elsewhere in Genesis and can, I believe, be inferred in Noah’s story. At the least, its presence in the movie is not somehow anti-biblical.
  • Finally, I think it is a shame that this movie has caused such controversy, because it is not nearly the hatchet job of the biblical story that some have made it out to be. In fact, I would suggest that Christians should be applauding a Hollywood movie that gives deep and respectful thought to a biblical story and what is being communicated within it. Christians complain when Hollywood doesn’t reflect our values – and then when they do, its still not good enough. This movie is exactly the kind of movie we should be encouraging – a serious and thoughtful interpretation of a biblical story.

As I said at the beginning of the post, I’ve found some great resources that are worth checking out. I’ll list them below, and add to them as I find others.

  • A review from the National Catholic Review by Steven Greydanus (a very thoughtful Christian movie critic)
  • A very interesting interview with Darren Aronofsky that shows he has clearly thought very deeply about the story of Noah and its themes.
  • A fascinating review of the movie by an orthodox Jewish rabbi. It makes very clear – especially if you’ve seen the movie – just how much Aronofsky has drawn from Jewish midrashic tradition. And it makes many of the imaginative choices by Aronofsky much more understandable.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, especially if you’ve seen the movie. I only ask that any comments be respectful towards those who might disagree with you.

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One Comment
  1. Good thoughts, good points. I had a similar reaction to those upset about the movie using “Creator” rather than “God.” Elohim, which means Creator God, is used 2570 times in the Bible as the name of God, beginning in Genesis 1.

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