Warning: Before you read this, you should know two things: #1, this “review” contains SPOILERS, so if you plan to see the movie, you may want to hold off reading it.
#2, this is just one man’s opinion. I am not writing on behalf of our church staff. After being asked by several people my opinion of the new Noah film, I decided to give it a look. These are my thoughts on the controversial film:
I should begin this “review” by making a confession: I walked into the theater to see NOAH with a biased attitude. I expected to like the film.
Yes, I heard the warnings from my Christian brothers and sisters, who for the past month have complained that Darren Aronofsky’s retelling of the flood story did not accurately reflect the Biblical account found in Genesis. Yes, I read reviews from people I trust who confirmed those warnings. But through it all, I suspected that NOAH would do more good than harm, and I looked forward to watching it.
After all, very few movies can retell a story, whether from a book or from a historical event, without taking some liberties. Even if Aronofsky changed some details for dramatic effect, I reasoned, the overarching story would tell itself – God’s judgment of a wicked earth, His mercy shown through Noah, and the beautiful opportunity to start again. It’s a “can’t-miss” story. (Besides, I love special effects!)
That was my attitude when I went into the Wynnsong 12 last weekend. I felt differently when I walked out again. Sure, there WAS a lot to like in this movie – fine acting jobs, an entertaining story line, and breathtaking special effects, to name a few – but in spite of that, I left the theater feeling both surprised and disappointed. Why? My disillusionment had nothing to do with the much-criticized characters Aronofsky wrote INTO the story: Methuselah, “the Watchers”, the evil vigilante that stowed away on the ark. My chief complaint, the one that nullified all of the film’s positives, concerns who was written OUT of the script. Somehow, Aronofsky managed to tell the story of Noah without including God.
Allow me to clarify. God WAS given a “bit part” in the movie. Referred to as “The Creator”, He is the one who spoke the world into existence (via Big Bang and evolution), and He is the one who gave Noah a mysterious vision to inform him about the impending flood. Trees that grow for the ark and animals that stampede to its shelter are also attributed to His provision. But that’s it. Outside of those initial vague dreams, God never communicates with Noah, even when Noah begs. He never shares His plan. He never communicates hope. He never explains to Noah WHY he has been chosen to build the ark. And He should have, because the major thrust of the movie explores what happens when Noah is left on his own to figure out God’s purposes.
You see, as a result of God’s silence, Noah feels defenseless and confused. He compensates for his defenseless state by enlisting the help of fallen angels(!), who have been mistreated by God and want to get back in his good graces. These angels take the form of “rock monsters”, reminiscent of the Ents in the Lord of the Rings saga. They do the heavy work in the ark building project and protect Noah from the violent crowds. In one dramatic scene Noah informs a bloodthirsty mob, “I am not alone!” But it was not God whose presence gave him confidence. It was these fallen angels!
That is the answer to Noah’s defenselessness . . . but there is no way to overcome his confusion. In a strange twist to the Biblical account, Noah spends the entire 40 days on the ark convinced that God has called him to finish the job of eradicating the human race, which means ensuring the death of his own family. Obviously, that creates conflict with his fellow passengers, especially when Noah learns that his daughter-in-law is pregnant. This sets up a tense, emotional “waiting period”, a near mutiny by Noah’s family, and a dramatic scene where a crazy-eyed Noah snatches the twin babies and prepares to plunge a knife through their newborn bodies.
And where is God in this moment? Frustratingly aloof and silent. As Noah’s daughter-in-law later explains, the Creator chose to put the human race in Noah’s hands and allow him to decide whether it deserved to continue. God pretty much stayed out of it. That’s why Noah, wracked with guilt at his inability to satisfy God’s thirst for blood and estranged from his understandably disillusioned family, leaves the ark at the first opportunity and retires to a cave, isolated, drunk, and depressed.
I usually appreciate teachers who are willing to “humanize” the characters in Scripture. So often, we allow them to remain “flat” on the pages, celebrating their successes while ignoring their struggles. In Noah’s case, we can be sure that he wrestled with doubt and uncertainty. I’m sure he did argue with his family and question God’s direction. I appreciated how the film captured the agony his family must have felt as they sat safely on the ark while the people outside screamed in agony. Noah was a real person, with real doubts, and his task was a difficult one.
But to understand the story of Noah, you must remember that it is about more than a man who built a boat. His story is inseparably intertwined with God. Genesis describes the rapid deterioration of God’s creation – “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). God alone had a right to judge His creation, but in the midst of his anger, He showed mercy to mankind. He called Noah – not to save the animals, as the film-version of Noah so brazenly explained – but to save us. From the day sin entered the world, God declared that man would be reconciled to Him, and through Noah He kept that promise alive. This, then, is the story of God – His justice. His mercy, and the lengths to which He was willing to go to keep hope alive.
That’s where Aronofsky got it all wrong. By painting Noah as a misguided religious zealot struggling to obey a strange, distant God, he missed the heart of the man Genesis describes as the most righteous on earth. And by painting God as a disinterested, aloof Creator, He ripped the heart from God’s redemptive story. In fact, he did the very thing he condemned Cain’s descendants of doing in his movie: he took something holy and divine and brought it low. In his quest for box-office gold, he mined the heart out of a sacred story and mixed the remainder with mysticism, environmentalism, and a strong dose of humanism.
As a result, I have changed my original prediction. I think this movie does more harm than good. Then again, maybe I should have anticipated that all along. Instead of relying on Hollywood to pass along sacred truths and then criticizing their ignorant attempts to do it, let’s take this 0pportunity to remember the responsibility God has given us. Then let’s follow Noah’s example and obey His call.