I tend to see movies when they first come out, and as such I saw the film (and indeed, wrote this review) before H.E. Bishop Daniel Dolan issued a warning against attending the film in a Sunday bulletin. My review, as it is, perhaps can give you further context for the Bishop’s warning and I am indeed sorry to have seen the film.
Director: Darren Aronofsky
MPAA Rating: PG-13
TradReviews Rating: Immoral
Excellence: 1 Star
Why: Implicit questioning of the Word of God.
Summary in a sentence: A film that offers us a visual representation of the sad reality of a post-Christian culture that seeks to create its own myths – and can’t even be original in doing so.
As long as “controversial” movies don’t have objectionable scenes, I’m willing to give them a chance so that I can form my own judgements. I heard a lot about Noah going in – mostly bad – but some scenes from the trailer had resonated with me. Those scenes were of the animals approaching the Ark and reminded me of the wonder I have felt while watching the BBC’s absolutely magnificent $100M production Planet Earth. As it turns out, that scene, and others like it, were lost amidst one of the worst religious-themed movies I’ve ever seen.
I’ve decided to make this review particularly simple. I’ll do a brief plot outline, then the positives, then the negatives.
In the opening scenes we see Noah and his father together and some men approach them. Noah hides and watches his father be murdered by the descendants of Cain – people who don’t respect the land and who live for themselves.
We flash forward to Noah and his three sons gathering some food. The narrative implies that they are vegetarians. Noah has a dream in which he witnesses death on a massive scale, related to water. Unsure of the meaning of the dream, Noah seeks out the counsel of his grandfather Methuselah. Methuselah gives him some tea to drink and it becomes dear to Noah in a dream that the world will be destroyed for its wickedness.
Methuselah gives Noah a seed from Eden which Noah then plants after his meeting with his grandfather. It grows into a miraculous spring and forest right in front of Noah and his family and they use the wood to make the Ark.
There is a useless subplot involving Ham wanting a wife to bring onto the Ark, as well as a stowaway that eggs on Ham (couldn’t resist) to murder Noah.
The flood comes and goes, with an additional subplot which involves Noah threatening to kill the female child of Shem’s wife Ila, as he sees humanity as irredeemable. At the last moment he relents, though a permanent rift between Noah and Ham causes Ham to leave the family. Mankind begins again from Noah and his family.
Everyone within the story accepts as fact that there is a Creator, that He made man in his likeness, and gave him stewardship over the Earth. In one particular moment, the most villainous character in the movie asks why God does not speak to him. Oddly, this is more words of prayer than we ever hear from Noah. More on that in a moment.
The visuals do justice to the massive event the Flood was. We watch water come from the bowels of the Earth as well as from the heavens, which makes a lot of sense if we also see a separation of the continents starting from the time of the Flood (no surprise, as this is based in fact, viz., Scripture). We also see a raven, a dove, a rainbow, and two of Noah’s sons averting their eyes to cover their father’s drunken nakedness.
The Majesty of watching the animals peacefully entering the Ark two-by-two is moving. Interesting as well is the device used to put the animals to sleep. The family burns some herbs in censers and waves them about in an almost liturgical fashion; the smoke from these herbs puts all of the animals to sleep for the duration of the Flood.
And that’s about it. None of these few crumbs, which taken alone could be great visual teachable nuggets for children, can be extricated from the heresies and lies it is inlaid in.
There is no real prayer in the movie. Things are implied and related by dreams. Clearly there doesn’t need to be either a voice or “representation” of God, but what we have at the end of the film is a crazy old man following whims and voices.
No trustful surrender to God’s Will. Despite miracle after miracle after miracle, Noah’s family is intensely humanistic. They work as if everything depended on them, and since they don’t pray, when they disagree about what is to be done, they fight. This is best illustrated in four different ways.
1. Ham’s Disobedience. Instead of trusting that God will provide, he runs out into the camp which has sprung up near where the Ark is being built in order to “get a wife.” She is caught in a trap as they are running for the Ark and Noah doesn’t help save her when he comes to get Ham. This leads to a permanent rift between him and Ham which culminates in a murder plot.
2. Shem’s patricidal rage. Because of Noah’s absurd threat to kill a female child (he says he will let a male child live) as he doesn’t think God wants the human race to continue. Shem is on his way to kill Noah when the Ark beaches and he is knocked out by the impact.
3. Emzara’s hateful speech to Noah. Because she also does not trust in God, but rather in Noah, she goes to Methuselah to ask for help. Ila, who would later be Shem’s wife, is barren due to a childhood wound. But because of Emzara’s pleading with him, Methuselah impacts a blessing that heals her and makes her fertile. When this results in a pregnancy and Noah does not take the news well, issuing his threat to kill a female child, she confronts him later and completely loses it. She tells Noah that she and everyone will hate him forever if he kills the child.
4. A fake analogy to Abraham. As he confronts the newborn – not just a girl, by the way, but twin girls – Noah drops his knife and says, “I cannot do this” to the skies. Here we actually see an implied disobedience to God, not just a failure to trust. Now, let’s pretend for a moment that Noah was being asked to be Abraham to these potential Isaacs (which he wasn’t, indeed the entire reason for the Ark is to preserve human life as well as animal life). In that part of the Bible Abraham is stopped from delivering the killing blow. Even until the last moment Abraham’s trustfulness in God crowds out the anguish that must have nearly crushed him as he looked at Isaac, himself surely frightened, but as a type of Our Lord, he did not even utter a word of protest.
The Watchers. These creatures are angels who watched Man’s Fall in Eden and who rushed – against God’s command – to aid mankind in our fallen state. As punishment God encrusts these beautiful beings in rock. This is again, a device of someone playing in the universe of the divine, not someone who has certain beliefs that guide a truly moral imagination. This is, worse, heresy, as we know that the angels who disobeyed God’s will are now demons, not these in-between friendly rock creatures, who, after helping Noah build the Ark and defend it from those fleeing the waters are then assumed back into Heaven.
A distorted notion of conservation. Noah says in the film that “only the animals are innocent.” Leaving aside that animals, lacking free will, can’t be “innocent” or “guilty” Noah goes on to imply that humans are a disease on the planet and that everything will be better once we are gone. Tubal-Cain, king of the “sinners,” argues that the beasts were set there for men, to serve their needs. Neither of these positions comes remotely close to the true Christian position, which is, as usual, in the middle. The Christian position asserts that humans have been given dominion over the beasts. In every sense man is “lord and master” but the charge, best exemplified in the lesson of the Ark, is that we are to take care of nature as God’s gift to us. We do this by eating real food, by creating and using materials that aren’t toxic, and by living in a sustainable manner not just with our environment, but with our fellow humans. We never allow “jobs” to be the summum bonum as we grow and envelop our dwelling places on this precious creation of God’s.
Departure from God’s Word. It’s always fascinating to look at takes on possibilities within the bounds of Scripture. One thinks of one of ending scenes of Ben Hur, in which a rain, which occurs after the death of Our Lord, provides a physical healing to some of the characters. Scripture does not say that there was not any rain that day. And it is entirely possible that miraculous rain could have healed some people. That’s respectful – and Catholic – speculation. Noah goes completely beyond the pale. The source material for this story is the Word of God, which is true. It cannot be permitted to tell any version of this story in which His Word is perverted. From the major to the minor Noah is filled with the confusion and self-loathing that modern man possesses in full. He gazes through a very dark glass, and perceives even more darkly (the writer/director is not known for light fare) and Noah is a masterpiece of man’s own humanistic religion. No longer obsessed with the hatred of God that the Revolutionaries of 1789 kept close to their hearts, this new humanistic religion attacks all we find good, true, and beautiful in multiple conscious ways and many subconscious ways which, of course, humanists can’t possibly perceive.
The worse thing we can do is to allow ourselves to casually view an adaptation of a story we know to be true – especially when the adaptation rings so terribly false.