My analysis of Aronofsky’s “Noah”
I went to see the Noah movie this past Saturday. I haven’t seen any of other Aronofsky’s movies, despite their critical acclaim, this was my first. As I understand it, the film was praised by half of Christian-dom for being a good movie, and then preemptively panned by the other half of Christian-dom prior to it’s release on grounds of inaccuracy from canon as well as a non-conservative portrayal of the character. I generally don’t pay too much attention of those critics (since they often tend to be the modern day counterparts to the overly religious types of Jesus’s day, too concerned with the letter of the law than life-giving gospel), but I did read a blog justifying the artistic liberties taken in the direction of this film (http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/03/17/will-evangelicals-miss-boat-paramount-noah/). With that as my primary preface going into the film, I was looking forward to hearing from God as I watched the film. Click the “read more” to read on, and consider this the spoiler warning.
Much of my analysis here will not focus on what is or isn’t based in Genesis 5-8, but rather the spiritual truths contained with the film still relevant to today. I will be approaching this with a fairly charismatic theology in mind.
First and foremost, the core of the movie is that mercy triumphs over judgment, and I’ll get to that point further on. Secondly, 60-80% of the film falls in that category of “not in scripture, but not precluded either,” and done so in favor of stronger storytelling. Please be a mature believer with a big heart and don’t get offended about the movie because of the obvious deviations from the text. In my post-viewing research, I have found that most of Aronfsky and his co-writer’s research referred back to Jewish traditions for reference material for story elements that would be “between the lines” of Genesis 5-8. I offer this interview with Aronofsky’s co-writer as supplementary explanation for some of their decision-making: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/culture/noah%E2%80%99s-co-writer-explains-film%E2%80%99s-controversial-theology
The film begins with a highly abridged reckoning of the beginning of Genesis, and transitions to a scene with Noah and his father, as his father recounts the genealogy of their family line. As a follower of Jesus who reads the Bible, I thought this transition was quite brilliant, since any student of the Bible will tell you that the genealogies are one of the less interesting parts of Scripture, and yet Aronofsky has woven it nicely as an introduction to Noah as a descendant of Seth.
Rock-giant-angels. I was pretty impressed with the depiction of fallen angels as rock giants in this film, since it was a unique approach to their visual design against the stereotypical western concept of angel: prior to landing on earth they assumed the traditional beings of light often associated with the word angel, yet when they landed, they became encrusted and imprisoned by the very dirt they crashed upon. As a visual effects point, I liked the animation treatment of the rock-angels being slightly choppy, as a reference to the early special effects that utilized stop-motion clay-mation (Jason and the Argonauts comes to mind). There is a spiritual truth revealed in these rock-angels depicted to be assisting Noah in his construction of the ark (again, not in Scripture, but not precluded either) in that angels are ministering spirits, and that angels, even fallen angels, are bound to authority.
On the issue of authority, I think the depiction of Methuselah by Anthony Hopkins was quite poignant. Here was a character that understood his identity as a descendant of Seth, the son of Adam. Even though in the garden, Adam had abdicated his authority and power to the enemy, Methuselah’s portrayal (also Lamech’s in the intro) indicated some sense of recognition of the identity as the God-ordained stewards of the planet, with vestiges of the divine power that comes with that station (very aptly portrayed in the family blessing). It is a very appropriate portrayal, considering that this was the son of the man who walked with God so closely that one day was no more because God walked him away. In the film, Methuselah is a type of the Father, he provides Noah with the materials for the ark in the form of a miracle seed from the garden, and he blesses his adopted granddaughter (Emma Watson’s character, Ila) and heals her barren womb. This is a very “classic” miracle throughout the Bible, and it’s inclusion in the movie is very much a reminder and challenge for believers and followers of Jesus to “do the greater things,” especially being on the other side of the cross with access to greater power than Methuselah.
On the character of Noah, as portrayed by Russell Crowe, I’m glad Aronofsky attempted the character exploration that he did, because in the Bible, one of the few things we know was that he was reckoned righteous by God (which if you compare the list in the book of Hebrews of the faithful pre-Jesus heroes reckoned as righteous, there’s a good probability that Noah screwed up a lot, but God in His goodness chose to not include those in Scripture) and that he got drunk and naked after the ark landed. In the film, Noah is a firsthand witness to the wickedness of man as his father is murdered before his eyes in the opening scene. He is also shown to have a sense of his responsibility as a steward of creation. Further in the film, he is shown to both have faith in the provision and wisdom of God, in his seeking out of his grandfather. In the film when his son Ham asks when a wife would be found for him, Noah responds, “has not the Creator provided us all of this? Trust in his provision.” Yet, Noah is not immune to fear: fear of both man and of God from a false understanding of the character of God. When he does attempt to find wives for his younger sons in the film, he is confronted by the wickedness of man to such a degree that he becomes so afraid to such a point that he believes God’s judgment also includes his family. It is very much a picture of the choice that we live with every day, to choose to trust in God’s goodness, or to live in fear.
Noah’s portrayal in the film also serves as warning to any father (especially those in ministry) to not be so engrossed in your work that you neglect your family, especially being a father to your children. In the film, Noah failed to father Ham in a few instances, and it resulted in the villain Tubal-Cain (descendant of Cain, figuratively the choice of wickedness and fear) becoming a father figure to Ham.
From a viewpoint of prophetic culture, I appreciated that in the film Noah hears from God in the form of dreams, impressions, and visions, because I think as believers, we often just assume in Scripture that it is always the audible voice of God. It also as a warning not to jump the gun on the interpretation, especially when motivated by fear. As covered in the previous paragraph, Noah begins to misinterpret the vision he had received from God, and out of fear he began to believe God’s judgment of man included his family, which as a storytelling plot device, leads into the big “mercy over judgment” climax. Noah’s wife, being his better half, chooses to operate out of love, and is the one who seeks out Methuselah to heal their daughter-in-law of barrenness. She conceives twins from Shem, and Noah threatens to kill their offspring because of his fear-based interpretation of God’s plan.
In the blog article that I linked to at the top of this post, the author states that “Like other artistic endeavors drawing on biblical themes, “Noah” requires that audiences actually think about symbols and forms.” This is truest for the climax of the movie. In this scene, Noah is about to pass judgment (in the form of death) upon his newborn grandchildren (again, due to his misinterpretation of God’s plan), yet in the final moment, feels love and chooses mercy over judgment, deciding to spare the newborns after looking upon them. The level of symbolism stood out to me in an extreme fashion, since this scene took place on the roof of the wooden ark. This is a reference to the Ark of the Covenant. The top covering of the Ark of the Covenant was known as the Mercy Seat (see Raiders of the Lost Ark for additional imagery), symbolizing God’s priority of mercy over judgment, since the Mercy Seat was above the stone tablets of the Law contained within the Ark. To have Noah’s choosing mercy at the top his wooden ark in this film version was a very poignant and intelligent on the part of the director.
After the ark lands, Noah is beset with guilt over what he perceives as having disobeyed in God’s complete judgment of humanity through his failure to purge his grandchildren. In the film, this becomes his reason for getting drunk and naked. After Shem and Japheth cover him, Ila (Emma Watson’s character) asks Noah why he didn’t kill the newborn twins, and Noah’s response was that he felt love and mercy in that moment, and he felt that by sparing them he failed God. Ila’s response to Noah blew me away, “You didn’t fail Him, He chose you for this task because He knew you would choose well,” or something along those lines. It stood out to me as being consistent with others that God chose throughout the Bible, like Abraham and Moses, where God invited and expected them to partake in the decision-making process because He respected them as friends.
Overall, I enjoyed the film, especially for the climax and denouement. The obvious deviations from Scripture didn’t bother me so much since I used my ability to suspend-disbelief as I would in any other film context. One of the major takeaways I had while viewing the film was definitely the consistency with other Bible characters, in that Noah’s portrayal maintained his character flaw, as there are so many flawed characters in the Bible that God chose to remember not for their faults but for their faith. And of course, as I stated at the beginning of this wall of text, the concept of mercy over judgment. Certainly to me, the film felt consistent enough with the spirit of the text despite all the deviations in the details.