A Review Of The Movie "Noah" or "I Wish I Had Those 2 Hours Back"
Last night I finally went and saw the movie Noah. I wanted to go see "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," but since I'm a pastor... and since people ask me about biblically-based movies, I felt I should go. Listen, if I thought there was a chance that anyone had asked me what I thought theologically about Captain America--I would have so gone to see it.
I wish I had.
I've read the negative reviews on Noah from Christian leaders, pastors, reviewers, bloggers, etc. They far outweigh the positive ones, to be honest. But you know something is up when even neutral reviewers without a "dog in the fight," so to speak, don't have very good things to say about it.
The director of Noah, Darren Aronofsky, is not a Christian. He is, in fact, Jewish, and more secular than religious, by his own admission. This isn't "The Bible" mini-series, and it's not "The Son of God," in other words. Those recent projects were created by Christians with Christians in mind.
Noah, not so much.
Here's the thing, if you are looking for a Sunday school remake of the classic story you remember from when you were a little kid... This movie will not be what you are looking for. Trust me on this.
Many Christian critics have attacked Noah as unbiblical. They note that God seems to be notably absent--at least the God of the Old Testament that "speaks" to Noah. They note that there are characters in the movie that are not part of the biblical narrative. They also note that the underlying message of the movie is more about the virtues of environmentalism and vegetarianism than it is about sin, judgement, obedience and redemption.
And then of course there are the Watchers--fallen angels who are encased in earth, cursed by "The Creator" because they tried to help Adam and Eve after they were driven from the Garden of Eden. These creatures are loosely based on the Nephilim from the Old Testament and also some ancient Jewish writings about fallen angels.
They look and sound like Ents from The Lord of The Rings, by the way.
But I have to say that all the way through the first half to three quarters of the film, I was hanging in there. I understood that the details and even much of the plot of Noah wasn't drawn solely from the Bible. As I mentioned earlier, Aronofsky used extra-biblical texts, ancient Christian and Jewish mystical writings, and portions of the Midrash or Jewish teachings, many of which date well before the time of Christ.
Because of this, I was willing to give Noah the benefit of the doubt. I, too, see the underlying sin of humanity in the story as the neglect of God's creation, rejection of God's supremacy and a desire for power, dominance, greed and violence. Despoiling Creation is a sin. So is war. So is greed. I think that all of us can agree to these simple things. We have to also understand that those of us who are Christians don't own the Genesis account---we share it with our Jewish counterparts, although we see different lessons within it.
I also realize that in order to make a big budget movie there needs to be conflict, drama, action and the like. It's Hollywood, after all.
But here's where things went wrong for me. Aronofsky's story goes so far beyond what is reasonably found in any of the texts he used as sources that it does violence to the plot, his characters and ultimately the movie itself. There's so much darkness in the film that even when the light comes it seems unsatisfying. Noah's struggle to understand God's plans becomes a melodramatic farce that is hardly believable. I think this has more to do with Aronofsky and his own demons than with the story or the character. Just watch his movie Black Swan if you don't believe me.
I would hardly classify myself as completely theologically conservative. I've had my fair share of knocks from people on the religious "right," and I know that I don't really want to party with them all that much. But I have to say that I was pretty troubled with the treatment of the biblical witness in Noah. Particularly as it related to the character of Noah himself.
To be fair, Russell Crowe is a fine actor---and he plays brooding, troubled, conflicted anti-heros very well. Jennifer Connely who plays Noah's wife shows some amazing range and has some powerful scenes. The supporting actors are solid as well. And the scenes where the animals come to the ark are pretty cool, I have to admit.
Confession: I do have a hard time watching Emma Watson on the big screen without thinking "Why is Hermione from Harry Potter in this move?" I'm not proud of this.
Overall, however, I can't give this movie any sort of positive recommendation. Biblical issues aside, Noah is just not a very good movie. I think it could have been, but Aronofsky refused to let it have a soul that wasn't murky.
I think the moment in the movie when things turned completely, and started heading toward destruction is perhaps its most powerful. Noah gathers with his family around a fire in the middle of the ark. Outside the sounds of dying people, screaming for deliverance can be heard along with the driving rain and tossing seas.
"Let me tell you the first story my father ever told me." He says to his family. "It was the first story his father ever told him." And then he goes on to relate the story of Creation, accompained by stunning visuals, and poetic language that help the viewer "see" what he is saying. In this moment Noah is his most human, his most vulnerable.
This was the moment in the film when Aronofsky could have chosen to make a different movie---one that moved toward light and redemption without being overly dramatic and needlessly dark. A movie that may have lasted. But instead he chose something else. He took the beauty of the story--God's covenant relationship with Noah, God's justice mixed with intense love... Humankind's second chance to reject the temptation of Eden and simply live once again in the Garden---and he made it ugly and forgettable.
Maybe it's just me... but that seems sort of fitting.