[Before I say anything, one thing you have to realize is that one of Darren Aronofsky’s popular movies is Requiem for a Dream. It’s dark. And he chose to do a movie about Noah because… let’s be honest, it’s a dark story too. So if you watch it or critique it, you need to consider whose lens you’re viewing it through.]
I’m going to be honest; the movie didn’t stick to the story we read in the bible. At the same time, it stuck closer to the story of scripture than any movie I’ve seen all year. Let me explain.
Take Noah’s character for example. He wrestled with a tortured soul that seemed more in line with Paul’s view of humanity than it did with the traditional view of Noah. There is one point in the movie where he faces his own evil realizing that he is not as righteous as he once thought. In fact, he tells his wife that evil won’t be dying with those they leave behind. It is going to be carried onto the ark with them—or rather through them. This isn’t stated in the biblical story of Noah, but it’s certainly true to the larger narrative. No matter how “righteous” Genesis says Noah is, he still gets drunk after landing on dry land (Gen 9:21). No matter how righteous they were, sin still made it’s way into the world. In reality, the flood didn’t do it’s job completely. If it had, Jesus would never have come.
I think a lot of Christians will be uncomfortable with this. I have met a number of people who love the idea that they are somehow special—set apart by God—and because of that, they are so much better than everyone else. I think we read that same notion into the story of Noah. We might say to ourselves, “Noah was righteous! Noah deserved saving, just as much as the evil people deserved being killed.” Thankfully, that idea of Noah is completely wiped away in this film. Was Noah righteous in the film? Yes. Was he perfect? Thankfully, no. Noah wrestled with the evil in the world—and the evil within himself, and I loved that.
What I didn’t like is where this particular character detail took the story. Noah began to assume that God had to kill all of them—including his family – including himself. Don’t get me wrong, his logic was sound: if God destroyed those who were evil, and if evil is in all of us, then God must kill us too. The ark then wasn’t ever for humans. It must only be for the animals.
I had a friend in college who said once: “The only mistake God made with the flood was that he put humans on the ark.”
It’s a tragic thought, but if you’re honest with yourself, it’s kind of true. The Bible clearly teaches that humans are the ones who brought the curse on the earth.
As such, this version of Noah felt he would have to let his family die—and he wrestles with this in a number of different ways. What it comes down to for Noah is obedience. If God wanted him to kill his family, he would. He would be obedient to the end. This started as an interesting point, but developed into a storyline that I felt went a little overboard (pun intended).
Having said that, I don’t think it’s beyond the scope of the Old Testament narrative. In fact, one of the most familiar stories in the OT is the story of a father who was going to kill his son as a test of his obedience. Whether you think this kind of internal conflict is welcomed in a story about Noah is up for debate—but it’s certainly welcome within the larger Biblical narrative.
I also loved the magic in the story. There were angels clothed in rocks. There were magic stones used to start fires. Noah had a grandfather who could cast spells and heal. It was a beautiful fantasy world.
Christians have historically loved fantasy. Narnia and Tolkien are loved by many of my Christian friends. Yet, I know many Christians hate it when Biblical stories are presented as fantasy. Which is why many are going to be uncomfortable with Noah. Noah was definitely presented as a magical, Tolkien, kind of world. More than once, I felt I was watching the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings. In fact, it really felt like the way C.S. Lewis captured the beginning of Narnia: a world still ripe with the miracle of creation. I thought it was beautiful, and in many ways, captured the essence of the fantastic world of the Old Testament—a world where animals talk, miracles are common place, monsters lurk in the deep, and giants fight for armies.
All in all, it was a beautiful story about justice, mercy, faith, and obedience. It didn’t stick to the biblical story, but every one of its major themes fit into the wider Christian narrative. In other words, all of the major themes in Noah are themes found in the Bible: He struggled to hear God’s voice; so did Samuel. He struggled with obeying God; so did Jonah. He mourned the loss of the wicked; so did Abraham. He realized that he, deep down inside, was just as guilty of death as anyone; so did Paul. He refused to eat meat with blood in it; so did the early Christians. He was willing to risk his own family if it meant obeying God; so was Abraham. He didn’t feel like he had earned the right to be saved, and neither should you.
This story incorporated a number of beautiful Christian themes—many of them aren’t in the original Noah story—but all of them are truly Christian at their core. So you could say it stuck to the core of the story, if by “story” you mean the over-arching narrative of scripture.
P.S. My wife really liked the moment Noah told his children the story of creation. It cut to a creative depiction of creation and fall from the first couple chapters of Genesis. And I have to be honest; I will likely buy the DVD and find a way to cut that clip out for future use. It was beautiful, succinct, and powerful.