There’s been a lot of ballyhoo about the liberties taken by director Darren Aranofsky in his new film Noah. As an evangelical myself, I wondered how I would like the film. I’m really not into boycotting films, but more into reflecting on them. Here are my reflections.
Stuff I Liked
1. A tortured Noah – Our hagiographies of great men and women from the past don’t do justice to the real struggles and failures of great leaders. I liked how Noah was actually troubled by the coming deluge.
2. A self-condemning Noah – I liked how he wasn’t self-righteous, but realized that the same evil that existed in his fellow mankind was also in himself. He even considered that his family would not survive either, and that his last act would be saving the animals only.
3. An unsure Noah – I love the fact that he did not fully understand the message he was getting, but only had the gut level understaning of the direction he had to move. He didn’t know all the details, but was determined to obey. That’s like real life spiritual direction in my experience.
4. A questioning Noah – I loved that, though he had a strong determination to obey what he thought was right, he was not beyond questioning it when it came to acts so hard he just couldn’t bring himself to do it – and considered that perhaps God could not mean what he had thought.
5. Pangea – I like the fact that the photo of the globe showed all the land masses put together. This shows that (a) Aranofsky thought about how all the land animals could reach Noah without having to cross oceans, and (b) that perhaps the breakup of the continents was a cataclysmic event associated with the flood.
6. Waters of the Deep – the scriptures indicate that the water didn’t just come from the sky, but from under the earth’s crust (Genesis 7:11). This was depicted nicely.
7. Animals in Suspended Animation – Also a great solution to a perennial challenge – how did Noah feed the animals and clean up the excrement? If you use smoke (incense) that puts the animals to sleep, there’s no predation, no feeding, and little excrement. Why haven’t the creationists thought of this? Probably because it is not mentioned in scripture, and Noah was told to bring food for the animals (Genesis 6:21).
8. Inclusion of the Nephilim – the theme of giants in the Old Testament is one that is sadly not very well explored. I am glad that he included them, though as I describe below, I was not happy with the portrayal.
9. The Rainbow – very creative display of the rainbow at the end, not what I was expecting.
10. A Drunk Noah – nice depiction of this event, but even though Ham’s rejection of his birthright was clear, I didn’t find the build up to it believable – Ham’s reaction was not well enough supported by the story. But props for including this biblical event.
11. A Mystical Methuselah – I found this character to be refreshing and fun, a connection back to Adam, and again, not someone entirely sure of what God was doing. Nicely done.
12. The Blood Lust of Mankind – Most of us are so grounded in meat eating, yet disconnected from the gruesome killing of animals for ourselves, we forget how ugly it can seem. It’s definitely part of the fall of mankind, biblically speaking – even if allowed, it did not exist in Eden, and won’t be present in the restored Heavens and Earth, in which even carnivores will no longer eat animals.
Stuff I Disliked
13. The Nephilim – seriously, rock creatures? I liked the crude gorignak from Galaxy Quest way better. These creatures were so rock-like that their faces seemed like rejects from a toy factory. Their movements were so stilted as to be machine-like, and their stop-motion animation quality reminded me of the original King Kong movie. It seemed so low budget in an otherwise high budget movie.
14. The Rift with Shem Subplot – Not only is this not a biblical story, it seemed contrived in order to make the film have more than a singular storyline. I just found it a little too soap opera.
15. The Ham Subplot – this was poorly explored, and knowing the original story, I feel like this was a missed opportunity.
16. The Tubal-Cain On-Ship Drama – I kept feeling like this was another intrusion on the real story, and that Tubal-Cain was really just Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean. Noah is not a pirate movie, but it felt like one.
Silly Evangelical Non-Issues
17. Lack of the word ‘God‘ – They said Creator plenty. Total non-issue.
18. Use of the Snake Skin as Representing the Link to Eden – this symbol of the snakeskin was novel, and perhaps even an anti-type, but it can be seen as not only a reminder of the original sin, but as a type of Christ – I mean, remember the staff of Moses with the brass snake on it (Numbers 12 / cf. John 3:14)? It was a symbol of sin and the coming penal substitutionary death of Chrst. We evangelicals need to think more and react less.
19. A dark Noah – as mentioned above, our sanitized, super-human views of the saints is probably unrealistic. They *did* struggle with that they were told, they *did* have great moments of anguish and doubt. To not portray this would be wrong. Due to the gravity of what God was about to do, I am glad that we saw a concerned, agonizing Noah.
20. An environmentalist, vegan screed – I admit, there was some of that feel to it, but if you listen to Noah’s dialogue, it is not about nature worship, but the abuse of what God gave. This is perfectly scriptural. It might have been better to show more of man’s sin against other men, but that selfish, ‘God has abandoned us so we can do what we want’ ethos was certainly present in Tubal-Cain.
I do agree that Aranofsky’s portrayal is based on the Bible, but not that true to it. Here are the mistakes I saw, for the record.
21. Too Many Animals of each ‘Kind’ – the Bible speaks of two of each kind, but of course, what is meant by ‘kind’ in the Bible is debated. Creationists use the term ‘baramin‘ (Hebrew for ‘created kind’) to represent something along the line of Order or Family. So simply, all dogs might be in one originating ‘kind,’ where our current technical category might be the the Candiae family. There were way too many birds and snakes – you could have had one or a few pairs of snakes, one pair of lizards, birds, not hundreds.
22. Noah’s Son’s Wives – so, in the Biblical story, they all had wives. The whole subplot with Ham is not the real sub plot that makes the story interesting. In the Biblical story, in the getting drunk sequence, Ham does something horrible, perhaps even sleeping with his mother.
23. The Nephilim – while the existence of giants in the OT is mostly an allusion, most scholars seem to think that they were either just large humans, or angel-human hybrids. Not rock creatures who gain redemption by serving God and mankind after they fell. The whole idea of genetic giants being purged by God, and Ham’s incest would have been more biblical, and perhaps more interesting.
Biblical Story Elements He Could Have Included
24. Noah preaching righteousness – the Bible indicates that Noah preached repentance and coming judgment for decades. In the film, he’s more like a man trying to just stay out of the way of corrupt society, a type of pietist.
25. Incest of Ham and Curse on Canaan – incest is a not uncommon problem in the Old Testament, and this idea fits nicely with the judgment upon Canaan, as well as fitting in with the ‘genes of giants‘ hypothesis.
26. Giants, violence, and cannibalism – Again, fitting into the giants theme, if the genes of giants made them violent, and that violence included cannibalism which spread throughout the earth, then this wickedness, on top of the ‘eco-disaster’ portrayed, would have played up men’s wickedness even more.
27. It had never rained before – Some creationists claim that before the cataclysm, the nature of the atmosphere was different, in that in addition to the ozone layer, there may have been a water vapor canopy that acted like a terrarium cover, making the entire world tropical. Along with the required much higher O2 concentration in the atmosphere, this might explain the larger animals of the past, the increased ages of the patriarchs, and the existence of tropical plants at the poles in the distant past. If it had never rained before, imagine how much more unbelievable Noah’s claims of a flood of rain from the sky and earth would have seemed.
I love movies that make me think, and this one did. It didn’t feel like a purposeful twisting of scripture, but merely an artistic, creative retelling of the story. Sure, it was off, but not that far off. Perhaps if evangelical film makers weren’t so utilitarian, evangelistic, and literalist in their approach, we could get gritty, realistic portrayals that artfully fill in the historical gaps instead of predictable pablum. Films like Son of God and even God is not Dead are moves in that direction, but they have a long way to go to approach the creativity and effectiveness of films like Knowing, or many other spiritually significant films.
Go see Noah. It’s thoughtful and interesting.