3.29.2014

Movie Review: "Noah" (Mild Spoilers)

If nothing else, Darren Aronofsky's "Noah" is a film of beauty, albeit cold and disturbing beauty.  The cinematography, the visual effects, and the score by Clint Mansell are all very stirring and epic.  The stark Icelandic landscape in which "Noah" was filmed is a believable backdrop for a world in which - as Aronofsky's tale goes - man is an eco-terrorist and has spoiled and consumed nearly all of God's creation.  God communicates to Noah through dreams and hallucinations that all people save for him and his family will be destroyed by water as judgement for their wickedness.  The loneliness of Noah as he prepares for the flooding of the earth is felt acutely by the audience, since there is often nothing but his tiny family in the vast expanse of the uncivilized land.

The subject that will inevitably arise is how "Noah" the film differs from or stays true to the Biblical story from Genesis.  Christian audiences will be able to pick out dozens of inconsistencies between the film adaptation of Noah and the Bible story, however, there are three significant differences that caused me to think rather than immediately dismiss them as nothing more than edgy, artistic choices.


If you so much as watched the "Noah" trailers when they were being released, you would have seen giant, six-armed stone beings fighting with men.  According the lore of the film, these stone giants are called the "Watchers," and they are fallen angels entrapped in bodies made from the rock of earth as punishment for trying to aid humanity after God had decided man was wicked.  The Watchers are brought to life from the pages of the graphic novel "Noah" which was written by Ari Handel, Niko Henrichon, and Darren Aronofsky.  Of course there is no mention of stone warriors in the Biblical story of Noah, but there is mention of the Nephilim.  One of the mysteries of the Bible is that is says the Nephilim were on earth both before and after the flood.  One of the ways this could be possible is if they were fallen angels and not mortal beings, which happens to be one of theories as to where they came from, and why God did not want them marrying the "daughters of men."  I thought Aronofsky's addition of the "Watchers" into his film, although their backstory is not supported by the Bible, added interesting characters and an element of fantasy.  And for those of us who don't believe that fallen angels or angels in general are fantasy at all, they were a unique and visually impressive representation of beings we believe to be real.

Artwork from "Noah" by Niko Henrichon

Secondly, there's the issue of Noah's character.  The Biblical account tells us that "Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God" (Genesis 6:9).  The Hebrew word is "tāmiym," which, according to a Hebrew-Greek Keyword Study Bible translates: "without defect, blameless, perfect."  However, the Noah of the film adaptation tends toward violence, tyranny, and just a touch of insanity.  While I don't believe that the Noah of the Bible would consider killing infants in order to wipe out his family along with the rest of humanity, we don't know that there weren't moments where Noah wasn't certain.  We don't know that he was without fear, and we don't know exactly how God spoke to him.  He was considered righteous compared to the people of his time, whose hearts were rotten, but he was still just a man.  There is no explicit dialogue from or appearance of God in the film, much as most of us - even lifelong believers - don't directly hear God's voice or see manifestations of him like Moses saw in the burning bush.  It was Noah's faith that saved him and his family, not any omniscience or great wisdom on his part.  Noah was simply still talking to the Creator, when others had forgotten Him altogether.  Though he takes a brief foray into madness in the film, we still see a character earnestly trying to complete the will of God and taking the path of mercy - an infrequent concept in Hollywood.

Finally, I can't help but note that the underlying environmentalist message of the film portrays a fairly modern sentiment.  You cannot realistically implant 20th and 21st century concerns, values, and ideals into the philosophies of ancient people.  To be sure, ancient cultures depended on the land for their livelihood and sustenance, and therefore valued it highly.  However, the idea that the relatively small population that existed on earth during Noah's time would have nearly depleted the earth's greenery and resources is pretty much a fantasy.  Is good stewardship of the earth a relevant message for modern people?  Of course, but one criticism I have of Aronofsky's Noah is that it isn't relevant to the story of Noah, and even for a director exercising his right to artistic license, it seems pretty artificially worked into the story.

I wouldn't want to end without remembering how, when I was 13 years old, an animated film called "Anastasia" was released in theatres.  If ever there was a fantastical and weird interpretation of a historical tale, this was it.  But I became obsessed.  Not only did I adore the animated film, but I had to know everything about the Romanovs, the imperial era of Russia, and the true fate of the last imperial family.  I even chose it at the subject for a school research project.  The movie took plenty of artistic license (Rasputin was an evil wizard who visited Limbo with a talking bat) in order to make it more palatable to children, but it triggered an obsessive hunger in me to understand the source material.  The fact is, "Noah" is out.  It's being seen, and the theatres are packed.  I would hope that even Christian audiences who find the film's variances from the Biblical account problematic would concede that a high-profile director spending $130 million on a serious film based on a Biblical character is something we need to encourage.  I know that if even one person feels a hunger to understand the source material, $130 million is well worth it.

2 comments:

  1. Very well said, my friend! And I remember being obsessed with Anastasia as well......I think we used to write to each other about it! haha

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    1. I am sure we did! Haha. I still love that movie... :)

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