The movie “Noah” has gotten a bad rap. Even from people who liked it. It isn’t often that I have seen a film that has been as misunderstood as this movie, and today, in tardy celebration of its release to the home video market, I intend to set the record straight. (I ask you to not expel me from your Christian circle for writing this review.)
Let’s start by arming you with some knowledge. If you are going into this expecting just another epic action movie, that’s what you’ll get. But that’s not what it is. If you’re going in expecting a word-for-word adaptation of the Bible story, you will be shocked to learn that “Noah” is over twenty minutes long. If you’re going in expecting a Christian movie, it’s not that, either. (It’s Jewish.) If you’re going into it expecting flannel graphs and family fun, oh boy are you in for a surprise (and probably a rude one.)
After all, “Noah” is directed by Darren Aronofsky, the mastermind behind one of my top ten movies of all time, “The Fountain.” Darren Aronofsky doesn’t make normal movies. He makes amazing, poetic and thought-provoking films about the nature of man. Apart from several of his movies winning Academy Awards, he could easily be classified as weird, art-house or obscure. His movies are always interesting, but also often disturbing. So, when other people learned of a live adaptation of Noah’s ark, I learned of a live adaptation of Noah’s ark DIRECTED BY DARREN ARONOFSKY! I think that this largely explains why so many were either hateful of or perplexed with this film, while I got exactly what I was expecting and hoping for.
Having said that, what is “Noah” about? Really, truly about? The answer, even if you’ve seen it, will probably surprise you.
“Noah” is, at its core, about one idea and one idea only: where is the intersection of justice and mercy? It is made crystal clear that the destruction of man is just. But then where is the place for mercy? What happened to the Watchers was just (more on them in a minute.) But what happens to them is mercy. I am shocked that I am one of the few people who has picked up on this: after all, just count the number of times “Justice” and “Mercy” are mentioned in the movie. Or listen to the song as the credits roll. Don’t get me wrong: the movie is also about redemption, God, survival, and family. But all of these things exist within the lens of justice and mercy. Many have made very much about a great many things from this film, but they are all surface concerns at best. At its heart, in its bones, this is what “Noah” is about.
But how about those Watchers? What was Darren smoking when he and his co-writer, Ari Handel, came up with them?
In case you don’t know, “Noah” features a race of fallen angels called the Watchers. However, these are not quite the fantastical, insane imaginings of a troubled mind that you may think they are. In the Bible we read repeatedly about the Nephilim. Much has been said of the Nephilim over the last few thousand years. One theory is that they were children of fallen angels and men. Others have thought that they themselves were fallen angels. In the book of Enoch, an apocryphal work that was nearly considered canon in the time of Jesus (it is the only non-canonical book that was quoted in the New Testament), the Nephilim are called Watchers. And they are, indeed, angels who came to earth against God’s commands. The Watchers are ripe for story ideas. In a video game about the book of Enoch called “El Shaddai” they are depicted as monstrous black armored beings with one giant eye where their heads should be. Think that would have gone better? And really, for all the people complaining about the Watchers, were they really a harmful addition? Or were they showcasing the central themes of this movie: justice and mercy?
And all of the dark imagery that has disturbed people? It might not be as far-fetched as many want to believe it is. As the director pointed out, this was the world’s first apocalyptic story. It is not fun and flannel graphs. It is about the destruction of life on earth. Noah was a just and an upright man. Who knows how far he would have gone to achieve that justice? Tubal-Cain in the Bible was a man who made weapons and tools. Why couldn’t he be the leader of the human resistance?
And the fantastical elements. What about those? First of all, this is a world we have never seen before. It takes place as mankind’s first civilization is being wiped out. Everything after that was rebuilt from scratch. Could there have been an advanced civilization? Could there have been technology and strange glowing rocks that had been mined to geological extinction? Sure. Especially considering what Genesis says about people’s life spans back then. And the forest that sprang up from the seed: hey, why not? Such scenes served many roles for forwarding the story, but they also served to make people who would normally be turned off by a Bible movie feel at home. I ask you, what can that hurt?
There is so much more I could say about this movie, but I want to keep this a readable length. So, I will leave you with this. “Noah” is not the movie you thought it was. Whether you love it or hate it, you need to watch it again (or for the first time). And you need to see that it is about more than destroying your flannel graph memories and Sunday school stories. It is, above all, about the goodness of God, the evil of man, justice and mercy. I got teary-eyed repeatedly during this movie. And that is why.
I also don’t feel it’s giving anything away to say that, in the end, the ship sinks.
There is a part taken from the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) that involves Noah wrapping a snake-skin from the Garden of Eden around his arm and blessing his family. I understand that it is a connection to the blessed pre-fallen world, but it’s still weird.
Everything else about this movie is why I go to see movies. Even the horrific elements (and there are some, to be sure) are there for a reason, and that reason is to examine the intersection between justice and mercy. Even the most horrible parts are just. But in the end, can we also have mercy? I furthermore appreciate how much research these guys put into what people thought about the Noah story throughout history, rather than just settling for the safe, one-dimensional understanding we have of it today. Piling on top of this the creation account, which expressed in beautiful imagery exactly how I have thought of the creation of the universe, the incredible beauty of the cinematography, the Watchers, the depth of the characters, the reversal of roles (in any other movie, Tubal-Cain would have been the good guy. Think about it.), and the fact that they just made the power of God look as cool as anything out of Lord of the Rings, and you have my current favorite movie of the year. I hope you still like me after reading that.
You can get “Noah” on Amazon.com.
Projector Image (c) Can Stock Photo, Inc.
All Images related to “Noah” are (c) 2014 Paramount Pictures, Inc.