A Few Thoughts on “Noah”

Noah posterA few immediate thoughts on “Noah”… As biblical movies go, this accomplished what most do not: genuine dramatic tension. It’s difficult to engender such tension when the narrative outcome is so well known and when the characters have become two dimensional through millennia of repeated telling.

The complaint I’ve read of the film’s script is that it plays fast and loose with the biblical story. Numerous critics decry the fallen angels who assist Noah as well as Noah’s recounting of Genesis 1 to his family.

First, the fallen angels: They actually exist in Genesis 6 as the Nephilim. The cryptic name is likely related to the Hebrew “to fall,” and in ancient tradition they were considered to be angelic figures come to live on earth among humans. If director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Black Swan) had simply referred to the fallen angels as Nephilim, many folks likely wouldn’t have gotten upset. In the film, the fallen angels first protect the descendants of Cain and then help Noah build the ark. Neither of those things happens in the Genesis narrative specifically, but in the case of the latter, in Genesis 4 God certainly does declare God’s protection on Cain, so the narrative leap is not egregious (in my opinion).

Looks like rain...

Looks like rain…

Second, the recounting of Genesis 1: I really liked the way the film juxtaposed the truth of the Genesis creation hymn with a modern scientific understanding of cosmology, geology, and evolutionary biology. Rightly understood, there is no conflict between the two, though I imagine Creationists won’t like the juxtaposition.

(Spoiler alert) The one major beef I have with the script is the king who is Cain’s descendant sneaking onto the ark. The plot addition was superfluous. It added nothing of great interest; the dramatic tension of Noah’s spiritual/psychological conflict did not depend upon it; and it felt like an afterthought.

A lesser complaint is the particular portrayal of vegetarianism in the early part of the film.  Aronofsky sets up the false dichotomy that humans are either vegetarians or else brutal and thankless killers of anything that moves.  He suggests that after the flood Noah’s family will continue to be vegetarians, while in the biblical narrative part of God’s post-flood covenant with Noah is that “every moving thing that lives shall be food for you.” (Genesis 9:3)  In an earlier blog (http://wp.me/siiDY-hunter) I’ve discussed my thoughts on the ethics of being a carnivore (and hunter).  I won’t rehash them here.  For a good discussion of the ways carnivorous living can connect one more honestly and fully to the earth’s life cycles, see this essay by my friend (and religion professor) Jill Carroll:


When I posted this review on Facebook, a clergy friend asked about the portrayal of all the characters as caucasian.  It’s true that Aronofsky’s film does have the feel of a Northern European epic.  The scenery all seems a bit too Scottish Highlands.  That said, I was pleased that the movie didn’t fall into the historical tendency to portray the “mark of Cain” as dark skin.  Noah was white, but the human beings who had ruined God’s good earth were white as well.

I would recommend against taking children under thirteen to see the movie, due to the way the film portrays Noah’s psychological conflict.  There is also a scene in which Noah elects to leave behind a young girl, who is then trampled by the oncoming horde of people struggling to get on the ark.  It was difficult to watch.



One thought on “A Few Thoughts on “Noah”

  1. My beef with the film was not theological, although I thought it missed the mark by a fair piece. No, my disappointment centered around the terrible acting and the cardboard characters. Like you, I thought it was too in your face preachy when it focused in on the vegetarianism (no problem with that lifestyle, just didn’t belong) and the additional passenger on the ark. All in all a rather dismal film.

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