Posted by Jameson | Posted in Film, Film Review | 03/31/2014
I watched the film. This post will be long – so don’t bother reading if you don’t care. Please be sure and read my previous post before reading this one as it builds from it. Also do not read this post if you haven’t seen the film yet. It is FILLED with SPOILERS.
Ultimately, this film was very enjoyable. As a standalone film, I’m not sure it was the strongest story I’ve ever seen on screen. There were holes, difficulties with the exposition and character flaws. But this is Darren Aronofsky for you, he is a smart, smart filmmaker and for that reason, it made me think. Even though I knew the story, it made me second guess at every turn. It made me go back and pour over the story of Noah in the Bible. It made me wonder: what if? THAT to me is the theme of this film: what if?
As a reminder, the story of Noah is not only found in the Bible. It is in other religious texts and early writings and is regarded as one of the earliest stories known to mankind. So, let’s get past this idea of the film being ‘Unbiblical’ and think of it as ‘Extra-biblical’. Again, Darren Aronofsky is an atheist – if you walked into the theater expecting to see some sort of accurate or purely Bible-based interpretation of this story, then I’m sorry. Count your losses. As I said in my first post, Aronofsky set out to tell this story in a way that only he could. Is it 100% accurate? No. But is the version you hear in Sunday school 100% accurate? Nope. The truth is we don’t really know for certain because none of us were there and the story happens to be incomplete; at least to a degree.
What Darren Aronofsky produced, in my mind, is color commentary on the story that exists in the available texts. What I am going to propose is that maybe, just maybe Aronofsky was on to something here. As Christians, we need to be a little more informed in our process of feedback and review. First of all, watch the film before critiquing it. Second, do your homework and cross-reference what you feel to be untrue and find out why you believe that, even if you are working to uphold the children’s storybook version – ask yourself why.
Darren Aronofsky has made a total of 7 films, including Noah. Each one deals with a dark and gritty subject matter – so we have to first understand why he may have been attracted to the Noah story. I think he was attracted to it because of the weight of this decision. Noah’s faith in God was so strong that he actually followed through on the difficult decision of wiping nearly all of the human race from the planet. I bet Aronofsky was pretty taken with the grandness of this idea and started to imagine what he could do with it. When he began to review the text, I’m sure he asked himself several questions throughout his life and the eleven year process of bringing this film to life.
I have a handful of points I’m sure will come up as topics of discussion among Christians, and my resounding theme here will be: what if? So bear with me as I work through these. PLEASE NOTE: This is for discussion! I am not an expert in theology, hermeneutics or anything of that sort. I’m not saying I believe these things outright, but is it really so harmful to challenge our thinking? Let’s find out…
A lot of church figureheads already have this film painted as environmentalist propaganda. Is it really, though? Most people have this aimed back at the fact Noah is a vegetarian and that his family does not harm or eat animals. This is referenced in the Bible in Genesis 9:3 “Everything that lives and moves about will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything.” Beyond that, Noah gets on to his kid about picking a flower for no reason. Taking a look at the scorched earth setting of the film, might you say the same to your child? It is re-grown in the ground after a drop of rain falls from heaven. This maybe a message about environmentalism, but in film, this is also known as a device – an element in storytelling that helps develop the exposition. Noah removes thousands of trees to build the ark. Is that environmentally friendly? Or is it a means to an end? Unless I missed something, I really feel as though the environmental message was not as strong as some perceive it to be (and that includes some atheist’s reviews).
Maybe. Fallen Angels, as we know from Genesis are on the earth during this time, or more accurately, their offspring. They are referred to as the Nephilim in Genesis 6:4. They are referenced later in Numbers as giants. While the depiction of these characters may be rather new for most of us as Christians to swallow, I found it really exciting just to toy with the idea of God creating the world to have so many fantastical elements in those early days. Aronofsky here is showing his imagination as to what these beings might have been like. In the film, they help him build the ark. I’ve always wondered how 8 people built the entire thing by hand… just saying.
3. Noah’s history
We honestly don’t know much about the inner-workings of Noah’s mind. We see much of the story from God’s perspective. We know Noah was viewed favorably by God. We know he was righteous and faithful. We know he followed God’s commands, but we don’t get inside his head much. Maybe his father was murdered, maybe he wasn’t. Maybe Methusela was some sort of sage with miraculous powers granted by God, maybe he wasn’t.
4. God’s voice
God appeared quite frequently through dreams to people in the Old Testament. The depiction of how he communicated with Noah is a choice the filmmakers decided to pursue. In the film, he communicates rather infrequently with Noah. Is it not safe to assume that there may have been a time of silence, a time when Noah’s faith was tested? Why would he send out the ravens and the doves if not for trying to find the land? He expected the 40 days and 40 nights, but why wouldn’t he have just asked God: “hey, when is this going to be over?” Genesis 8:1 states that God remembered Noah, could this imply that for a while, that God forgot? Could it be that even with Noah on the ark he was still considering leaving the earth covered in water?
5. Noah changes
In the film, Noah changes dramatically for a period of time. He observes what is truly wrong with the group of people camping outside the forest beyond the ark. In this sequence, he sees himself as one of those wicked people. He comes to the realization that perhaps God does not want him or his family to live either, that he would prefer the world continues only with animals. Now, I can understand this would really challenge the Biblical portrayal of Noah as a faithful man. But, put yourself in his shoes. You are building an ark to save just you and your family. You know you have the directive from God, but wouldn’t you at least once or twice wonder if maybe you got it wrong? Maybe you should save everyone, or maybe you should save no one, including yourself. Are you 100% sure you heard what you did, or did you hear what you wanted to hear? Faced with the challenge of saving only yourself and your family, would you not question the value of the rest of humanity once or twice? In the case of the film, this is a prime mental struggle for Noah and something very common for Aronofsky if you are familiar with his work.
6. In seven days!
In the Bible, it says that Noah and his family were sealed onboard seven days prior to the flood. From a film production standpoint, this is one of the climax moments, so they elected to have a battle. Which was interesting. It seemed heartless. This part was hard to watch. It was hard to think of Noah completely merciless during this time, but in effect seals his contract with God to perhaps an extreme level. This is especially difficult as the waters are rising and Noah has a chance to save lives. He elects not to because he firmly believes God is telling him not to. Maybe Noah and God are at odds of a sort during the time. Perhaps Noah was supposed to demonstrate mercy and did not and is that the reason for God’s silence in the latter half of the film?
7. The villian, the stowaway
I’m almost positive in Sunday School we learned of the people who came to make fun of Noah, but he held fast to his faith. Come to find out – that isn’t in the Bible at all! But we heard about it in Sunday school! Gasp! The movie takes a slightly different, more antagonistic angle on this supposed character. He is wicked, he is filled with violence. Tubal-cain is one of those people that God wants to wipe out the earth for. We need to see who these individuals are, otherwise it gives no cause to Noah’s mission. Tubal-cain is evil (notice the Cain in his name). Tubal-cain is in the Bible as a descendent of Cain. And on an interesting sidenote, Naamah is his sister. Jennifer Connelly’s character is named Naameh. We don’t learn the name of Noah’s wife in the Bible, I don’t believe – isn’t this interesting that maybe she is Tubal-cain’s sister? Generationally, Tubal-cain and Noah would have been alive during the same time period. (See Genesis 5 and Genesis 4).
If this is the case, Noah and Tubal-cain would have been pitted against one another from the time of their ancestors. Noah was a descendent of Seth, Adam and Eve’s third son. Tubal-cain’s father Lamech also brags of killing a man and refers to it as vengeance. These things seem consistent with the character of Tubal-cain to a degree. As a stowaway, Tubal-cain becomes an added layer of intrigue for this story, things don’t seem right on the ark as long as we know he is surviving. He shows us the value of the animals (as soon as one is killed, that species can no longer survive).
8. Ham is a little rebel
This was one of those elements that surprised me the most. Where I thought there was little reason for Noah’s son to be so problematic – It turns out that there must have been something going on. In Genesis 9, it is revealed that Ham becomes the father of Canaan. Canaan is cursed by Noah in the Bible. He takes the time to bless both Japheth and Shem, but there is no reason that he does not include Ham in that blessing. Isn’t it reasonable to think that Ham may have done something to earn his father’s curses? Could it have been that something happened while aboard that ark? The rainbow in the film comes after this sequence, yet before in the Bible, but regardless – it seems as though something is amiss.
9. Ham and Japheth’s wives
But they boarded the boat without wives for Ham or Japheth…! Did they? Are we sure? In the film, this is perhaps one of the greatest creative liberties the filmmakers take, yes. But, in the womb of Ila, the two had already been conceived, so technically, they were aboard the ark – just in a different way than we expected. And Noah’s struggle with wanting to kill them? Twin sisters was the last thing I expected to hear – it made us so nervous knowing what Noah’s intent was. But could any other combination of babies have led him to the same outcome? Could God (in the film) spoken to him any more clearly?
There are a lot of supernatural elements that seem to take place, especially in the first half of the film. I love this idea – By the time Genesis 8 rolls around, the flood is over. We’re talking 8 chapters into the Bible here. So, magic fire stones, Methuselah performing miracles, stone giants, smoke that makes animals fall asleep: hard to believe? What about a fruit that makes you know the difference between good and evil? What about talking serpents? What about a family building a boat big enough for all animals on the planet? What about a flood that covers the planet? Is the magic still hard to believe? The world was a much different place during those times, even God himself admits that he was still working things out. What did he need to reset? What needed to change beyond just getting righteous people to start over with?
Okay, okay, okay. Those are my big points – call me crazy, but they get me thinking. Hopefully they will get you thinking as well. Maybe you have more questions – why was it so violent? Well, we know mankind was evil and wicked during this time. What about Noah getting drunk? That whole sequence is in the Bible.
My effort here is to demonstrate how much I THOUGHT I knew about the story of Noah, especially from the Bible. Turns out, I had a lot to go check after that film. It took an atheist to make a movie about a Bible story for me to go back and re-read that story. I enjoyed the movie. I had fun. I will probably watch it again.