Aronofsky’s Noah: Getting to the Heart of this Watered-Down Epic
by Chris Ehrhart
Pour a cup of coffee and settle down for this fifteen minute read. I pray it will be well worth every second of your time.
Sitting in the theater (thanks to a free ticket from a friend who works for them) in anticipation to watch Noah, there were several things that caught my attention. As I scanned the area, I noticed all sorts of people: young, old, black, white, Hispanic, and, I would presume, those who consider themselves Christians as well as those who do not. This room was packed with people about to be presented with a movie based on the story of Noah, a man described by the Bible as righteous and faithful. Several questions came to mind, especially concerning Christians: What would be the message communicated to this crowd? Who among these people would have a discerning mind to know how to filter the smut from the truth? How many people in here had read the Genesis account of the depravity of man, God’s wrath in the Flood, and His grace in the rainbow? My purpose in seeing the movie and, ultimately, in writing this lengthy review is to edify the Body of Christ by informing her of this film’s content and providing critique from a biblical worldview. After swimming through the miry deluge of pagan fantasy, extreme environmentalism, and radical biblical deviancy in Aronofsky’s Noah, one will find the true heart of this film to be an atheist’s blasphemous attempt at recreating the Noahic account without its most central character, God Himself.
A Generous Plot Summary
Before addressing specific issues I have discovered, I believe it important to give an overview of the movie’s plot (that means this is your spoiler alert), all without personal commentary (there will be plenty of this to follow). The film opens with a brief exposition, stating that in the beginning was nothing, the Creator (the name used to refer to this story’s god) made everything, and man ruined everything by sinning. Adam, Eve, and their children left Eden and, shortly after, humanity’s wickedness takes over, the first major event being Cain’s slaying of his brother Abel. Cain, having moved East away from everyone else, established an industrial society that quickly robbed the land of its natural resources, leaving it an apparently barren wasteland. In the opening scene after this introduction, Lamech, Noah’s father, is shown blessing his roughly thirteen year-old son with some sort of strange snake skin charm, which is apparently the shed skin of the Edenic serpent who deceived the first humans. A group of Cain’s descendents, led by the film’s primary villain Tubal-Cain, come on the scene, kill Lamech and take the charm. This leaves Noah, supposedly the last remaining descendent of Seth’s lineage, to run in fear for his very life.
Shortly after, we are presented with an adult Noah, married with three young sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, all gathering from the land their everyday necessities. After dispatching a few men who killed an innocent animal and threatened to do the same to him, Noah is shown to have a vision regarding a world-wide flood that will destroy mankind; thus he sets out with his family to find his grandfather, Methuselah, believed to be dead (but Noah feels he is alive), to seek answers regarding this dream. Along the way, they discover a young girl, Ila, orphaned by her family’s recent slaughter by marauders and herself severely injured to the point of being barren, if she were even to live long enough for that to be a concern. Chased away by these wicked men, the family, taking Ila with them, encounters The Watchers, a group of giant stone creatures later revealed to be Fallen Angels from Heaven. Having little desire for their lives, The Watchers capture the family and leave them to die in a pit. One of these creatures pities them and helps them escape, leading the group to Methuselah’s mountain. Noah, taking Shem along, visits his long-lost grandfather who gives him some spiked tea which leads to Noah facing another dream, this time of a gargantuan boat to which the animals of the earth flock. Noah and company now embark on the task of building this incredible ark with one small problem: the land is fruitless with no trees or sustainable water sources. However, after planting an Edenic seed Methuselah gives Noah, the ground around them suddenly blossoms into a vast forest full of trees and waters. The Watchers, sympathetic to Noah’s cause, determine to assist him at all cost.
Fast forwarding several years, Noah’s family is older, the ark is nearing its completion, and the animals begin arriving. Filling the ark, the family works on the interior’s set-up, including causing all of the animals to fall into a deep sleep by burning some substance, the smoke of which acts as a sleeping agent (this hibernation would last from this point through the entirety of the Flood and the ark’s time on the water). All of the daunting work in constructing and maintaining the ark is shown to be a family affair; everyone is involved, including The Watchers. We see that Shem and Ila are getting along particularly well and are very romantic; however, Ila will not give herself to Shem as his wife because she cannot give him children. One day, during the normal every-day work, Tubal-Cain and his cronies arrive on the scene, curse Noah and are determined to take the ark. Noah, after realizing that this is the same man who killed his father, is determined that all of these wicked men should die, and the quicker the better. After the obvious intimidation factor of The Watchers, the men leave, establishing a camp a short distance away.
These men, Tubal-Cain as their leader, are determined to overtake the family, The Watchers, and the ark themselves. They are shown to be a horrid bunch, nasty, vile, meat-eating, greedy, covetous, and overall despicable people. After realizing that the Creator allowed for each animal to have its own mate and yet his two younger sons to be without wives, Noah sets to take two wives for them from this establishment. In the scene that follows, Noah discovers their depravity first-hand, seeing them even trading their daughters for animals to eat. Disgusted at all he has witnessed, he leaves empty-handed, even more resolved to finish the ark and see these people killed. Following this, Methuselah, at the request of Noah’s wife, finds and blesses Ila, healing her of her barrenness (and the subsequent consummation of their relationship). Also, Ham runs away, distraught that his father would not bring him a wife, fleeing to the nearby camp of the wicked to find his own wife. He finds her, a girl named Nael, after falling inside a ditch of dead bodies by accident and winning her trust, promising to rescue her from the surrounding evil.
Sure enough, the rain starts coming down, Tubal-Cain gathers his men for war, and Ham and Nael dash to get back to the ark in time. In a horrid turn of events, Nael is caught in a trap and trampled by the crowd of men swarming to get to the ark, Ham being forcibly removed by Noah, who left her there to die. Noah’s family all safely gets inside the ark, and the onslaught begins. The Watchers, guarding the ark, start striking and killing seemingly thousands of men. Eventually, Tubal-Cain is capable of killing one of them, each of the creatures eventually being taken down. As each Watcher dies, however, they explode, causing even more destruction. Shortly after the last one perishes, the grounds burst with water as well, quickly flooding the land. Noah fends off men from getting into the ark, Shem even killing one himself. Unfortunately, they are not able to keep everyone out, for a wounded Tubal-Cain manages to break in the ark. Seeing him, Ham, who is embittered at his father, helps conceal the trespasser along with the animals at the bottom level of the ark. The family, sitting in silence in the ark, listens to the surviving humans of the torrent screaming and pleading for salvation.
Noah has a heart-to-heart family discussion, speaking with them about how they must feel in this situation. He recounts the Creation story he has always known, and tells them that the innocent animals are the only ones who will survive; mankind will die off, they being the last survivors. As time passes on the boat, it is discovered that Ila is pregnant, much to the dismay of Noah, who believed her barren. In a striking turn of events, Noah announces that he will kill the child if it is born female because she would have the ability to mother children, something which Noah deems unacceptable as humanity is too evil to be allowed to continue. As one can imagine, it causes a bit of a strain on the family relationships, everyone growing to hate Noah and Noah himself becoming estranged and distant from the rest of the group. Time comes for Ila to deliver her baby, and she gives birth to twin sisters, doubling the agony of their impending murder. Shem is not ready to let this happen, and stands guard ready to kill his father if needed. Ham, during all of this, plots with Tubal-Cain, who is quite the masterful manipulator, and gets Noah to come to the bottom of the boat for an ambush. The film’s climax finds the two men facing off, Ham coming to his senses to help his father and himself kill Tubal-Cain. Noah finds Ila with the twin babies, changes his mind about killing them, and instead blesses them.
Our story finds its conclusion with the ark landing on dry ground after quite some time, the animals being released, and the family starting anew. Noah finds himself quite alone from the rest of his family, and becomes quite drunk. His sons discover him, Shem and Japheth covering him up, Ham looking at shame at his own father. He soon after decides to leave, heading into the lands by himself and departing from all of his family, reminiscent of Cain’s departure from his family at the film’s nascence. After a discussion with Ila resulting in forgiveness, Noah rekindles his relationship with his wife and, subsequently, his two remaining sons. The movie finds its completion as the family stands on a mountain side, wondering what they should do now. With resplendence, the sky illuminates with pulsating rainbow rings, seemingly indicating that they should move on as a family and, as Noah tells the family, be fruitful and multiply.
Yes. That really did just happen.
Breaking Down the Biblical Digressions
There are two major categories in which this movie primarily errs from the Bible’s account of Noah, his family, and the Flood. The first deals with what I label “The Weird,” there being three portions of Noah fitting into this category. As one can imagine, The Watchers top the list, being extrabiblical gigantic creatures who aid Noah and his family. For just a moment, I could have sworn I was actually watching Michael Bay’s Transformers movies and half expected to hear “Autobots, roll out!” It is too bad, because I would prefer to have watched Optimus Prime over this nonsense. These limping rock monsters are actually Fallen Angels, punished by the Creator for wanting to assist Adam and Eve after their sin in Eden. Yes, you read that correctly. They were punished because they wanted to help and not because of prideful rebellion. They taught mankind how to live and thrive, eventually being betrayed by the humans for whom they cared. They begged for death due to their stony disfigurement, but they were doomed to roam the earth. As we find later in the film, all that is needed to kill a Fallen Angel is to stab it with a big stick in its conveniently exposed chest cavity, thus causing it to explode like a grenade and release the angel to go back to heaven where, it is presumed, they will receive the forgiveness for which they begged.
Next in this category is Methuselah himself. He brings a very odd addition to this movie: paganism. Apparently, this guy was not just known for being really old. No, he was a mighty warrior, complete with taking out hundreds of men by thrusting his sword into the ground, causing it to swell with a fiery maelstrom all around him. He is the only human protected by The Watchers, and he is full of neat tricks. Methuselah has the uncanny ability to do just about anything, include heal a barren womb, put people to sleep, and even appear out of nowhere. The one thing he cannot seem to do is find berries, but at least he gets to taste one right before he is overtaken by the waters of the Flood himself. Another aspect of pagan witchcraft is the strange snake skin charm that gets thrown around by a few of the male characters. They would wrap it around their arm and with it bless their children. Its function is never really explained, and it is implied to be the skin of the serpent that deceived Eve. I would personally never wear snake skin (it clashes with my style), but I would definitely never wear the hide of Satan’s animalistic embodiment!
Thirdly, and this is the most unbelievable, occurs when Ila gives birth to the twin girls. Although the delivery comes quickly (which is itself not unheard of), she is surprisingly able to, moments after birth, climb up a few decks of the ark via the ladders all the way to the top of the boat, where she then proceeds to stand and hold her daughters as she waits to see if Noah will follow through with his promise to kill them. Remember, all of this time she was carrying twin babies (there must be something in that vegan diet of theirs). I have never given birth to children (though I vaguely recall Arnold Schwarzenegger doing so in Junior), but I am fairly certain that this would be impossible. Frankly, I find the idea of boulders inhabited by charitable hermit crab demons exhibiting more believability than this!
A second category encompasses blatant biblical departures that are not in the realm of the extraordinary. Upon a quick perusal of Genesis 6-9 (also including shorter references to Noah in Ezekiel 14, Hebrews 11, I Peter 3, and II Peter 2), we find three main points regarding the Noahic flood:
1) God is recorded as directly, frequently and specifically discoursing with Noah.
2) Noah is righteous, obedient, his only speaking role found in blessing Shem and Japheth and cursing Ham (note that he is described as a preacher of righteousness, though, so he definitely did a lot of talking).
3) The purpose of the flood is found to be due to God’s righteous wrath against depraved mankind.
How does Noah compare with its original source? Not so well, unfortunately, and what follows is a listing of the discrepancies I have found.
Although Lamech actually died when he was 777, Noah being a bit older than thirteen, it was more profitable for the plot of the movie to have him die a bit earlier, say, age forty or so. Really, the general chronology of the characters is a bit muddied, because Tubal-Cain certainly would never have been alive at the same time as Noah, but it benefits the industrialization angle I will address later on in this review. Speaking of characters, Noah attempts to characterize the whole family, whereas the Bible says very little about them. Ila is a new addition all together, but I honestly do not have a problem with her character (except her Wolverine-like healing) nor the naming of Noah’s wife. Ila’s inclusion is not in itself a bad thing, and I understand that with the dramatization of a story with so little focus on specific people, one is allowed to use a little imagination of what it could have been like. While we are on the topic, I also have no issues with the inclusion of the wicked meat-eating people wanting desperately to take that ark. Aronofsky provides two intriguing angles to the biblical account. Were there people who ate meat prior to the Noahic covenant? If people were wicked in all kinds of ways, it is probable there were some who ate meat when it was never commanded to do so. In addition, once the rains began to fall, it is equally probable for those antediluvian-turned-diluvians to want to storm that ark and strap themselves in for the ride. Obviously, no one got in the thing, just like no one forces their way into Christ (since the ark, in saving Noah’s family from the Flood, is seen as a picture of Christ’s atoning salvation from God’s wrath that will be poured out on all unrepentant sinners).
There are a few other examples in the movie of divergence from the biblical text regarding the characters. For Noah himself, he never actually communicates with the Creator, not even once. Actually, the Creator never speaks! Instead of direct and specific communication from God, Noah gets a vague idea of what he should do, presumes to know how he should act and blindly attempts to go about it, all of these mystic feelings described as the way the Creator communicates with him. In fact, all the characters, including Methuselah (who cannot even find a simple berry!), seem not to be completely sure of what is going on and rely on the secularized version of “faith,” that is, blind trust that something will happen without a firm foundation to believe it actually will come to fruition. Furthermore, Noah’s character grows cold and embittered toward all mankind, hardly the “preacher of righteousness” of biblical lore. On several occasions, he makes statements basically saying that everyone else is out of luck to have a chance to get on the ark, at one time even looking forward to the waters to come wipe everyone out, well before the contraption is even built! On a different note, Ham and Japheth do not have wives, women who are mentioned in the Scripture as coming along for the journey. Their ages are out of place, too, as Ham is barely seventeen and Japheth (who sends the birds out to test the recession of the waters instead of Noah) around the age of ten, a little too young for a little lady of his own. As mentioned previously, Ham tries to get his own wife, but she ends of dying rather violently before getting on the ark. It is insinuated that the twin sisters born would be the provision of wives from the Creator, but it is never outright mentioned. After the ark mistakenly lands on the beach (and not a mountain), Noah does get drunk, but there is no mention of curses or blessings for his boys after they discover him. In the biblical account, Ham shames his father and is thusly cursed. The movie did get the idea of Ham being a bit of an outcast correct, as he would historically go on to be the father of the Canaanites, a nation always at war with the Israelites. With Ham’s wifeless departure, it would appear that centuries of warring and heartache by these people will never come to life. The film ends with rainbows, but no Noahic covenant and certainly no mention that animals were fine to eat now!
Digging Into the Heart of the Movie
Because the fallacies in the movie are so prevalent and obvious, it would be both simple and tempting to stop there. However, I feel there is a greater agenda behind this film, one that may slip under the radar. More important than criticizing the film’s obvious errors, I would like to switch focus to the worldview the film portrays, that is, the philosophies and ideals being reflected and taught throughout. Aronofsky, a proclaimed atheist, is attempting to portray his version of the world in this movie. This Godless worldview is reflected in three primary manners, the first being the way the film portrays mankind. In Noah, the wicked of the world are a highly industrialized society, stripping the land bare and polluting the waters in their vainglorious pursuits. The human race in this film is almost completely viewed in a demeaning slant, but primarily it is because of their abuse of the natural world and not because their attitude or actions against the Creator. Do not be mistaken; they are awful and nasty people, doing whatever they please regardless of whom it affects or the consequences for their actions.
The problem comes in, however, with the biblical description of the depravity of man. In the Scriptures, mankind is viewed as totally depraved, meaning that every person everywhere is completely tainted with sin (see Romans 3:9-18), and every person expresses this wickedness in different ways (some, for example, have sex outside of marriage while others lust in their minds or view pornography, which Jesus equates to be the same in Matthew 5:27-30, and others commit acts even more abominable to God than these, such as homosexuality). According to Aronofsky, man’s evil is on the outside only; his heart can still be good. This is proven in the dialogue, primarily in conversations between Noah and either his wife or Ila in which it is mentioned man is good because they have love, integrity, and other virtues, sometimes even outright saying man is innately good. While it is obvious that even with total depravity that people are capable of doing good things (after all, we are made in the image of God which enables us to have this capacity for good), we are not classifiable as morally upright (see Jeremiah 17:9). This opposes biblical doctrine, and we must reject this idea or the necessity of Christ is diminished, for if we are good, why do we need Christ’s sacrifice?
Another area of concern is with the overvaluation of the natural world. From the beginning of the movie, it is clear that there was going to be an exaltation of the natural world; the word referring to this realm (“Creation”) is capitalized along with other proper nouns, subtly attributing to it an identity similar to the false notions of “Mother Earth” or “Gaia.” Noah, in a positive notion to his family at the start of the movie, tells his children to only collect what is needed from the land. This was especially important because they had so little, and to waste would be detrimental. The most striking reason this obsession with the natural world is even being noted is that man’s destruction of the natural resources of the world is actually the reason for the Flood, not their wickedness against the Creator (which is never mentioned of existing). Animals of all kinds are referenced on many occasions as being the innocent ones in this whole world-wide flooding thing. The reason they are innocent is because they still live as they did in the Garden of Eden, whatever that means, and man came along and ruined everything (at least that part is fairly accurate). Strangely enough, when Ham is deceiving Noah into coming to the bottom of the ship where Tubal-Cain is waiting to strike, he devises a tale in which the animals have begun to wake up prematurely and are eating one another. Noah springs to action, not because he thinks it odd that they might eat one another, but rather because they should never have woken up so soon. If these were beasts like in Eden, they would have lived in harmony and not attacked one another (unless you are an evolutionist believing that death has always existed). Scripture makes it plain that the worship of creation over God is purely evil, idolatrous, and warrants the wrath of God (see Romans 1:25).
Finally, and most importantly, when an atheist writes a movie loosely based on the Bible, there is a vital question to ask – how is God portrayed? To me, this is the most important inquiry one should hold when evaluating any type of artistic expression (books, poetry, music, movies, video games, etc.)! Aronofsky once stated in an interview for www.MakingOf.com’s Reel Life, Real Stories that “I’m godless. And so I’ve had to make my god, and my god is narrative filmmaking, which is — ultimately what my god becomes, which is what my mantra becomes, is the theme.” How appropriate this is, for the god of Noah is absolutely the god of his own creation, an act for which he will frighteningly give account when he meets the true and living God posthumously.
The only positive statement about the Creator in the film is from Noah, who states that “strength is from the Creator.” This is absolutely true, but it would seem that Noah’s faith is not really faith, at all. He has a dream and a drug-induced vision, neither of which include direct communication from the Creator. This being is completely removed from the world and is seemingly not personally involved in the life of its creation. This impersonal nature is reflected several times in the movie in which characters, including Noah and Tubal-Cain cry out to the sky wanting some sort of direct contact to know what to do. Unfortunately, Methuselah and The Watchers become closer godlike figures in the movie than the Creator ever does. At the end, we see the most direct communication the Creator has in which pulsating rainbow circles come from the sky. One thought comes to my mind: is Noah supposed to be a representation of Aronofsky’s god? His god is aloof, loves animals more than people (even to the point of killing the people for the animals’ sake), and this celestial entity apparently desires the death of Ila’s twin babies to preserve the natural world. Lastly, this god gives Noah the “privilege” of playing god himself, at least from the vantage point of Noah’s wife who states that the Creator asked him to decide if humans are worth saving. The Bible is clear that God is sovereign in all things (Psalm 135:5-7), personal through Jesus Christ (John 1:1-5, 14), and clearly communicates the way in which we should walk through the Holy Spirit (John 14:26) and the Word of God (II Timothy 3:16-17). Noah’s atheistic god is impotent, immoral, impersonal, and inferior to the only true and living God!
Some will say, “Come on, Chris. Get over it! If you don’t like it, then don’t watch it, and certainly don’t tell me what to do! It is just a movie!” When Marvel released Iron Man 3 in 2013, it was considered by comic purists as an insult and borderline blasphemy in its portrayal of Mandarin, Tony Stark’s most daunting foe, as a drunken actor pretending to be a terrorist. His character culminated into simply being an idea to instill fear rather than an actual villain. I use this illustration to show that many people consider a comic book to be more revered than the Word of God. This is not simply some fictional story, folks; this is a true-to-life, historical account of the righteous wrath of God, the desperately wicked hearts of mankind, and the unfathomable grace of God in saving mankind from complete ruin. To apathetically accept this perversion of Scripture and the subsequent prostitution of it as “art” flippantly is to disregard the sanctity of God’s Word.
Shortly before being released, Noah’s producer Paramount Pictures released this statement:
The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.