Noah: Behind Every Great Man (Deluxe, Spoiler-Laden Review)

Noah isn’t your Sunday School, felt board version of the story found in Genesis 6-10 of the Bible’s Old Testament, but an epic, Hollywood-size thriller about a man who receives a vision of what God wants in a world full of violence and destruction. By now, you’ve probably heard how the film has divided Christian critics; some denounce the movie as heretical, others find the film full of images about the way that God works in our world. Honestly, it’s not for everyone; just don’t judge it before you see it! Full disclaimer: I can’t wait to see it again.

This review is absolutely intended for those who have already seen the movie and want to discuss deeper issues. If you don’t want any spoilers, stop reading and go here!

From what I have read, the people who are denouncing the movie (whether they have seen it or not) have two major gripes. The first is that Noah “was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God” (Genesis 6:9) and they don’t feel like the film portrays that well. [I will make the aside here that Noah is blameless compared to the others around him and like the broken leaders of the Old and New Testament, he is faithful, not good. God makes a person righteous, not their own actions.] The second gripe is that they feel that God’s voice has been silenced, stripped away from the narrative. I will explore the second in detail. But both of these play into their ‘beef’ with the film as atheist director Darren Aronofsky’s focus on environmentalism, that these critics say is all about humanity and nothing about the divine.

Aronofsky is a self-proclaimed atheist who took the story of Genesis’ first boat captain and spun this elaborate exploration of Noah’s mental, emotional, and spiritual state. He provides dialogue throughout a movie that revolve around a man who doesn’t have a line of dialogue in the Scripture until Genesis 9:25; he has Russell Crowe (and not Anthony Hopkins, who looks like Father Time) play a man who is supposed to be 500 years old when he receives his vision from God; he gives life, names, and voice to hundreds of people who don’t make it on the ark (even though they are a nameless, forgotten mass in the Scripture); he empowers the Nephilim (the “fallen ones” or “giants” depending on your preferred translation) to be active players in the Noah narrative, even though they are only mentioned twice (Genesis 6:1-4 and Numbers 13:32-33) in the Hebrew O.T. I will call that creative license and move on.

The truth is that I have never heard God use words to audibly speak to me, so Noah’s vision of a world overtaken by water works in my understanding of God ‘speaking’. I know that God speaks to me, that God has a plan for my life, and that God communicates with me. And I know people who have heard God speak to them audibly. But in the Bible, there are people who heard from God as an audible, tangible voice via Jesus, as a “spirit like a dove,” as a vision pictorially (Acts 10:9-16), and even as the voice of an ass (Numbers 22:25-28). Not all of these people received the full picture of what it was that God wanted them to do but their faith was measured in full by how they followed God. The beauty of the vision that Noah receives is that he knows what he’s supposed to do but he doesn’t know how to do it.

Because Noah gets the message but not the entire picture, Noah has to wrestle with the vision through conservations with his grandfather, Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), his sons (Douglas Booth, Logan Lerman, Leo McHugh Carroll), and his enemy Tubal-Cain (Ray Winstone). Recognizing that God speaks to people in different ways, one of the most interesting explorations of the film for me was how we hear from God and how we interpret what God says. Seriously, when you feel like God is telling you something, how do you determine whether it’s bad meat in the Taco Bell burrito you ate at midnight or the divine voice of the Almighty? I think maybe we are inclined to read the Gospels back into Genesis, when their understanding of the Creator was not as developed. We can’t read the Incarnation of Jesus Christ into a prehistoric story, accurate historically or covenant-explaining mythology, that doesn’t have the same understanding of how God works.

We know that it’s clear to Naameh and Tubal-Cain that God has spoken to Noah; they don’t doubt that God has given him a message for longer than about ten seconds. But the way that Noah feels compelled to work this out is what makes the film. He doesn’t hear God in a vacuum and he’s not the only one who God speaks to. (I appreciated the conversations with Methuselah even though I wouldn’t have done it that way.) But we also understand that Tubal-Cain believes that he wants to hear from God but his own selfishness prevents him from stopping to actually listen. Tubal-Cain represents Cain’s desire to possess and be the best, as well as the arrogance of the Tower of Babel building, to be like gods. Again, the film from an atheist director is the first one in years to find me reading my Bible before and after, and to make me stop and really consider how I see prayer.

So, Noah gets this message, and he understands that God wants to experience the Garden of Eden all over again. He sees that as God and the animals, kind of Dr. Doolittle-ish, with humanity killed off. Noah has always, per this depiction, had a sympathy for animals that not everyone has- it’s natural that his vision would’ve emphasized the two-by-two of the animals. On the other hand, Tubal-Cain has made God in his own image, and he sees that humanity is supposed to dominate and take what it wants because he’s selectively heard that from the Creation story. [Frankly, I think both Noah and Tubal-Cain speak to our ‘hearing what we want to or are inclined to hear in Scripture.] But rising up out of the middle (the moderate Methodist middle? Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience?) is Naameh, to say that God is about justice and mercy, that there has to be room for grace. None of these people can understand the full picture on their own, but unwrapping God’s mystery is best done in community, no? [I can’t encourage you to just see this movie, because you need to be able to discuss it afterward!]

The elephant in the room (no pun intended) is that Noah sets out to kill off his family, even to the point where he holds a knife to innocent, infant twins. Noah, to this point, understands that this is all part of the message God has given him, and it takes a long time for him to get over the shame he feels in not ‘succeeding.’ This is the point that lurks behind every negative reaction to Noah because it’s interpreted that the atheist Aronofsky is harping on the violence and anger of the God of the Abrahamic major world religions. Isn’t there a foundation in the Scriptures for Noah understanding this, that’s not environmental?

Go read Genesis 22:1-19. (I’ll wait.) Or how about Jesus’ cry to his ‘daddy’ in Mark 15: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?) Noah’s whole worldview, as it is for most people of the Old Testament is about the passing on of the birthright and inheritance to their offspring. Noah (in the Aronofsky version) doesn’t hate his children or grandchildren; in fact, he loves them very much and wants to teach them faithfulness to God. But he understands the vision of God similarly to the way that Abraham heard God tell him to sacrifice Isaac, and he proceeds with faithfulness. Noah may be crazy, but if he is, then so is Abraham… and so is God.

Watching the film, I’m practically in tears as Noah, Naameh, Ila (the wonderful Emma Watson), and those two babies are on the roof of the ark. And I realize that behind every great man (is a great woman, yes), there’s a devotion that borders on insanity, a faithfulness that most of us will never understand because we never get there. Thank goodness Noah had Naameh to help him… weather the storm.

Sure, there’s a little Beautiful Mind going on here, but we fail to see in the Old Testament scriptures that they don’t have Jesus to fall back on. That they don’t know exactly what it is that God plans to do because they don’t understand eternal life or grace yet, just the fear they have in the hands of an angry god. [It’s easy to see that in the Flood story, to focus on the destruction. Don’t most of us go “thank God, that’s not us,” rather than see that God, even in the midst of evil, continues to give humanity second and third chances to get it right? Thank God for that!] Too many critics of the film confused their own literal reading for ‘tradition,’ and read the gospels backward through Genesis, a time when people expected God to speak but didn’t know what was being said, when giants walked the land and miracles were common.

Again, Aronofsky’s vision is one of an atheist who watches religion tear families and nations apart, who potentially wonders if faithfulness isn’t insanity. Noah is a creative adaptation. It’s still not The Book, but aren’t books usually better than the movies they are based on? I actually owe Aronofsky a ‘thank you’: no other movie in recent memory has found me reading my Bible before and after going to see it!

I, for one, am thankful that the Almighty Creator still uses the work of an avowed atheist to show us the way that we are created, intended to be part of the creative process, and redeemed by love flowing with mercy and justice. But standing on the roof of the ark, I wonder if God doesn’t use the glimmers of truth in a mythic Old Testament story as told through an unbeliever’s eyes to show us the bigger truth. We can’t interpret God’s vision for the world on our own. We are meant to be faithful. We need each other. Love wins.

Love it? Hate it? Respond below or find me on Facebook. I’m happy to discuss. 

 

 

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About Jacob Sahms

I'm searching for hope in the midst of the storms, raising a family, pastoring a church, writing on faith and film, rooting for the Red Sox, and sleeping occasionally. Find me at ChristianCinema.com, Cinapse.co, and the brand new ScreenFish.net.
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6 Responses to Noah: Behind Every Great Man (Deluxe, Spoiler-Laden Review)

  1. Sherri says:

    I totally agree!! I too read my Bible both before and after seeing the movie. The movie made me want to delve more into the story.

    My daughter, 14, was unsure about Noah and we had a huge discussion following about how God ‘talks’ to us and how sometimes we don’t fully understand what he is telling us and sometimes even misunderstand. We talked about how we never feel like we are good enough and that Noah seemed to feel this way. He didn’t see himself as righteous. He understood that everyone, himself included, has evil them therefore he was no better than than anyone else because even though he lived well, as best he could, there still was evil inside him. When we look in the mirror we seldom if ever see what God sees when he looks at us and I felt like this was Noah’s dilemma.

    Thank you for your fair review of this movie.

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    • Jacob Sahms says:

      Sherri, those are great points!I think one of the things I most like about the movie is that it is starting dialogue. If you haven’t, you should read my interview with Ari Handel– he has some solid things to say about the conversations that he hopes we’ll have after seeing the movie.

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  2. Jeremiah says:

    Every single review I have read misses the point, and the difference in the old and new testament. Those giants are not descendants of Cain. Cain’s descendants had been marrying for years without giant offspring. God is destroying the world and saving Noah to keep the lineage of Jesus pure. Read Genesis 6 from an Authorized King James bible. It says Noah was PERFECT in his GENERATIONS with an S. not Generation. The Geneva translator Tyndale left off the S.
    Think about it…if you are a believer. God promised Eve would bear the savior. Her offspring) Meaning this ( it was 4th down and long with time running out and Noah was the only one left. Only one that was perfect in his generations and capable of building an Ark.) Jesus could not then be truly a savior if not a descendent of Adam and Eve. Everyone else had died either naturally or by the increasing violence. The others were part mankind and part lustful disobedient beings from God, whose offspring, the giants, were left to carry on the human race. They were incapable of being our savior. The fury of God has always been aroused when something threatens that, and only that, when his true flesh, and true blood trip to the cross for our sins is threatened. Now that Jesus completed that , any other problems after that, even giants, became only sinners, able to be forgiven, if they accept that.
    If it were any other reason, Noah would not be needed. God could just recreate all the animals and men, but he promised Eve that she would begat the savior. Couldn’t happen any other way, One man left…4th and long….doesn’t the truth sound more exciting than that poorly written fiction by an atheist? Still I plan to see the movie. After all Superman is fiction along with Cinderella…still watch it, and pray for the unbelievers.

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    • Jacob Sahms says:

      Jeremiah, thank you for your comments. It’s hard to talk about the movie without having seen it. I am curious where you interpolate that God promised Eve that she would bear the savior? Unfortunately, most of the strongest criticism for Noah shows that people aren’t aware of the midrash interpretations of Noah, that this is probably more of a Jewish film than a Christian one. We might find Christian imagery there, but we can’t read the New Testament back into a Hebrew text.

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  3. Nathaniel says:

    I don’t see how a true Bible believing Christian would ever go out of their way to defend such a movie while at the same time attacking true Bible believing Christians. As if they are the ones who need to be put into their place. When they have the only right to express their opinions about this film. Just please let that sink in. A little leaven is all it takes… a little bad doctrine is all it takes. And this movie is full of extremely twisted or bad doctrine. and it clearly misrepresents God and the Bible. And its every Christians duty to sort that stuff out and correct it. It cannot be trusted and anyone who says it can be, cannot be trusted as well. Theres a whole lot of people who claim to have faith but they have no real knowledge of the Bible. Their being Christian is purely ritualistic tradition. And thats why they so easily fall victim to Gnostic movies like this. And when it comes to anything remotely religious in theme in Hollywood? it’s going to be Gnostic, twisted and in no way an accurate and pure representation. It’s going to put evil for good and good for evil.. fallen angels and Satan are turned into heroes, saviors and liberators.. and this movie clearly shows that. A glowing snake skin that gives knowledge and powers? Sounds like Freemasonic, Gnostic, Satanic, occult nonsense. You cannot do good with evil, so for you to say hey at least this movie brings SOME attention to God so it must be good! that alone suddenly makes it profitable for God… that it’s good. As if it would turn more people on to God instead of off…. When it not only misrepresents the Bible’s account of Noah’s story.. but it spins it all in a way that makes it seem even more like pure fantasy. this movie will in no way bring anyone closer to God.. it won’t fire them up in any truly good way. and if it does it will be by the viewer leaning on their own understanding instead of measuring it by the word of God. believers or unbelievers alike will probably not be effected by this movie in the way that the good fight demands. The director is not fighting to get people to believe something he strongly opposes.. why would he ever do that? many of his movies are full of religious messages or undertones and they are all twisted and confusing. Watch The Fountain and Pi to see what i mean. So i repeat.. you defending this movie is not you fighting the good fight.. but, attacking it? exposing it for what it is? Sounds exactly like The Bible’s teachings to me… expose unfruitful workers of iniquity… shed the light of truth on the wicked so that people will not fall victim to the many devices of the Devil. never sympathize with the devil… This world is his in that way… Hollywood is his.. and through it he will manipulate and corrupt the mind’s of anyone and everyone. It’s all a big set up and a trap. There is something very wrong in Hollywood and its extremely corrupt. I can’t even begin to get into it here and now… i can’t even give you a full analysis of this single film here and now to conclusively prove this movie is wicked and should not be promoted by any Christian. But there is a pattern in Hollywood.. very few actors popping up again and again.. and there is a pattern in the roles they play.. and that pattern clearly points to a rejection of Christ and God… they rarely put anything out that is Christian in theme, and when they do its a mockery.. lies. . and anyone who is familiar with the Bible can clearly see the various ways it violates or goes against its teachings. And just look at the other movies these actors have been in.. the roles they have played. also interesting considering none of them are Christians.. yet they and some Atheist director are going to accurately, and fairly represent its truths.. especially in order to win people over to the God that they don’t believe in…. don’t be fools, and don’t eat this movie up as if it were good food. A true Christian is going to be more careful and suspicious of anything and anyone masquerading as being of their faith.. they will question it completely, and long before they give it a stamp of approval. and they will take the time and make the effort to expose it before endorsing it. and if you are suddenly feeling the need to tell me off and defend this movie.. just know you are defending a movie made by Atheists, Humanists, and Gnostistics against a real deal Theist who takes the Bible as being truth.

    i don’t expect you to agree or change your mind.. its about as fruitless as telling a Catholic priest or nun that they are on the wrong team. even if they know you’re right they’ll never openly admit it!

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    • Jacob Sahms says:

      Have you seen the film? I think it’s interesting that you read this review as “defending the film.” I don’t need to defend it. It is a work of art, and not one that claims to be based fully on the Judeo-Christian understanding of the Bible. But people ARE going to see it, and they’re going to wonder what’s true and what’s not. That’s where a Biblical review, and someone willing to point them back to the Bible, come in.

      I think we’re approaching things differently, you and I. You see Hollywood as “corrupt,” the devil’s. I don’t label people that way, and in a lot of ways, I think we’ve got to be careful how we approach the world and ourselves. In Lecrae’s “Truth,” he asks where we want God to draw the line. If there isn’t good and bad in you, then, ‘wow.’ But if we believe in the fall, then there’s some bad in you… and if God destroys the bad, he’ll destroy you completely. If God can find good in you, then he can find good in Hollywood, too. It’s not all or nothing.

      But maybe we’re just two believers who can’t meet in the middle because your definition of ‘Christian’ is so narrow. I have Catholic friends, ordained or not, who are just as deep in love with Jesus as your or I might be. I think to call them “the wrong team” is pretty ignorant, even if you don’t agree with how they live out their faith. What line do you see drawn up where their love for Jesus is ‘wrong’ or that you have the authority to make that call?

      I’m happy to discuss Noah with you (if you’ve seen it) but it looks like your definition of Christianity is so defined that it doesn’t leave room for others to love God in a way different than your view.

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