I came away from seeing Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, “Noah,” both confused and a little irritated. I wasn’t sure if I had been informed, entertained or inspired.
Much of the buzz around the film has been focused on the director’s comment that “Noah” is “the least biblical biblical film ever made.” Much of the pre-release commentary was based on a misquotation, wherein Aronofsky was accused of saying that the film is simply the “least biblical film” ever made.
Aronofsky was correct in his assessment of the film, even though it does follow the relatively sparse Genesis narrative.
Noah is warned in dreams that a great flood is coming and that he should build an ark. The animals appear in pairs and the rains come and flood the earth. The waters recede and there’s even a rainbow at the end.
Nevertheless, I came away from “Noah” thinking that the film was about conflict – some worthy of the biblical story, some not.
The film’s treatment of God, referred to as “the Creator,” is well done. At no point is there a “voice from heaven” telling Noah what to do or pronouncing judgment on the world.
Rather, God speaks to Noah in several dreams that gradually reinforce humanity’s sentence of destruction by water. The creator sends the rains and causes them to stop, all without involving any agents in the story.
The conflict with the biblical narrative comes in the inclusion of the “Watchers,” portrayed as giant stone creatures who “fell” from heaven to help mankind in the earliest generations of the world.
These creatures, which resemble the Ents of “The Lord of the Rings” lore, do most of the work of construction on the ark and are all killed in a battle between doomed humanity and Noah’s family in the ark when the rains begin.
Further tension in the supernatural realm comes from the inclusion of a “magic” seed from the Garden of Eden and the skin of a snake, presumably the same serpent that deceived Adam and Eve.
The presence of Methuselah, Noah’s “grandfather,” turns magical as he heals a young girl of her barrenness just before the floods begin.
There is more conflict in “Noah,” though, than what is explicit in the plot. The Scriptures make several cameos in the script, including a monologue by Noah in which most of the creation story is told to the passengers of the ark.
While the monologue is faithful to the Scripture – a paraphrase of Genesis 1 – what the audience sees during the monologue is a montage of creation-as-evolution.
The universe begins in darkness and quickly explodes into galaxies. On the young earth, life begins in the ocean and eventually develops into mammals, all the way to a tree-dwelling primate.
With only a flash between the monkey and the presence of Adam and Eve, the audience is led to the very boundary of understanding the difference between creation and evolution.
This tension, this theological and ideological conflict, exists throughout the film.
Those familiar with the “Documentary Hypothesis” – the view that the Pentateuch is an artistic interweaving of stories from several sources – as it relates to the structure of Genesis would find the conflict between Noah and Tubal-Cain portrayed in the film familiar.
Tubal-Cain, the “bad guy” of the film, emphasizes that he has been made in the image of the creator and has dominion over the animals.
Noah, on the other hand, represents the pre-fall paradise lifestyle of the Garden of Eden; he only eats of the land and honors all animal life as sacred, with the glaring exception of humans.
Further, Tubal-Cain “sacrifices” an animal aboard the ark to draw Noah into a final confrontation in similar fashion to the sacrificial act of slaughtering a goat in the Temple.
Students of the Scriptures will also recognize the anti-city theme of early parts of Genesis set forth in “Noah.”
It is industrialization and deforestation, according to the film, that has led to the flood, and God has designs to begin anew with the more nomadic and agrarian Noah as the world’s patriarch.
The movie does bear a bit of environmentalism, but no more than would have been observed in the Old Testament itself.
There is a wealth of imagery and well-done tension between the competing interpretations of the Noah account present.
In that way, the movie is interesting and thought provoking. However, regardless of the conversation points the plot may inspire, the film must first be entertaining and attention grabbing. Sadly, it is not.
Aronofsky has not blasphemed or done the Scriptures a disservice. Rather, the director has unnecessarily made the classic narrative of Noah cumbersome and stretched too thin.
There are too many extra elements for those expecting a film that makes the Bible come alive and too few explosions for those expecting a Hollywood blockbuster.
There are redeeming elements for those versed in biblical “higher criticism,” but sadly, for the average viewer, “Noah” is not entertaining enough to make it a worthwhile film.
Brock Ratcliff is a minister at Madison Chapel in Madison, Miss. He also teaches mathematics and computer science at Clinton Alternative School in Clinton, Miss. He blogs at Fides Quaerens Intellectum.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Writers: Darren Aronofsky and Ari Handel
Cast: Russell Crowe: Noah; Jennifer Connelly: Naameh; Ray Winstone: Tubal-Cain; Anthony Hopkins: Methuselah; Emma Watson: Ila; Logan Lerman: Ham; Douglas Booth: Shem; Leo McHugh Carroll: Japheth.
The movie’s website is here.