Film Review – Noah

Russell Crowe as Noah in Darren Aranofsky's biblical epic

I’m not surprised that Darren Aronofsky’s Noah caused a storm of controversy amongst Christians (particularly American Christians). After all this is Aronofsky we’re talking about. His films are like Marmite. For every person who loves, say, The Fountain (including me), there’s someone who hates it. Noah is a deeply flawed work, to be sure, yet it is also magnificent, thought provoking, and enjoyably deranged in equal measure. A great deal of artistic licence has been taken in terms of material that has been added to the Biblical text, but this isn’t something Christians should get hot under the dog collar about, since people are being driven back to the Bible in droves. Online downloads of the Noah story in Genesis have soared over the last week in the US alone.

Aronofsky’s direction is audacious and foolish in equal measure, whilst Ari Handel’s screenplay makes a good job of seriously wrestling with the heart of the story, ie the nature of sin, the judgement and mercy of God and so forth. On a technical level the film passes muster, even if some of the more fantastic imagery isn’t entirely convincing, and Clint Mansell contributes a fine music score. Russell Crowe makes a suitably dark, brooding Noah, driven by visions of the first apocalypse to build an Ark. Jennifer Connolly also does well as his wife Naameh, alongside a supporting cast that also includes Emma Watson as Ila in what proves to be a pivotal role. Elsewhere Ray Winstone plays the villainous Tubal-cain, Anthony Hopkins mutters wisdom as Noah’s grandfather Methuselah and Nick Nolte and Mark Margolis provide voices for a couple of fallen angels.

From this point on, I must issue SPOILER WARNINGS as I intend to discuss the finer points of the film in some detail.

As I mentioned earlier, where it really matters, the film pretty much sticks to the Biblical account, but loads of creative licence is taken in terms of adding stuff in. For the record let me state that I have no problem with this whatsoever. A film is not a sermon or a basis for theological belief. If Aronofsky wants to give Noah climate change overtones then so be it. Besides, how do we know the First Age wasn’t an environmental ruin ravaged by industrialisation and greed? Some have even moaned about Noah being depicted as a strict vegetarian, but this is actually Biblically supported, since according to Genesis God did not tell humans that they could eat meat until after the flood.

Aronofsky also delves into the Book of Enoch to include the Watchers (fallen angels), or at least his version of them. These angels are supposed to have led mankind astray by introducing unauthorised technological advances, so God punished them by imprisoning them in rock. Said Watchers eventually help Noah build the Ark, before (it is implied) returning to heaven. Putting on a “theology police” uniform for a moment, for me, this element of the film was the most problematic. The Watchers were not redeemed. According to Enoch (and the Bible) what they were involved in, along with other fallen angels, was the interbreeding of human and angelic DNA that led to the Nephilim (giants) mentioned in Genesis chapter 6. My personal belief is that this was the primary reason for the flood. Man’s genetic code had become so corrupted that God literally had no choice but to hit CTRL/ALT/DELETE, so to speak, and start again. When Genesis talks about Noah “being perfect in his generations” it doesn’t mean he was perfect (we know he wasn’t from his post flood drunken antics), I believe that verse means he and his family were genetically pure humans uncorrupted by Nephilim mischief. If I had made a film about Noah, I certainly wouldn’t have given him fallen angels to assist him. I would however have had the fallen angels/Nephilim side with Tubal-Cain. On the other hand, to be fair to the filmmakers, they never say the Watchers sided with Satan, so perhaps they are less “fallen angels” and more “naughty angels on God’s equivalent of a time out”. Certainly this issue in itself is no reason to condemn the film. However, I highly recommend checking out Wendy Alec’s Chronicles of Brothers novels (specifically the first book The Fall of Lucifer) for an alternative perspective on the flood that bears out my above theological position – and incidentally also depicts God as utterly heartbroken over what he has been driven to do.

Returning to Aronofsky’s version, the film depicts Noah as essentially a man tormented by visions who undergoes a horrific experience that ultimately turns him into a dangerous homicidal fundamentalist. This didn’t bother me one bit. Who is to say Noah wasn’t deeply traumatised by his experience? Who is to say he didn’t experience a kind of madness? At one point it looks like Noah believes the human race should not survive at all, which almost causes him to murder the unborn children being carried by Ila. Is this some kind of anti-abortion statement? If so, surely the American Christian right ought to be applauding Aronofsky? Equally, I cannot understand why so many American Christians are upset by the scene where Noah gets drunk, collapses naked and winds up cursing his middle son (although not verbally in the film – it is implied). Again, why is this such a problem?

Included within the film is an extraordinary flashback depicting the Creation of the Universe and the Fall of Man. There are shades of Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life here, as Aronofsky tries to appease both evolutionists and creationists. However the sequence is astonishing, vivid and very powerful. It again grapples seriously with the nature of sin and its consequences – again, something Christians ought to be thankful for.

Ultimately, that Aronofsky’s Noah has touched so many raw nerves is a good thing. It reminds us that art can provoke and infuriate. It reminds us that two people can watch the same film and come away with something entirely different. For that reason alone, despite its undoubted missteps, I recommend Aronofsky’s Noah, warts and all.

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9 Responses to Film Review – Noah

  1. CMrok93 says:

    Good review. It’s a very weird flick, but it’s one that always kept me thinking. Even for days after seeing it.

  2. Thanks for the review Simon. You’re correct – much to be applauded and much to be questioned. Never hurts to confront other perspectives! I appreciate the thoughtful review.

  3. Ruth Haslam says:

    Given that I, along with many people from all sorts and sizes of Christian tradition, view the Noah story as, well, a story, I would be interested to see what is made of it. My main objection, and I know I am hugely at fault here in my prejudices, is the presence of Russell Crowe. He is someone who would have come under the title of (cue posh Edinburgh accent) “That Man!” (with plenty of tutting) as categorised by Yr’Auntie Maud.

  4. Mark. says:

    Simon.

    Thought provoking…no.
    Magnificent…no.
    Utter rubbish….Yes.

    I wanted the rain to start in the cinema and make the pain go away.
    I’m kind of surprised you spent so much time writing a review…And especially put a ‘Spoiler Warning’ in it.
    For anyone that doesn’t know the *story* of Noah….Man is ‘Bad’. Noah is ‘Good’. Noah build a boat, animals come, it rains…a lot. Noah finds dry ground…..

    “Who is to say Noah wasn’t deeply traumatised by his experience? Who is to say he didn’t experience a kind of madness?”

    Who is to say he even existed at all……?

    • simondillon says:

      “Who is to say he even existed at all?” – that rather depends on one’s beliefs, obviously. I thought mine were clear.

    • Ruth Haslam says:

      Hey Mark,

      I really believe you, I expect it’s a rubbish film. In that way my personal opinion would probably agree with your personal opinion except I have not seen it myself (as my prejudice against all things Russell Crowe prevents me (see previous comment). Simon’s review says “Meh” to me; not enough to set my prejudice aside.

      That said, I will point out a couple of things. Simon loves films and loves to write about films and (as you may have noticed) he reviews all films he sees whether he likes them or not. This one he thinks is flawed but is not entirely without merit. I expect you probably do understand why he chose to review this film in particular depth and that is because of the reactionary views that some Christians have had against it.

      Yup I get that there isn’t much to spoil about the basic narrative. But Simon was respectful enough to think that there may be some bits that the film adds which some people may not want spoilt for them. Hence the spoiler warning.

      As for Noah not existing, well, um, does that mean we aren’t allowed to add our own interpretations and nuances to the motivations, desires and actions of fictional characters? So sorry. I will go and inform everyone who has ever read and enjoyed fiction ever, world wide, past present and future. Only real people from now on. Promise. Pinky promise. And you can’t break one of those (I am reliably informed).

  5. andrew dillon says:

    The Mesopotamian Flood account was from the earlier Gilcamesh Account. Scientists have confirmed that the area was flooded once upon a time and that the shore of the Black Sea was lower than it is today.The account was also meant to be a metaphor. Noah was a man who saw beyond the petty mundane worries of his neighbours and saw the bigger picture seen by all the o Old Testament Prophets. Because he was able to see, he was able to prophecy. His neighbours were too busy making money to see where that vulgar pursuit was taking them. Scientific discoveries of the time may well have enabled powerful men to have created half-human, half-animal beings of the type spoken of in Revelations as the Beast. Science will soon discover how to break the genetic code and the person who discovers it will not want to pass the informnation on. It will make him or her, powerful beyond their wildest imaginings. We must let the Tree of the Cross start to rule our life so that the child in us can lose itself in our youth and then in our man, these three being in one body.Only the can we avoid the terrible judgement seen by St John in Revelations.and move instead to the Tree of Life whose leaves will be for the healing of nations.

    • simondillon says:

      Hi Andrew (I am assuming this is my Uncle Andrew – so apologies if this is not the case) – Great to hear from you on the blog! I hope you’re well. We must get together sometime.

      • andrew dillon says:

        Yes, it is me your Uncle Andrew. I just thought I would add my comments to your review. I agree that there is a good deal to be said for including the story of Cain in the film although, like you, I would have liked it better if the filmmakers had pointed out the connection between Cain and the complex agricultural society he started after he had slain Abel, the shepherd boy. God forgave Cain because He realised that being the first murderer, Cain did not have the hindsight to see the consequences of his actions. God put the mark on Cain to show His forgiveness for his actions just as he forgave the sins of Noah and the later prophets of the Old Testament and of course all of mankind when we put Jesus who gave us His Prayer in which we have to forgive others as He forgives us at the heart of our inner man. The advances of science and technology in the last two centuries has created the need in us to eat of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge and so what was bequeathed to us from the middle ages which in its most divine form is to be found in the architectonics of Dante’s Divine Comedy has vanished, leaving mankind adrift and Western Christendom in a state of crisis. All of our previous convictions have been called profoundly into question, including marriage which is now, in Great Britain anyway, although not yet in Northern Ireland, defined as including relationships between persons of the same sex, an oxymoron if ever there was. Ibsen wrote about this in his play, The Doll House. Nora in her lilting entrance, was a delicate creature of macaroons and toys but in her final exit was a remorselessly independent woman wreathed in funereal black determined to die alone, if necessary. The two who should have been one flesh were in conflict and this ended the marriage.The shaken audience who left the Royal Theatre in Copenhagen were left in no doubt that their general ground of meaning had shifted and things were never to be the same again. Ibsen, the prophet, had seen the future but few took heed.Women’s Lib is now in unstoppable mode and, as usual in mankind’s history is going OTT.. We have today three empires,Paganism with its love of philosophy and sensual beauty and science and technologywhich is based on the Tree of Knowledge, modern Christianity based on the Tree of the Cross, both of these are in conflict and are dying. The third Empire based on the Tree of Life has not yet come because God has not yet found his overcomers, the ones who by willing a new synthesis will go beyond the Tree of Knowledge and its dire consequences and the Tree of the Cross and find as Elijah did the true meaning of the Divine Being not as wind, earthquake,tempest and fire but as a still small voice. This still small voice is now beginning to manifest itself in the defenders and martyrs of conscience,reformers and pioneers of a new understanding of the Divine Being that is the Holy Trinity. Jacob’s ladder pointed downwards, that is, into our inner being where lurk ambiguous feelings towards God and one another and a host of other ills which first need to be dealt with and eradicated if we are to move forward to the Tree of Life whose leaves will be for the healing of nations. I hope an Old Timer like me has not bothered you too much with my musings, Love to you and all the family, Andrew

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