Wait, I’ve got it. Mind. Blown.
Standing alone, apart from the biblical text, the movie is fairly good. It tells a coherent story, offers characters that we can care about, and features moving performances (especially from Jennifer Connelly and Emma Watson). Anthony Hopkins is delightful. The only thing is that it’s a biblical movie that isn’t biblical. And if you’ve got a movie that purports to tell the story of a biblical character (and whose story the director claims “completely accepts the text”), we as an audience are right to expect it to at least get a majority of the story right.
Although director Darren Arnofsky and at least one reviewer considered the film a solid adaptation faithful to the biblical text, consider the following problems:
- Lamech and Noah both use a glowing snakeskin shed by the serpent in the garden in Eden when they bless their family members. What purpose this serves goes unexplained in the movie, and it never appears in the Bible.
- Noah rebukes his son for picking a flower, stating that it belongs in the ground. He later decimates a magical forest to build the ark.
- Cain founds cities that serve as centers of culture and technology, but that are degenerate and decrepit – like ancient versions of Detroit. Their inhabitants are a bunch of unwashed warmongers who look like the ancestors of the post-apocalyptic weirdos in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.
- Move over Chuck Norris – Methuselah is a righteous dude who gets it done. He has a sword that shoots out fire and annihilates an entire army. He puts Shem to sleep by touching his forehead and later heals Shem’s girlfriend Illa of her barrenness (apparently, in addition to being the world’s oldest man he is also the first obstetrician).
- Tubal-Cain hops on board the ark as a stowaway for nine months. During this time he eats the animals, with only Ham being any the wiser.
- Speaking of animals, Noah’s wife puts them all in a state of hibernation with some kind of herbal concoction burned in censers. Unlike the “herbs” that you can now obtain legally in Colorado, it has absolutely no effect on the humans.
- Noah’s wife has Illa perform a pregnancy test by spitting on a leaf.
- A disturbing twist is that Noah becomes increasingly obsessed with the destruction of the human race. He vows to kill his grandchild once it is born if it is a girl (because she could perpetuate humanity). And he almost does exactly that, but changes his mind at the last moment after Illa sings a pretty song.
- If you look closely at the ark, is bears a bumper sticker saying, “Save the Planet. Kill Yourself.” (okay, I’m just kidding about this one. But Noah practically states as much during the course of the movie.)
In a rather starry-eyed and disappointing review at ChristianityToday.com, Alissa Wilkinson describes the film as “solid adaptation” that is “startlingly fresh,” asking “big questions,” and telling “a story about how it could have happened.” All of these are arguably, if not totally and demonstrably, false. Another review at the National Catholic Register states:
For a lifelong Bible geek and lover of movie-making and storytelling like me, Noah is a rare gift: a blend of epic spectacle, startling character drama and creative reworking of Scripture and other ancient Jewish and rabbinic writings. It’s a movie with much to look at, much to think about and much to feel; a movie to argue about, and argue with.
Creative reworking of Scripture is right. Not only does the film manage to butcher the biblical account, it does so in a way that any Christian should find startling and even offensive. It takes a story told in the form of historical narrative and forces it into the realm of mythology. By combining biblical stories about Noah with others drawn from myth, the result is a fiction regardless of how respectfully it’s treated. Once you add the fantastic, it taints everything. I’m all for exploring biblical themes, but communicating a biblical theme in a manner alien to the Bible just doesn’t work.
This is the big point being missed by all the reviewers who give the movie two thumbs up and chide their fellow believers for being so grumpy: Aronofsky has mixed myth into the story. And it should be as odd and attention-getting as watching the nightly news and seeing an Amber Alert for two children named Hansel and Gretel who were last spotted in the vicinity of the old witch’s cottage or hearing a report on the BBC that St. George has been called in as a consultant after locals spotted dragons flying around Buckingham Palace. Yes, Aronofsky probably knows as much about the Noah story and references to it in Jewish literature as a bona fide scholar. But that doesn’t change the fact that he knows so little about the Bible itself that he could possibly think that the Bible and later Jewish literature on the subject are even compatible on the worldview level (hint: they aren’t. It’s like mixing milk and orange juice).
On the positive side, the special effects are awesome. And the fact that it is gritty and dark where it needs to be does put a real face on the evil that covered the earth. Aronofsky depicts a world worthy of destruction. Violence and murder abound. Desperate, hungry people rip living animals apart for food. Darkness and death creep like a plague across the earth. We understand that its savagery must be extinguished. We sympathize with Noah in the difficult work he is called to do, and our hearts break upon seeing dozens of people clinging to the last bit of rock above water, knowing that soon that the angry deep will consume them like everything else.
The movie is dark, yet has frequent glimmers of hope. There is a minimum of language, which is refreshing. In one scene, Shem and Illa (played by Emma Watson) are intimate, although almost nothing is shown (nevertheless, I fought the urge to stand up in the theatre and yell, “Nooooo!!! Don’t do it, Hermione!!!).
There is an unmistakably obvious environmentalist theme in the movie (the Bible states that man’s violence is the problem that triggers God’s justice, not his treatment of creation). This isn’t surprising, since Aronofsky once claimed that Noah was the “first environmentalist.” Noah states that mankind is being punished for what they have done to the world, calling the animals “innocent” and repeatedly referring to mankind as “judged” (including those on the ark, which completely ignores the covenant theme of Genesis 6-9). He is going to slay his granddaughters to ensure that humanity will die out, which he seems to think is the will of God. In a somewhat confused twist, Noah refuses to kill his kin, which he later regrets and interprets as failure on his part. He is also rather forgetful – he spends a lot of time telling the creation story but apparently forgets that man is the apex of God’s creation and is pronounced “very good” (Genesis 1:31). He also forgets the fact that man is made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27).
Some have tried to argue that religious movies like Noah build cultural bridges. Why destroy these aids? So what if they “miss by a little”? Well, it’s not just missing by “a little.” It’s actually quite a lot. It inserts themes we do not find in the Bible, and downplays or dismisses the ones that are there. It tries to create a marriage between myth and historical narrative. In the end, it respects the biblical text by generally treating it as true, and disrespects it by not letting it tell its own story without bizarre creative additions and reinterpretations.
Movies like Noah are another reason why many secularists find it hard—if not impossible—to take the Bible seriously.