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.