Last night I saw Noah, a film by Darren Aronofsky. I went with my eyes wide open knowing that the director is not a Christian (some have said he is an atheist, but I can’t substantiate that – this interview in the Atlantic paints a pretty clear picture of Aronofsky’s intentions), and that this is, in fact, Hollywood – I had no pretensions that this would be a biblical accounting of the story, but I was still too intrigued not to see it. As a fan of all the primary actors, there was a compelling desire to see how they portrayed this story with these characters… and for me, this was a character-driven movie.
It was a study in the psyche of a man given an impossible task, under impossible circumstances with miraculous help. Believers tend to forget that while Noah was called a righteous man in his generation (Genesis 6:9), he was still a man. He was fallible, not perfect, and so the task of designing and building an Ark that would be a vessel to survive the deluge to come while all of humanity perishes, would have not only been physically demanding but emotionally and mentally demanding. Noah, portrayed by Russell Crowe, wrestles with the idea that if God’s purpose (called the Creator in the movie) is to end the effect of sin on the earth then he also is to blame. He knows the sin in his own heart, the sin in the lives of his family member, and concludes that they too must die. Obviously, in the biblical account Noah is told explicitly this is not to be the case, but this is not the biblical account… but more on that later… Emma Watson’s role as Shem’s wife, Ila, serves to help Noah understand his family’s role on the new earth and balance the metaphorical storm that rages in his soul long after the waters subsided. He is to help establish a sense of mercy and kindness in humanity against the unrestrained violence that had previously existed. Jennifer Connelly as Noah’s wife, Naameh (unnamed and barely mentioned in the Bible), is powerful and heart-wrenching in her portrayal of devotion in the face of uncertainty. This movie does a strong, albeit, flawed job of demonstrating the spiritual struggle of a good man and the family who must follow him.
Of the viewer reviews I have read, most have focused on a few things… How the biblical account differs from the movie, and the role of the “Watchers.” I don’t want to really focus on the plot differences between the biblical account and the film, because the list would be extensive and unnecessary. This isn’t the Bible. If you go thinking this is go with that in mind, you will enjoy the movie and the questions it asks far more. As for the “Watchers,” the fallen angels/rock transformers who ultimately help Noah build the Ark, all I can really say is that I can appreciate the need to underscore the supernatural nature of Noah’s task, but the diversion of their back story and the relative unimpressive execution from a CGI standpoint made them far more of a distraction then an addition. When you read the Bible, especially Genesis, there are many instances when you come across supernatural stories or aspects that are difficult to imagine (think the Nephilim from Genesis 6:4 as one example) or even explain. How would we visualize those moments? Again, I think there were many other ways to describe the ability to accomplish Noah’s task in supernatural terms, and the “Watchers” is the way Aronofsky chose to go, and the movie is the lesser for it.
The most interesting and revealing issue raised in Noah is about the nature of God. Just what kind of deity is God: a God that is eternal, majestic, supremely over us, sovereign, the Creator, transcendent or is he a God who cares, is present, imminent, involved, loving, a God who speaks to and engages his people. The biblical answer is – Yes! Both are equally true and equally portrayed in the Bible. In Noah, however, there is presented an almost exclusively transcendent view of God. He is the Creator, but he does not speak to his people in ways that are clearly understood. There are glimpses of his personal care over Noah and his family, but those are outweighed by the sense in which God does not speak. The miracles are miracles for the sake of displaying God’s might not his loving-kindness.
What the Bible shows us consistently is that God does speak. He does not leave Noah, or Abraham, or Moses, or David, or any of the heroes of the faith without condescending to their level of understanding. He does not leave them guessing or deciding for themselves. He cares about their well-being and provides for their it, especially when it is met with obstacles. There is no greater example of that than in the person and work of Jesus Christ. God not only spoke to man, but became man in Jesus, and to deal with the violence of sin that exists in all of our hearts he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:4-9) God does punish sin, but he does not punish blindly. He took the weight of that punishment upon himself, because while he cannot tolerate sin, he still desires a relationship with his people. Our majestic and sovereign God desires that we call him Father (Romans 8:15).
As a film, Noah has some strong points and some glaring deficiencies. There were moments of extreme intensity, and some points that I understand might offend some believers, but, as a Christian, I appreciated the focus it placed on the internal struggle such a task would have placed on a righteous though fallible man. We must always remember that God does love and care for his creation, and though his justice must still stand, his grace abounds more and more through Jesus Christ.