On Friday afternoon I made a rare trek to the movie theatre to see Noah. The movie stars Russell Crowe as the title character, with Jennifer Connelly playing his wife and Emma Watson (Hermione) as the wife of Noah's oldest son Shem. The movie has been surrounded with quite a bit of buzz regarding it's biblical accuracy and not so subtle nods to the anthropopogenic climate change crowd. With all of this in mind, and my own thorough study of the first 9 chapters of Genesis I sat down to see what director Darren Aronofsky had done to the biblical character and his story. Here is what I found out. Note to the reader: the first half of this review will be spoiler free, but the second half (after picture of Russel Crowe) will contain all kinds of spoilery.
The film is actually set in what looks like a primitive dystopian past. Basically men have pillaged the world of its resources for their own benefit using relatively primitive means and the land looks mostly like the surface of Mars. There are biblical quotes and references mixed into the intro that are pretty spot on but it's obvious Aronofsky wanted to focus more on God's instruction to Adam & Eve to be stewards of the creation than the command to be steward's of Gods character towards one another. The first half of the film seems to focus on man's failure to preserve nature than rather than man's failure to not kill one another and treat each other and everything around them with utter disdain.
When we first meet Noah he is a young lad and his father (Lamech, biblically accurate) is passing on to him his birthright. Lamech is then immediately killed by a man (not biblically accurate as far as we know). What I loved about this part of the film was that it accurately traced Noah's line from Seth (third son of Adam & Eve) through Noah. It also does a great job of mentioning that the men who kill Noah's father are descended from Cain and are men who think of themselves as the final authority of what is right and wrong. This is all very biblically accurate and interesting, especially if you take a few minutes to read and compare the 2 genealogies in Genesis 4 and 5. In those 2 chapters there are two lines. Cain's descendants and Seth's. Cain's represent the seed of the serpent, bent on self-service and they are men of violence (and multiple wives), while Seth's line is the seed that is bent on serving God. These two lines are the product of the key verse from Genesis 3 that establishes the plot for the rest of the Bible, this is after Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit and God is cursing them and the serpent, he says to the serpent: Geneis 3:15
"And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
This proclamation basically sets up the plot of the Bible, that the serpent and the offspring of the woman will do battle, and eventually kill one another. So we, the reader, are left to wait on the arrival of the seed of the woman that will crush the head of the serpent and die in the process. One other thing of note from Genesis 3, when God tells Adam and Eve that they are now going to eventually die he also mentions to Adam that he will work the ground "through painful toil". Important part of the curse that gets referenced repeatedly in the movie. Fun fact, the name Noah, means "rest" or more appropriately "he who will bring us rest from our toil". Noah was named by his father Lamech because Lamech believed Noah could be the one who would crush the serpents head and bring an end to the curse of sin and death.
Back to the film, the first half of the movie is really, really interesting if you know the above backstory and it's an interesting take on how it actually played out, much like Prince of Egypt was an interesting take on Exodus. The only caveat, and it's a big one, is there is some VERY extra biblical stuff in the form of fallen angelic beings that are called the Watchers. These Watchers are basically like Ents from Lord of the Rings but made of rock. They are clearly not in the Bible, and this is where artistic license steps in. If you're absolutely dead set on seeing a movie that is a word for word translation from Genesis, then this is a deal breaker for you. Don't see it. If you are flexible enough to say, "Hey, cool, some kind of rock troll is here to possibly help Noah or maybe kill him, let's see what happens" then you'll be all right with this film. I wasn't dead set on this being a literal translation, so it was interesting. Also, I like Lord of the Rings. So the movie progresses as we get to see how awful men have become to one another and how much they've abused God's creation, all dead on. We also get to meet Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) who is old, (oldest dude ever) funny, and maybe a bit crazy, but maybe not.
I really enjoyed the spirituality of the characters because it seemed genuine, but not typical. It was a different feel than if some evangelical Christian from America had made this movie, and I liked that. Personal note, I'm a big fan of trying to hear points of view that are radically different than mine, and I really like people who's brains work in a completely different way than mine does, and this was like hearing one of those people tell me about their walk with Christ. Totally different.
Highlight/lowlight was a scene where Noah gets a very clear view of how far man has strayed from God's plan for him. The debauchery and selfishness are rampant but in a PG-13 kind of way (not sexual). I think Aronofsky nailed it here. This leads to the pinnacle philosophical/theological scene in the movie for Noah. He realizes that man is lost and deserves to be destroyed, and he also realizes that he and his family are included in that guilt. He comes to the realization that God is grieved that he made man and so he wishes to destroy them. He has another realization after this that becomes very problematic later, see below.
Obviously, Noah builds an ark, his family helps, there is a fight scene with the men, and (this shouldn't be a spoiler) it rains quite a bit. Up to this point in the film I was really enjoying it. Then things take a hard left, leave the tracks and flirt with an enormous dumpster fire. Be ye warned spoilers below this picture of Russel Crowe and Jennifer Connelly.
During Noah's realization of the guilt of man scene he also comes to believe that he is going to die and so will his sons and that that will be the end of man. This is all super non-biblical. In the movie only one of Noah's sons is married, the other two are without wives. In the Bible, they all have wives. In the movie, Shem, the married one, is married to a girl who cannot have children. Therefore, when the ark lands there will be no more men besides Noah's family, and thus no more men after they die. This isn't the story of the Bible. But wait, it gets weirder.....
Before the flood comes, Methuselah heals Shem's wife and she becomes pregnant. Hooray, humanity gets a fresh start, just like in the Bible, just with less people. Not so fast, Noah decides that God wants man dead, and that he is the chosen instrument. He tells his family that if the baby is a boy he will let him live, but if it's a girl then Noah will kill her. Woah, Noah who will bring us rest from our toil and make all things new is now a genocidal maniac?!?!?! Artistic license indeed! This is where the movie lost me. There are a few more curveballs and the end is an interesting depiction of Noah's drunken fall from grace, but be forewarned, the should I kill my granddaughter dilemma lasts way too long, and is painful to watch if you understand the Bible and Noah's role in the story.i
Noah also has a very contentious relationship with his middle son Ham, which may just be another Aronofsky interpretation of the scriptures for script padding purposes.
In summary, Noah is an interesting movie. There are some things it gets so right, especially in the first half of the film, and then the second half is so out in left field in some ways that I was irritated with it. I think it was a great effort at interpreting a tough story for celluloid, but in the end I don't think it will be remembered as a great movie or a great tool for talking about the Noah story in a meaningful way. I think audiences that aren't acutely familiar with all the details of the first nine chapters of Genesis will walk away wondering if Noah was just a nut or if he was a man of great faith.
I'd highly recommend reading Genesis 1-9 before seeing the film, just to refresh yourself on the story.